Using Active Listening to Transform Manufacturing Workplace Environments

An economic downturn isn’t permanent, but shifts in negative job attitudes can be. A Washington State University study found that workers reported reduced job satisfaction and less employer loyalty for at least two years after a major cost-cutting event, with worker productivity decreasing and turnover rate increasing. Maintaining an active communication channel throughout strategic and operational decision-making processes enables organizations to avoid this morale fallout. Practicing increased transparency with workers by informing them about changes, allowing them to ask questions, and asking how to best help them through the changes keeps workers engaged, boosting employee satisfaction and creating a high-functioning, healthy workplace culture.

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Neglecting safety concerns
A report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revealed that manufacturing employees suffer more work-related injuries than in any other industry, with common causes including overexertion, slips and trips, machinery-guarding accidents, and exposure to noise, harmful substances, and electricity. In 2021 alone there were 4,472 preventable injury-related deaths in the U.S. manufacturing industry, while there were an additional 381,100 nonfatal injuries suffered by frontline manufacturing workers.

Manufacturing workers face many workplace difficulties because of working in field and production settings, and they often feel that they don’t have ample opportunities to provide meaningful feedback on improving their workplace. With just 50% of essential frontline workers feeling they have any influence on workplace decision-making, common challenges such as safety issues, lack of career advancement opportunities, and work-life balance, not addressing these struggles can ultimately harm the organization’s bottom line.

Management

Using Active Listening to Transform Manufacturing Workplace Environments

Staying in touch with the workforce is essential to retention

Leveraging employee feedback allows employers to gather essential insights that can improve and maximize the organization’s operations. Establishing and maintaining a two-way communication channel with employees is critical in the modern workplace. This open dialogue fosters an employer-employee relationship where information flows not only from top to bottom, but also vice versa, making employees feel valued and heard, and creating greater job satisfaction. An empowered and engaged workforce ultimately results in increased employee productivity, decreased turnover rates, improved customer loyalty, and a transformed workplace culture.

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Roadblocks can result from leadership teams not listening to their frontline employees. Proactively listening to employee thoughts, ideas, and concerns allows manufacturing organizations to greatly improve their operational efficiency and avoid being forced to retroactively respond to issues. Reactive approaches relating to cost-cutting, safety issues, and broader feelings of undervaluation further fuel long-term decreased worker morale and feelings of undervaluation.

Manufacturing workers value safety as one of the most important aspects of their jobs. Yet concerns are often unanswered, due to a fear of retaliation and the lack of clear communication channels available to the workers. In addition to being legally required, safety standards keep workers alive. Establishing and properly implementing safety worker protocols ultimately improves individual worker productivity. Establishing communication channels that enable employees—who are more aware of safety gaps than anyone else in the organization—to be heard by their employers allows manufacturing organizations to resolve existing safety concerns and avoid having to reactively respond to incidents.

Lack of opportunities
Successful retention efforts within the manufacturing industry focus on actively involving employees and communicating with them about how their individual contributions help shape company success. But one of the most important retention factors is providing career development opportunities, with 77% of manufacturing workers citing it as a major influence in staying with an organization.

Ignoring worker voices negatively affects employee productivity, company reputation, and most important, customer experience, satisfaction, and retention. Active listening within the workplace fosters a culture that encourages growth, respect, and job satisfaction. Establishing communication channels that amplify individual voices within the manufacturing workforce allows organizations to gather real-time insights essential to solving workplace issues within short-term, day-to-day operations, and shaping the company culture.

In the face of market disruptions and other uncontrollable elements, manufacturing leaders must focus on what is within their reach. Building robust relationships with frontline workers emerges as the most effective way to navigate storms together. This can be accomplished through a commitment to continual active listening. By doing this, leaders stay closely connected with their workers’ experiences, ideas, and concerns.

Here are three common roadblocks that contribute to employee feelings of undervaluation and dissatisfaction.

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Quality Digest

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This can result in frontline workers feeling marginalized, perplexed, and frustrated in their roles. The aftermath of such actions? Crucial aspects of the business, such as productivity, sales, customer loyalty, brand image, and employee relations are negatively affected. As employees bear the primary impact of these changes, their tasks become more challenging. Therefore, it’s crucial for organizations to acknowledge the necessary adjustments and demonstrate that they have genuinely considered the effects of these changes on their employees.

While recent economic reports on inflation have signaled positive signs for the future, frontline industry turnover rates remain high. With further supply chain disruptions looming, retaining top talent has never been more important for employers. These pressing challenges and continual raw-material price difficulties have significantly affected the manufacturing industry, and industry leaders are turning toward new strategies to enhance operational efficiency and retain a skilled, resilient, and committed workforce.

Keeping employees in the dark
Current economic and industry-specific conditions have forced manufacturing organizations to evaluate the best methods to mitigate damage to their bottom line, often arriving at cutting unnecessary costs as the solution. Whether this means laying off existing employees, freezing hiring, reevaluating partnerships, or even offshoring, employers often fail to consider the effect on their employees and keep them completely in the dark throughout the entire decision-making process.

While career advancement is often highlighted as a key feature in job descriptions, there can be a noticeable misalignment between the promises made during recruitment and the reality of the job. Employers sometimes neglect to fulfill their promise of advancement or limit their view of career development to just promotions. This discrepancy can lead to employee dissatisfaction and disengagement. It’s therefore vital for organizations to align their recruiting messages and the actual opportunities available within the job role.