How to Overcome 4 Communication Challenges With Your Manufacturing Workforce

Manufacturing Employee

October 7th is Manufacturing Day—a day celebrated across the industry to inspire the next generation to start careers in modern manufacturing. The initiative has a collective goal of filling more than 4 million manufacturing jobs over the next decade.

With this significant recruitment objective in mind—further complicated by the reality that it’s nearly 1.5 times harder to find talent today compared to 4 years ago—retaining your employees has never been more important. Effective communication builds the foundation for a more inclusive culture and deeper employee loyalty, so it’s a good idea to assess your current communication practices as you evolve your retention strategy.

Communicating with hourly employees can be challenging

In manufacturing, communication that is clear, timely, and meaningful, especially between management and hourly workers, can impact productivity, safety, teamwork, conflict resolution, and engagement. In fact, consistent communication is considered an alternate currency expected by the hourly manufacturing workforce, which accounts for an overwhelming 78% of workers in the sector.

Often these hourly employees may not have a company email address or easy access to a computer at work, making it difficult to engage in timely, ongoing communication with employees and foster a sense of community. Here are four major barriers that can hinder good communication with your employees and how to overcome them.

Challenge 1: Frontline managers don’t prioritize employee engagement.

Solution: Employee engagement and the employee experience are hot topics across industries, heightened by the effects of the tumultuous labor crisis. A Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey of U.S. hourly frontline workers who left their jobs between March 2020 and August 2021 tells us that bad relationships with bosses is a key reason for turnover, right behind pay and COVID-19-related issues. Effective communication can sometimes take a back seat to a frontline manager’s major priorities of meeting production quotas and company financial goals. Proactively using communication to create better employee-manager relationships is a great opportunity to support your workforce. For example, managers can lead problem-solving discussions that encourage workers to arrive at solutions themselves. Then follow up with and recognize those workers who developed and successfully applied the solutions.

Challenge 2: Company leaders don’t foster meaningful communication.

Solution: Communication must start from the top. A lack of communication from top leadership can cause costly misunderstandings throughout the organization. Hourly employees are people first—and workers second. When leaders have a genuine two-way dialogue with employees and require managers at all levels to do the same, it can go a long way in helping workers feel that they and their sentiments are valued. Furthermore, a big part of how frontline managers learn to proactively communicate is through the example and values set by top leadership. Without the example from their own leaders, managers may be more likely to let effective two-way communication with their hourly employees fall by the wayside.

Challenge 3: Language barriers impede communication.

Solution: Language barriers can limit the level that employees engage with their company and managers as messages may literally get lost in translation. Almost one third of U.S. employers report a high dependency on workers whose native language is not English. Organizational issues such as compliance, safety, and quality can also potentially put a company at greater risk if managers are not able to effectively communicate with employees because of language barriers. Ways to make language barriers more surmountable could include actions such as translating all key documents, leveraging professional or trusted employee interpreters, offering language classes to employees and managers, as well as posting information throughout your facility in all key languages.

Challenge 4: Communication strategies don’t fully leverage mobile.

Solution: Companies that do not invest in technology that harnesses the power of mobile solutions lose out on a means of connecting with their employees in a way that is easy and meaningful for them. Although hourly manufacturing employees may not have access to a company email or computer, most people, and especially younger generations, have a smartphone that they bring to work with them. There is a huge opportunity to leverage the extensive use of smartphones by employees for communication purposes, such as through apps, push notifications or surveys to help everyone feel empowered and connected.

Putting it all together: Create a communication strategy that breaks through these barriers.

With how important it is to attract and retain employees in the face of the current labor shortage, now is the ideal time to look at enhancing your communication strategy. Starting the right conversations with your employees and using the best tools, timing, and best practices can make the difference between keeping your employees and losing them to outside employment opportunities. Using the right connected workplace technology can build an engaged employee base and support the life-work journey, creating better employee experiences and ultimately better business results.

Learn more about how to develop and implement a cohesive communications strategy that connects people at all levels of your organization.