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Improving Employee Engagement in Manufacturing

June 16, 2022

 by David Collins III

employee engagement manufacturing

Employee engagement in manufacturing (also called morale), like safety, is often an underappreciated factor in manufacturing. At MTG/CMC we see it as one of the core elements to successful manufacturing along with cost, quality, delivery, and safety. Manufacturing employees need to be engaged not only with the work but with the company’s goals as well.

The Importance of Leadership in Employee Engagement

We often hear leadership treat operators and other staff as cogs in the machine that should do their job until they break or need to be replaced. My father, the founder of MTG/CMC, told me that the leadership in a Taiwanese factory he managed in Mexico felt that workers should work as long as possible until they collapse on the line. That was a tad hyperbolic but only a tad. At the same time, it worked its people that hard, it was losing money every day. After he boasted engagement using the methods we will discuss here, productivity increased, and the factory became profitable.

Before we get into the KPIs to determine morale and what you can do it improve it at your operation, let’s understand what morale is.

Employee Morale in Manufacturing

Webster defines morale as: 

A: the mental and emotional condition (as of enthusiasm, confidence, or loyalty) of an individual or group with regard to the function or tasks at hand.

“The team's morale is high.”

B: a sense of common purpose with respect to a group : ESPRIT DE CORPS.

“The ship's morale improved after two days of shore leave.”

High morale does not mean, as it sometimes is taken to mean, happy or contented but rather as a strong feeling of commitment to the shared goals of the organization. A manufacturing employee that is engaged see him or herself as a part of team and a part of the success of the company rather than just a cog in the machine.

6 Ways to Improve Morale in Manufacturing

One of the simplest methods to measure morale is turnover. Factories with high turnover generally have low morale. If factory employees feel overworked and underappreciated, they are more likely to leave. High turnover is very costly for any organization. New workers always take time to onboard and become productive members of the team meaning overall productivity will be lower, costs high, and quality often suffers. That is assuming that there is a training program. In factories without good training programs, the problem is even worse.

Most people rate purpose and fulfillment higher than strictly monetary gain. Workers that feel valuable and as a productive member of the larger team have a higher morale than those that are simply paid more. There are a number of ways to do this. Here are a few:

1. Create High Productivity Teams

Selecting a few individuals to meet on a regular basis to brainstorm production improvement helps create a sense of ownership in the production

2. Reward Problem Solving

Operators often understand the challenges on the production line better than anyone else. Provide recognition, small cash rewards, or prizes for creative and cost-effective solutions.

3. Give Regular Breaks

People, and machines, need regular breaks to be effective. Breaks, stretches, etc. show that the company cares and values the health of its employees. I worked at a Gore factory, and we were able to have a subsidized massage for 15 minutes every week. It was very helpful to combat repetitive motion and reinforced the company’s focus on the care of its people.

4. Have Clear Company Values & Embody Them

People want to feel like they are working towards SOMETHING meaningful. That is one of the main reasons people start their own companies or join a startup. Emphasis how your company makes the world a better place or set time aside for some community benefit.

5. Provide Opportunities to Learn

Most people want to learn and have a change of scenery. Give your employees and chance to cross train for a new workstation and aspect of production. 

6. Strive for Cleanliness & Professionalism

People want to be proud of where they work. It is difficult to be proud of your company if it is a mess. Cleaning the factory floor of clutter and organizing it using 5S principles not only improves efficiency; it also increases employee morale since they can take pride in how the facility looks. Even a new coat of paint can go far. Seeing peeling paint does not give the impression of success.

The Bottom Line

Manufacturing employee engagement is not separate from other elements of quality manufacturing and should always be part of any manufacturer’s thinking as they strive to constantly improve their operations.

Need help with improving management, production planning, quality, and building effective systems? Download the below templates and use it as a guideline for planning factory management improvements.

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Topics: Management/Turnaround

David Collins III

David Collins III

David was a Senior Strategy Consultant for Deloitte, served in Iraq as a Special Operations Civil Affairs soldier, and as a Governance Advisor to the Afghan Government with the Department of State. At CMC, David advises clients on strategy and investments.

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