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A Positive Work Culture Can Be a Port in a Storm

May 2, 2024
During uncertain economic times, focusing on your people and building culture is a stabilizing strategy.

How will the manufacturing industry continue to evolve in uncertain economic times? While we can’t predict the future, we do know some factors that will make the rest of 2024 tricky to navigate, including financial market fluctuations, political instability as we approach the November general election and government policy changes. 

Our HR experts have identified three rising trends: a renewed focus on employee retention, managing a more informed workforce and HR’s role in preparing the workforce with artificial intelligence (AI). 

You can help your business be prepared for the unknown by implementing flexible strategies, managing costs and, perhaps most importantly, fostering strong employee retention.

1. Employee Retention

When you create policies that encourage happy employees, you are working to combat morale problems, decreased innovation and productivity, and poor client experiences. You are also reducing the likelihood of employee turnover. 

Fostering employee retention saves money, too. Employees who leave take with them institutional knowledge and experience, plus productivity is lost as replacements are hired and trained. To help retain your employees, we recommend these four strategies:

Transparent communication: Employees want to feel included in the company’s process, which can be achieved when you share company information, including financial health, future plans, and how external factors are affecting operations. 

Support and resources for employee well-being: When you promote employee well-being, everyone in the company benefits. Depending on your company’s resources and workforce’s needs, support could include health and wellness programs, flexible work arrangements, mental health resources and access to counseling services. 

Employee recognition and rewards: Employees want to feel appreciated, and frequency of recognition matters more than a reward’s size. Consider thank you notes, gift cards, special parking spots, extra time off, and bonuses.

Professional development: Professional development reinforces your commitment to employees and their progress. Developing clear career paths can also help your employees envision a future within your company. This is especially important within the manufacturing industry, where career advancement opportunities aren’t always apparent. Consider offering programs such as online coursework, cross-training opportunities, job shadowing, mentorships, cross-functional project teams and educational assistance. 

All of these efforts help create a positive company culture that fosters open communication, encourages collaboration, creates an environment of shared values and promotes work-life balance — conditions that will encourage your employees to continue contributing to your company’s productivity and success.

2. Managing a More-Informed Workforce

From viral social media posts to Glassdoor reviews and company websites, workers have a plethora of outside resources available to help them gather information about trends, company reputations and workplace rights. Such availability creates both opportunities and challenges for employers.

Often, when workers are airing workplace grievances online, they feel undervalued, disengaged or have lost trust in their company’s leadership. When you are proactive with transparent communication, you can earn trust and respect as well as combat outside influences that may not tell your company’s full story.

Making an effort to listen to employees, act appropriately on their requests and communicate well can go a long way toward improving morale and engagement. Here are some basic ways to improve your company culture:

  • Clearly define goals and set expectations, and reinforce those expectations in your daily communications
  • Use salary data from your organization to ensure pay equity
  • Conduct stay interviews to elicit honest feedback
  • Educate managers on leadership skills with training and leading by example
  • Implement the employee engagement strategies mentioned above
  • Evaluate and update benefits options annually
  • Offer creative options for flexible hours and time-off
  • Communicate value through total rewards compensation statements

3. Paving the Way for Artificial Intelligence 

The use of AI within the manufacturing industry isn’t new, but with the launch of generative AI last year, more workplace roles are being impacted. Companies continue to find ways to use AI to make processes smoother. Even within HR departments, AI can streamline the hiring, onboarding and training processes. For example, recruiters are using AI to help scan for resumes that best fit job descriptions. New hires can be guided through completing their paperwork by AI built into an onboarding program, and machine-learning platforms are using AI to personalize learning. 

While the use of AI offers efficiencies and money-saving strategies, companies should move forward with caution. HR teams should lead the way in preparing the company to adopt the technology, working with departments across the company to evaluate their needs and collaborating with IT and legal teams on determining AI risks. Topics for new policies to address include:

  • Which company roles are authorized to use AI
  • Which job-specific duties can be fulfilled with the help of AI
  • Compliance with security policies
  • Verification of the accuracy of information obtained from AI
  • Maintenance of confidential company, customer and personal information 

Though the near future is filled with many unknowns, a positive work culture that includes open communication and sets ground rules for generative AI can help manufacturers weather the challenges ahead and thrive.

Susan Crowder is the HR manager of client success at G&A Partners.

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