Parsable Blog

How to Motivate Your Factory Workers During COVID-19?

Anisha Padamshi

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COVID-19 has disrupted the world as we know it, throwing a wrench into industrial manufacturing operations. 

As a production or plant manager, you’re likely dealing with disruptions to your factory floor, or worst case scenarios brewing in the back of your mind. What if my plant closes (again)? What do I do if a factory worker comes on-site and is positive for COVID-19? How do I manage high worker turnover or workers calling out sick? How do I open up after a COVID-19 outbreak on the plant floor? 

According to the Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey by the The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), 67.1% of manufacturers have continued operations, while 31.6% temporarily halted only part of their operations. Among large manufacturers, 50.8% are completely operational, while around 73% of small and medium-sized firms state the same. 

The survey cited a number of other challenges. Forty-one percent have the inability to attract and retain talent, which has been a big concern for the past couple of years. Forty-nine percent say rising health care and insurance costs, 41.6% state weaker global growth and slower export sales, and 40% say access to COVID-19 testing were all top-of-mind for manufacturing companies. 

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had more than 1,300 open safety complaints related to COVID-19 at manufacturing facilities, according to data up until May 2020. And that number has likely increased since then. 

With the looming disruptions to your business and the desire to keep operations up and running, your number one priority right now is the safety and well-being of your frontline factory workers. For without them, you wouldn’t be in business. Yes, maintaining social distancing on the shop floor and ensuring employees are wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is important, however that is only scratching the surface. 

Here are 5 ways to motivate your factory workers and show them that you not only value their hard work, but you have a worker-first mindset: 

1. Regularly Communicate with Your Employees

With so much uncertainty, the worst thing you can do is keep your employees in the dark. 

Promoting a culture of openness and transparency in your communication is so important during times of crisis, it helps build trust among your team.

In a crisis situation, a panicked response is often a common knee jerk reaction. Employees are under a lot of stress and need to feel that their employer truly cares about their well-being and has their best interests in mind. Maintaining a steady flow of ongoing communication, and reinforcing your company’s commitment to safety with fact-based information on a regular basis can go a long way. Companies that are able to build and maintain the trust of their workforce, the businesses that are the most transparent with their employees during COVID-19, and times of crisis, will be the ones to foster loyalty and employee retention. 

2. Listen to Your Employees

Just as keeping information flowing to your employees is vital to boosting team morale, it is equally as important to encourage an environment of bottom up communication. The idea of bottom up communication is centered around collaboration. It’s being open and receptive to the inclusion of ideas from all employees, in order to make the most informed decisions. 

Your team of frontline workers are closely intertwined in the operations on the factory floor, day in and day out. Not only are they going to be the most knowledgeable, they likely have those innovative “aha” ideas that could dramatically improve daily processes and procedures. So, as a plant manager what can you do? Listen to your employees, give them the space to share and develop their ideas and build a relationship based on trust. 

Employees favor companies that are invested in their personal lives, particularly in times of crisis. Rather than assuming what’s best for on-site employees and adopting a top-down model of communication, ask for their feedback on how your organization can support them. 

3. Show Your Employees You Value Them

Everyday a worker steps foot into your factory, they’re putting their lives at risk. They don’t have the luxury to work from home. They are the true heroes continuing to keep your operations running and supplying households with essential goods. 

average person spends a lot of time at work, why not make it an enjoyable experience? People want to be recognized for a job well done. Sometimes even the smallest things can make a difference. Whether that’s rewarding employees with a certificate of recognition that’s printed and posted around the factory floor, or simply telling someone they did a good job. Recognition makes your employees feel valued as contributors, and that the work they’re doing is making a difference. According to a recent study by the Workforce Institute, Gen Z is keen on receiving recognition from their managers. Recognizing everything from small achievements to big wins can make a huge impact on employee morale and help drive retention. 

4.  Acknowledge Employees’ Technology Expectations 

The incoming younger generation of manufacturing workers, Millennials and Gen Z, are used to integrating technology into their daily lives, particularly smartphones and tablets. They expect the same from their employees. 

Outdated and archaic workplace technology will not be well received by this digital-savvy workforce.

According to an IndustryWeek article, one in five wouldn’t consider working for a company that didn’t adopt technology solutions that are up to today’s digital standards, and one in three are looking for a work environment equipped with modern technology. 

5. Use Digital Technology on Your Factory Floor

The global pandemic has revealed how disruptive it can be when factory workers don’t have the tools and technology to help them get the job done. 

A recent survey conducted by LNS Research looks at how manufacturers are sustaining operations and how they’re responding to COVID-19. At a high level, the results show that digitization is viewed as a solution to the problem.

According to the survey data, when looking at the actions taken by manufacturing companies, there is a focus on connected workforce capabilities like the increased use of collaboration tools, remote assistance, use of mobile apps, improving frontline training systems and deploying connected worker technology. 

When looking at the impact of the pandemic on technology projects currently underway, the data shows that connected worker technology projects were the types of projects least likely to be put on hold and most likely to be sped up. 

We all know that stress is a health hazard. And in the midst of it all, it’s easy to overlook or downplay that your frontline employees’ work environment may be one of the many contributing factors. As a plant or production manager, the sooner you realize this and understand the importance of your workforce, the sooner you can do something about it.