A Tale of Two Workplace Cultures in Manufacturing

Factory Discussion

Over the course of the last year, some manufacturers have come to realize that they’ve inadvertently cultivated two distinct company cultures within their organizations: one for white-collar employees, and one for frontline, hourly team members.  

Corporate vs. plant, if you will.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, as many white-collar employees were sent home to work remotely and essential frontline employees remained in the factories to ensure continuity of business operations, the differences in the day-to-day experiences of these two employee groups has never been more apparent. And with the additional workforce management challenges the pandemic has brought to light, some manufacturing leaders now realize that they may have unintentionally focused more on creating a positive culture and experience for corporate employees and haven’t focused enough on the hourly team members in the plants.

Perhaps this dynamic sounds familiar?

So how can your organization address this issue and foster a consistent, people-centric culture that works for your entire workforce? 

A good place to start is by making sure you understand the needs, motivations, and expectations of your hourly team members. It’s important to have a clear picture of what attracted them to your company in the first place and what drives them to stay, so you can implement policies, practices, and programs that address these factors.

To understand what makes hourly employees tick, fourteen years ago the industrial staffing firm, EmployBridge, created an annual survey called Voice of the Blue Collar Worker. This survey is now the largest survey of frontline employees working in supply chain positions in manufacturing and logistics, offering incredible insight into the hearts and minds of hourly team members. Insight such as…

Workplace culture is the greatest factor in retention.

For thirteen years, when asked the question, “What is the primary reason you stayed with a company?,” the majority of respondents said a good company culture. If culture is the top factor driving retention, the next logical question in your mind should be…

What does “good” look like for hourly team members?

Glad you asked! Because when asked to describe a “good company culture,” here’s what frontline employees had to say (in their own words):


good company culture

Interestingly, none of these seem unreasonable, yet for many white-collar manufacturing employees, these factors are often taken for granted as part of their day-to-day experience, such as having flexibility to address family and personal issues, being given opportunities to learn new skills, or simply not being treated like a number. 

With manufacturing organizations having the lowest employee engagement levels of all industries, it appears the workplace experience isn’t addressing the needs of hourly team members, who represent 78% of a typical manufacturer’s workforce. 

Would leaders in your organization say they truly understand what hourly team members need to thrive and how they feel about working at your company? If the answer is no, there is one step you should take now to get started on the journey to transform the experience for your hourly team members.

Give your employees a voice – ask them what they think! There are different ways to approach this:

  1. Employee Surveys. For starters, if you aren’t including hourly team members in your annual employee engagement surveys today, what are you waiting for? Alternatively, rather than a yearly survey, many manufacturers are turning to shorter employee pulse surveys that can be completed quickly and more frequently. Human capital management technology can make this process much easier as there are flexible employee survey tools, which allow for regular input and feedback from your teams on any number of topics via mobile device, or even a kiosk in a break room. These surveys can be conducted anonymously as well if that is your preference.
  2. Focus groups or 1:1 interviews. If you go this route, ensure the focus groups are moderated by a neutral party (i.e. not the participants’ manager) and by someone who has solid facilitation skills, so employees feel comfortable sharing in an open forum. This approach can be a great way to demonstrate that you value your team members as individuals by giving them time during their shift (i.e. taking them off the production line) to share their opinions. 
  3. Suggestion box. While some might call this option a bit “old school,” it’s still an easy way to get some feedback fairly quickly. Simply place a suggestion box in a public spot (such as a break room, locker room, etc.), where team members can drop in their thoughts, ideas, or suggestions.

Regardless of how you decide to ask for their input, the most important thing you can do is to translate the feedback from your hourly team members into action.


To learn more, check out this Industry Week webinar sponsored by UKG: Manufacturing a Winning Talent Management Strategy - The Voice of Hourly Workers on What It Takes.

Watch it now.