6 Proven Employee Engagement Ideas for Manufacturing Employees

Engagement & Motivation
March 8, 2024

The manufacturing setting is not your usual work environment. Many of these facilities run 24/7; they never take a day off. Working conditions can be tough — factories are noisy, sweltering hot, and poorly lit. As such, this is not your typical luxuriant office space. Workers face daily challenges, such as long shifts, physically demanding work, and stressful working conditions.

As a result, HR teams face high turnover and burnout rates as well as low engagement rates. Some recent statistics show how difficult employee engagement can be in this sector.

  • A workforce institute study found that 62% of manufacturing organizations reported an increase in turnover year over year. 
  • A PWC study showed only half (48%) of manufacturing leaders say that most of their frontline workers feel engaged in their jobs.
  • An employee engagement report by Workday shows the employee engagement rate in manufacturing is one of the lowest across industries at around 34%.

Improving employee engagement in manufacturing can be challenging. HR teams can also be small and busy with day-to-day tasks like employee relations, onboarding, and worker safety. In other words, daily duties can overshadow long-term goals, such as thinking of employee engagement in a big-picture way. 

But it doesn't have to be this way. The manufacturing industry can benefit from greater employee engagement and use various initiatives and activities to achieve this. And it's a myth that only companies in more "glamorous" and creative industries can benefit from these programs.

In this article, we'll first explore common myths in the manufacturing industry. These misconceptions tend to prevent leaders from reaping the benefits of employee engagement. Then, we will discuss proven employee engagement ideas you can apply today. These initiatives can be a great first step to helping your factory foster a more engaged workforce.

Misconceptions About Employee Engagement in Manufacturing

Myth 1: Employee engagement initiatives are only for creative and “fun” industries

Does employee engagement only "work" in fun industries like creative ones or tech? Absolutely not. This is one of the most pervasive misconceptions about engagement in a factory setting. Leaders in manufacturing falsely believe that since the work environment is so different from that of a typical office, these strategies and programs wouldn't work at all. But that is simply not true.

We agree that the factory work environment is starkly different. But the reality is that if your company employs humans, it will benefit from engagement initiatives. It's a matter of tailoring these initiatives and programs to fit your culture and team. And not just taking a one-size-fits-all approach. For instance, recognition programs, team-building activities, and open communication channels can be applied to the manufacturing setting.

Myth 2: Employee engagement is primarily about salary and benefits

One big myth about employee engagement is that it’s all about money. It’s not entirely wrong, as pay does play a major role in how engaged an employee is at work. But it’s certainly not the entire picture. This reality applies to manufacturing, too. 

Yet, many still believe that manufacturing workers are motivated only by compensation. In reality, other components of the work environment influence employee engagement. Factors such as feelings of respect and safety, recognition, career development, and a comfortable working environment play a crucial role in long-term employee happiness and satisfaction.  

Myth 3: Manufacturing workers are not interested in professional development

People assume production employees are only interested in their current tasks. They are not interested in growing their career or learning new skills. Not all workers desire rapid career advancement. This fact applies to all sectors, not just factory settings. Yet, people need to remember how important career growth can be to certain people in this sector.

In reality, many manufacturing employees value skill development and career advancement opportunities. To that end, providing training and development programs can significantly increase engagement and retention for these employees.

Myth 4: Flexible work arrangements don't apply to manufacturing

It's easy to assume shift workers can't have flexible work hours. Shift work, by its very nature, seems limiting and rigid. But this is a misconception. You would be surprised that leaders can introduce more flexibility into the workplace in several ways.

In other words, even within the limitations of industrial environments, flexibility can be offered in many forms, such as adjustable shifts, job rotations, and accommodating personal needs, leading to higher job satisfaction and engagement.

Myth 5: Manufacturing employees don’t care about company culture

Manufacturing work is tough. It's physical, task-focused, and repetitive. There is little time for socializing or even building a culture. By extension, people believe these employees are not concerned with company culture. They don't care for things like social events or activities.

But rememeber, company culture is more than events like birthday parties. Work culture can involve these things, but culture is also about how employees are treated, compensated, and looked after by each other and, most importantly, the company's leadership.

Considering this broader meaning of company culture, it's easy to see why it's just as important in factory environments. A positive, respectful, inclusive, safety-focused culture can deeply impact employee morale, engagement, and productivity.

Myth 6: Technology investments are not related to employee engagement

The industrial sector often finds itself frozen in time in terms of technology. Often, technology investments are seen purely as functional or efficiency-driven. In other words, it's not considered a factor that leads to greater employee engagement. 

The reality is that younger employees are entering the workforce. Updating your tools and technology can significantly engage employees by making their jobs easier, safer, and more enjoyable. For example, tools enabling communication and feedback can also enhance a sense of belonging and engagement.

6 Employee Engagement Ideas & Activities for Factory Workers

1. Recognition and reward systems

Recognition is not just about money, although it can be. We are referring to setting up systems and programs that allow your organization to share recognition for employees' hard work in a regular, structured way. Recognition and appreciation are critical to employee engagement, even in the manufacturing setting. In fact, a Manufacturing Institute report showed that workers who felt valued were more than 4X as likely to report high levels of work engagement and less likely to say they feel stressed out on a typical workday. Another popular study of call center workers showed that a simple expression of thanks by someone in authority made people 50% more productive! 

Employee recognition initiatives could include employee of the month awards, spot bonuses for exceptional performance, and team achievement celebrations. Platforms like Qarrot can provide a virtual space to carry out these structured recognition programs. Making it easier for HR teams and managers to offer timely rewards and gifts for employee effort and contributions. 

2. Professional development and training

As we mentioned at the top of this article, it's a misconception that factory workers are uninterested in career growth or development. Creating programs that offer training, skill development workshops, and career advancement can increase employee engagement in the factory setting. These programs don't have to be complicated or expensive to implement. They can be as simple as setting up cross-training opportunities for people to learn different aspects of your operations.

When leadership makes an effort to create programs and initiatives that foster employee development, it signals the company cares about investing in the employee's future. And when people feel they are being taken care of and invested in the long-term, they are more likely to give back to the company with greater engagement and energy and more likely to be loyal to a business.

3. Paid lunches or snacks

No one loves food more than a hardworking front-line worker. Offering an occasional paid lunch, such as bringing in a food truck or catering meals, can be a simple yet effective employee engagement idea in the factory setting. This is particularly true for locations in food deserts far removed from food establishments. 

In remote industrial areas, workers don't have to worry about finding food or bringing their lunch every day. It also encourages socialization in a more relaxed setting, fostering a sense of rapport among employees. For workers, it's not just about the free meal; it's a sign that their leaders value their well-being and appreciate their hard work. Taking a well-deserved break for lunch can lead to greater productivity, enhanced team spirit, and a more positive workplace culture. All of these are crucial for maintaining high levels of productivity and reducing long-term turnover.

4. Communication and feedback channels

Those working on the front line take the brunt of the hard work in factories. They are the ones directly exposed to the toughest conditions and most prone to accidents. Ensuring these workers are treated with fairness and respect is paramount to fostering employee engagement. Showing respect for these workers begins by listening to their opinions and voices.

Gathering feedback and opening lines of communication can be done ad hoc, as simple as leadership making time to walk down to the floor and speak directly with employees. It can also be done in more formal or structured methods, like regular town hall meetings, suggestion boxes, and surveys with follow-up actions. Whether you gather feedback informally, formally, or both, this engagement strategy is critical for fostering a culture of transparency and inclusivity and making employees feel heard and valued.

5. Ergonomic and comfortable work environments

Manufacturing workers face some of the most back-breaking working conditions. For example, most facilities will always be loud, and you cannot do much to change that. But that doesn’t mean improvements can’t be made in other areas. For instance, upgrading equipment, improving lighting, and providing rest areas with features that employees can use during downtime. All this can help create a more pleasant, comfortable, and visually appealing workplace.

Enhancing this area shows that a company respects the hard work of these workers and cares for their physical comfort and health. As a result, investing in these changes can help increase feelings of trust, engagement, and happiness in your workforce. 

6. Performance-based incentives

Compensation isn't the entire picture of employee engagement, but it is critical. As such, introducing performance-based incentives can be a helpful employee engagement strategy.

Some examples include monetary incentives such as team bonuses, safety incentives, profit-sharing schemes, or bonus programs for meeting production targets. Employees are more likely to take initiative, work efficiently, and focus on quality when they know their efforts will be directly rewarded. When applied transparently, performance-based incentives can create a positive work environment where employees feel valued and motivated to contribute to the company's success.

Final Thoughts

Being an HR professional in a factory setting is a different ball game. You’re managing office staff, floor workers, and the often delicate relationship between the two. The day-to-day tasks and fires to put out seem endless. As a result, it’s hard to think about long-term projects related to employee engagement and happiness. Not to mention, fighting for a slice of the budget and building a business case for these programs is another daunting obstacle.

Nonetheless, many leaders in the factor setting still operate on misconceptions, such as the idea that engagement initiatives and recognition programs can only work in young or creative industries. But this is simply not true.

If your business employs people, those people want to be respected, appreciated, and recognized. These are a universal human need, and long-term engagement initiatives are critical to achieving this goal. Ultimately, investing in employee engagement holistically can be the key to building a strong factory culture where workers are happier, more productive, and loyal to your business long-term.

Guest Author