9 Ways to Retain Hourly and Production Employees

Newly hired hourly production and warehouse employees are notorious for their high turnovers and lack of engagement on the job, especially with the younger employees who are just entering the workforce. While some of this is due to their lack of interest in long term commitment to manual labor work, a lot of it has to do with the work environments and the relatively low pay and lack of benefits that come with new jobs in manufacturing.

The bottom line is, employees will leave jobs that they do not value. Many unskilled and low skilled employees are willing to leave their new job within the first week because they haven't invested much into it and it's not that hard to start their search over. It often does not take much for them walk away from company. It could be something as simple as oversleeping one morning, then deciding that it's not worth going in to work to get written up when they could just go to the next agency or company and get a job almost immediately. As employers, the challenge is to help them see the value in their job. But this challenge can be too big to overcome when the value is hardly anything more than a regular paycheck.

Let's look at some of the reasons employees leave their manufacturing and warehouse jobs.

  1. Boring, unchallenging work
  2. Fast pace/heavy/dangerous work
  3. Low pay and no raises
  4. Lack of training
  5. No room for advancement
  6. Being exposed to hazardous materials or safety risks
  7. Uncomfortable work environment (hot, cold, noisy, dusty, dirty, unpleasant odors)
  8. Lack of leadership, lack of respect and patience from trainers and leaders
  9. Harassment from or unpleasant exchanges with other employees
  10. Insufficient break periods
  11. Poor or lack of company culture
  12. Little to no time flexibility, too much required overtime
  13. Strict company policies

Almost every manufacturing company poses at least one of these challenges. I've seen companies with more than 10 of them! If these are reasons that drive new employees away, what can companies do to overcome them? Below are some ideas management can use to prevent or make up for some of the challenges. Of course some of these ideas will take long to adapt to, and some are not even feasible for some employers, but any well planned effort towards retention is well worth the time and cost.

  1. Be completely transparent and honest during the screening process. While the traditional screening strategy is to find candidates who qualify for the job, I used to use an exact opposite strategy to screen candidates: I would often scare the candidates into turning down the job. By painting an honest and almost unpleasant picture of the work demand and work environment to candidates, I was able to screen out candidates that weren't up for the job, and mentally prepared candidates that were truly interested. Candidates that accepted the jobs did not experience culture shocks or surprises when they arrived on the job. Without properly preparing candidates, they will see the collective challenges and difficulties as insurmountable, and will therefore hopelessly abandon the job that they barely know.
  2. Your production management team must genuinely value each production employee. There is absolutely no way around this. As direct leaders, your team of managers and supervisors must do their parts in retaining their team members by leading them the right way and showing their appreciation for the hard work they put in. Many managers and supervisors earned their titles through hard work, longevity, and product and process knowledge, but they were never properly screened for their soft skills. If leadership training is needed, then training must be scheduled immediately as you cannot afford to lose another employee due to your supervisor's inability to communicate or lead.
  3. Set your employees up for success. Aside from mentally preparing new employees for the work environment, providing them with the necessary skills and training will allow them to excel in their work, which leads to higher engagement levels and commitment to quality and productivity. If a strong and proven training program is not in place already, do not wait to put one together.
  4. Offer health benefits and 401K. To some employees with young families, the health benefits offered is the main factor they consider in their job search. The promise of access to health insurance and 401K will immediately motivate some new employees to be their best.
  5. Invest in improving the work environment. There should be no reason why a company cannot create a tidy, hazard free work environment. While loud noises, unpleasant odors, uncomfortable warehouse temperatures, and dusty or oily raw materials are innate to some work environments, the employer can always provide bigger and cleaner break rooms, cleaner restrooms, unobstructed walkways, etc., to show their employees that they're doing their part. Add fans and heaters where they can improve the temperature and airflow. Provide water, extra microwaves in the break rooms, free treat once in a while, etc. These little things will show how much the employer cares, and will cause employees to think twice before they decide to leave.
  6. Show them the light at the end of the tunnel. Employees will hold on to jobs if they believe they're working towards something bigger, like an increase in pay, challenges, or responsibilities. Employers should regularly review employee performances and promote top employees to inspire those who aspire to grow with the company. Highlight some of the employees that had worked their way up through the ranks, and use them as models for other employees to mold their paths by. Growth can happen naturally, or employers can develop programs that can fast track some of the employees through the learning curve so they may advance more quickly. Another good idea is to cross train employees so they can learn more skills and feel like the can contribute more to the company's success.
  7. Boost work morale any way possible. Strategies for improving workplace morale will vary greatly, depending on the size and demographics make up of each company. Some examples include: holiday parties, picnics and cookouts, camping trips, sports leagues, movie night (or day), employee bonding programs, weekly and monthly contests, attendance and quota incentives, and small quarterly bonuses (as opposed to year-end only).
  8. Provide assistance to their non-work-related challenges. Create a carpool program to match drivers and riders. Work with local services to provide discounts for your employees. Solve the babysitting issue by referring babysitters to your employees. Offer paid gym memberships to those with longer tenures. Save your employees multiple trips to the government office by helping them with their immigration or legal paperworks. If your team doesn't have the time or resources to provide this kind of assistance, ask other employees to volunteer. Turn your workplace into a community of volunteers and helpful associates.
  9. Allow for time flexibility outside of the 40 regularly scheduled hours. Give employees time off to get to their important appointments. Allow them to see their family on special occasions.

Like in most other businesses, the employees are the biggest and most important assets that a manufacturing company has. But unlike past decades, today's young and inexperienced workforce is very savvy; they have access to all the resources and connections that could land them better careers in other fields. Special efforts to retain these employees are even more necessary because they already face many natural challenges in their manufacturing work environments that often lead to high turnovers.