Business leaders often say people are their number one asset. People make business run. The industry is feeling this need for people now more than ever as demand is up, but the labor shortage and struggle to keep top-quality employees continues.
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Ensuring people know their value could be a key element in alleviating some of the pressure. Simply saying people are the number one asset is not enough. Actions from top management down to the manufacturing line effect positive change within a company’s culture. Making investments in people pays dividends to a company’s bottom line, impacting employee recruitment, retention and overall success.
“Companies often focus on the metrics and not on what drives the metrics. We certainly have goals, but we focus on the thing that makes them happen, and that’s people. Make sure they know the business, their role, and know how to connect with others. That ultimately drives results,” says Debbie LaPinska, vice president of human resources, PGT Innovations.
This article details three areas of employee connection for companies to invest in to increase engagement and drive results.
Leadership-driven Job Safety
By Nick Oates
Creating a leadership-driven and engaged work environment has a big impact on workplace operations, such as job safety, resulting in higher quality, lower costs and happier employees. But being leadership-driven goes beyond showing interest in a safety initiative. It means company leadership is actively educating and communicating on safety regularly.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, conducted a meta-analysis of 15 studies on the impact of workplace wellness and safety programs. They found that such programs produced positive outcomes that benefited both employees and organizations, such as reduced absenteeism and sick days, positive ROI, increased productivity and fewer accidents. In addition, the study saw companies considerably reduce their workers’ compensation costs.
Any type of safety and wellness initiative is ultimately about creating a caring and wellness-focused culture. But when that culture doesn’t exist or is taken for granted, the results can impact the bottom line.
As with any new program, employees need to buy into it in order for it to work the way it is intended. Employees will not be on board with a new wellness and safety program unless they feel it is important to the leadership team.
How can a wellness and safety program be more leadership-driven? Company leadership needs to know at least three things, and communicate them to employees so they know what is happening:
- Where did we fail in the past regarding health, wellness and safety?
- What are the best tools to apply and who can provide them?
- What is the specific plan for the company and who is responsible for making that happen?
A strong communication system requires the involvement and buy-in of top-level management because employees must feel comfortable reporting injuries without the fear of retaliation. When implementing a new safety program, set up a training session with employees to educate them on these issues and answer all of their questions. Make it clear that the company cares about their safety and encourage them to report any and all injuries without the fear of retaliation.
Typically, this educational material can come from three sources:
- Company internal processes and procedures
- A third-party service provider offered by an insurance broker
- Insurance company services.
The next step is continuing the dialogue. A simple way to do this is to communicate successes with the team. Let employees know these wins are a result of their efforts so they know the initiative is working:
- Loss-free periods
- New procedures that are working
- Positive feedback you get from safety vendors
- Changes in the way insurance companies classify the business.
Leadership can also support and encourage employee initiatives:
- Safety committee run by employees
- Celebrations for having extended periods of being injury-free: lunch or raffling off gift cards.
01 - EMPLOYEE NEEDS
In light of the current labor shortage and renewed focus to hire and retain a quality workforce, many industry companies have sweetened benefits packages and increased wages. Beyond this, however, to build a workplace culture that fosters relationships and retains satisfied, engaged employees, companies need to understand and respond to specific employee needs.
“The important thing is not focusing on fancy and flashy. Small things matter. Get to know your people; they will tell you what matters most to them,” says Patrys Wiid, vice president of operational excellence for YKK AP.
Over the past three years, YKK AP has been responding to employees’ need for a comfortable workplace environment. “Beyond the basic hierarchal needs such as fair compensation and good benefits, to attract and retain a diverse workforce today, we must seek to elevate our comprehension of employee needs to a higher level of significance,” said Oliver Stepe, president of YKK AP, in a 2016 interview with Window & Door. “For example, simple things like physical work environment matter. It seems basic but manufacturing or contracting based industries have lagged behind other industries in some ways.”
Physical workplace improvements include a new HVAC system, scanners for product packaging, and updated employee offices and breakrooms at the company’s Dublin, Georgia, facility.
PGT Innovation’s Venice, Florida, location is not in a manufacturing community; many employees travel 30 to 45 minutes to work. “From engagement surveys, we’ve noted where employee expense goes: transportation is number one, followed by housing and childcare,” says LaPinska. To offset some of the cost to its employees, PGT purchased land and partnered with the YMCA to subsidize childcare fees at its own facility. The facility is open six days a week with extended hours to accommodate shift workers.
“Being committed as a relationship company, our programs are based on talking to our folks and knowing better what they need. They can grow in careers and have less stress about personal challenges they deal with,” says LaPinska.
Mary Hulbert, executive coach and consultant, and founder of True Directions, an executive coaching and consulting firm, notes that companies that offer an emergency fund, flex time, bereavement days and general goodwill to employees “send a message that you’re genuine about caring for your people.” But, she notes, “benefits and perks alone won’t improve and sustain engagement in the long run.”
Hulbert points to the importance of building a workplace culture of trust. “Trust is the driving force behind effective relationships and results. Employees need to feel safe in order to [share]. Employees are more likely to contribute ideas and solutions, share concerns, report problems and suggest changes. Without trust, things tend to cost more money and take more time. There’s, as Stephen M.R. Covey puts it, ‘trust tax’ on the company because of those speed and quality costs.”
02 - COMMUNICATION
Key to building trust among employees and from employees to leadership, is clear and regular communication from the C suite to the manufacturing floor. This kind of continuous communication is what Nick Oates, property and casualty consultant and Certified WorkComp Advisor with Knight-Dik Insurance Agency Inc., refers to as “leadership-driven.” (Read more from Oates in the sidebar.) Leadership-driven means company leadership is regularly educating and communicating on policies, procedures and goals, according to Oates.
Effective communication not only allows leaders to roll out initiatives and share results; leadership-driven communication bleeds into every facet of a company. If top-level leaders are effectively communicating, they should be encouraging mid-tier management to do the same. Peer-to-peer employee communication also benefits from seeing it modeled from the top. Open and frequent communication throughout a company encourages interpersonal relationships and employee interactivity, sources say.
Wiid notes YKK AP’s commitment to company-wide communication by offering the technology to support it. The company deployed a new social collaboration platform with a mobile app for all employees. Leadership communicates with them and vice versa.
“We’re focusing more on the decisions being made to set us up for better communication with employees, more clarity on what we’re working toward in the future. If there is not technology to support clarity in communication, we can’t ask managers to improve their engagement with employees,” says Wiid.
Company-wide assessments and feedback campaigns to address key employee growth areas—like improved communication—are common among large firms. However, Wiid notes that while large organizations spend money and time on these efforts, in the end, it's about the connection between the manager and their team, no matter the size. “Any organization can [help] their leaders realize that their job as managers is to connect. We forget how important it is to simply speak to people.”
03 - MANAGER TRAINING
To build a workforce of engaged employees, company leadership must better communicate about the mission of the company and the employees’ place in it. They must build relationships with and among employees by fostering an environment of trust and care. Being “leadership-driven” means that all key vice presidents, managers and supervisors are on board and understand and execute the goals just as well as the boss does, according to Oates.
“Organizations that are doing well [to foster positive culture] are those investing in leadership development and training,” says Hulbert. “Whether it’s effective communication or good leadership skills, it starts from the top: model good behavior and teach people on down.”
Well-trained managers have become the link for YKK AP executives to connect with every employee, in every location. “Our connection with employees on the line is seven layers removed,” says Wiid. “We want to focus on developing leaders so they understand they own the connection. They are responsible for engaging that relationship.” The training includes a half-day session on how to build trust with employees and how to work with disengaged employees.
In order to make these connections, Hulbert says leaders and managers need training and development in interpersonal and leadership skills: how to ask questions, how to listen, how to foster an environment where employees feel like their opinions count.
“Feedback is the secret sauce to an environment of trust and open communication,” she says. “Positive and constructive feedback, from the boss to the employee and from the employee to the boss … builds a culture focused on learning, enhancing communication and developing strong relationships."
The paradigm shift
Building a positive company culture that attracts talent and responds to employee needs is an investment. While initiatives to better communicate and make efforts to connect don’t need to cost a lot of money, any human capital investment takes time and energy. Some would say investments in people are simply the right thing to do. But, investing in people may also improve business operations to offset other costs.
“In the past, we’ve had to increase workforce to keep up with demand,” says LaPinska. “But because retention is better, we keep employees longer and have more experienced workers. And because we have leaders engaging the team, the team knows what’s expected, resulting in improved operational efficiencies because of all of these initiatives.”
Hulbert refers to this as the paradigm shift. “Suggesting this type of coaching and training often starts with someone saying, ‘I don’t have time for this,’” she says. “You can only make the best plan to get the job done if you’re hearing from everyone, and you can only do that if you’re open and sharing. The reason companies are investing in this is to get the job done. It helps to improve how they get the job done.”