With half of manufacturing workers saying their mental health has declined during the pandemic, Manufacturing Advisor Matthew Ward explains why staff engagement and wellbeing support is crucial to modern manufacturing and shares some proven ideas for building a happy, healthy and resilient workforce.
Staff engagement and promoting good health and wellbeing have rapidly skipped up the list of priorities for businesses during the pandemic. The stresses of living alongside COVID-19 and the difficulties of new ways of working have taken their toll on many of us, and the manufacturing sector has been affected as much as any other.
The challenge for manufacturers
While many sectors have switched to remote working, much of the frontline manufacturing workforce have continued to come to work, where they have faced the additional daily stresses of social distancing and workplace hygiene. Other office-based staff have had to work from home, but manufacturing businesses have been among the least prepared for that transition.
As a result, around half of manufacturing workers say their mental health has suffered during the pandemic.
But even without COVID-19, the manufacturing sector has its own specific challenges. The traditional structure of manufacturing businesses, and the physical separation between senior management upstairs and operatives on the shopfloor, mean there can be a disconnect between top and bottom if relationships aren’t handled with care.
In this environment, it’s crucial that managers ensure close engagement with their staff. Beyond the obvious value to employees and meeting expectations as a responsible employer, there are some key reasons to make it a priority.
When we think about productivity in manufacturing, technology and efficiency tend to come to mind first. But there is also a clear, well-evidenced, and hugely underrated link between productivity and wellbeing.
Employees who feel supported, engaged and happy in their work are far more likely to maximise their potential, be resilient to change and buy into business goals. Positive mental wellbeing also translates into lower absenteeism and fewer sick days
In fact, nine in ten manufacturers that have invested in promoting physical and mental wellbeing at work say they have experienced a boost in productivity as a result.
Minding the gap
We face a significant skills gap in UK manufacturing, one which will ultimately be filled by the Millennial and Generation Z age groups. Wellbeing support is highly valued among these younger generations, so a modern approach to people management will play a key role in attracting and retaining new talent as we move into the future.
Holding onto existing talent is also essential. More than half of manufacturing workers say they would leave their job if they felt their mental wellbeing wasn’t being supported, and more than a third of UK manufacturers have already seen an employee move on because of a lack of wellbeing support.
Good ideas to get you started
There are a huge range of measures businesses can invest in when it comes to engagement and wellbeing support, from training for line managers to mental health first aiders, flexible working arrangements and staff wellness initiatives. But there are also some fundamental basics to get right first. Here are a few tips:
1. Add regular engagement to the day-to-day
Give staff on the shopfloor regular opportunities to engage and connect with the running of the organisation, for example through stand up meetings, visual management boards and Good Day Bad Day Reviews. Make sure people feel empowered to make suggestions and contribute their ideas.
Managers should take the time out from the boardroom to regularly walk the factory floor and engage with their team.
2. Work on empathy and leadership skills
Good leadership is vital to a happy, healthy team. Leaders should show empathy, encourage personal development and be willing listeners.
My colleague Rachel Baldry has an excellent personal anecdote to back this up. As a new manager of a disengaged, unhappy team of engineers in a previous job, her empathic, collaborative management style gave her team a new lease of life. In her own words:
“I started personal development plans and put effort into building relationships with each member of the team. The effect was transformative: people felt listened to and empowered to make suggestions, staff turnover went down, productivity went up; one engineer who was previously considered a ‘lost cause’ even got promoted.”
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Make sure staff feel supported and in the loop at all times, particularly those who are having to work remotely during the pandemic.
When we asked a group of Greater Manchester manufacturers for their tips during lockdown, we got some fantastic examples of good communication in action. Siemens Digital in Congleton, for example, organised a daily print-out in the canteen with messages of thanks and support from home workers. Meanwhile, team members at Dean Group International in Irlam made a series of short videos on what it was like working onsite, for those yet to return to work.
4. Recognise and reward
Rewarding staff for their work in difficult circumstances is a great way to show that they’re a valued part of the organisation. Siemens Digital have rewarded staff with an extra day’s holiday during the pandemic, while Crystal Doors in Rochdale have introduced a voucher scheme for employees to invest in wellbeing and personal development activities of their choice.
5. Support physical as well as mental health
Physical health plays a key role in wellbeing. Manufacturers’ organisation Make UK has produced a useful guide with examples of how to encourage and support good nutrition and physical activity as part of a wellbeing strategy.
Access fully funded support
There are a fantastic array of tools, resources and guidance available through the Hub when it comes to staff engagement and wellbeing.
Through our Skills for Growth - SME Support programme, businesses can access fully funded skills and productivity consultation services which includes health and wellbeing specialists, who will work with you to put a robust strategy in place to manage and promote wellbeing in the workplace..
We are also partnered with people development specialists Leading Well, which provides wellbeing audits, diagnostic services and workshops for businesses of all sizes, as well as certified mental health first aid training.
Finally, our Manufacturing Advisors can work with you to boost productivity and performance through effective staff engagement techniques for meetings, performance reviews, visual management, factory walks, and more.
Remember: your people are your business, so investing in the wellbeing of your workforce may just be the best investment you ever make.
Matthew Ward , Manufacturing Advisor
Matt works with Manufacturing clients to help them achieve productivity gains. Experienced in project delivery, he supports businesses through the grant application process and helps them to deliver results.