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Manufacturing Tips: 7 Ways to Improve Employee Performance

6/22/20 – Erin Young

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One of the surest formulas for manufacturing success is to pair advanced technology with highly trained workers. In recent years, finding qualified workers has been challenging for many companies. So, when you find the right people, consider these seven suggestions to maximize their skills — and retain them. 

1. Train Smarter 

When you're ready to hire, determine which qualifications or abilities are "must-haves" for applicants and which skills workers can acquire on the job. You want to prepare a training program that addresses the average new worker's skills gaps and gets people up to speed on your company's practices and procedures as quickly as possible. 

Training isn't just for new hires. Even long-time employees can benefit from refresher courses on old techniques and introductions to new technology. Workers may be especially interested in skills upgrades that enable them to qualify for promotion. 

2. Send Them Back to School

Training doesn't just happen in your workplace. Consider offering tuition reimbursement for workers who take technical and business classes at local and online educational institutions.

If you use an educational assistance plan, you can make tax-free payments to workers that are also tax-deductible for your company. You can exclude up to $5,250 per worker using an educational assistance plan. Complement tuition reimbursement plans with comparable learning opportunities, such as trade show attendance and vendor-sponsored equipment training.

3. Create Incentives 

Prioritize the carrot over the stick. Instead of punishing workers for subpar performance, create or improve incentive programs that reward improvement and productivity. 

For example, consider employee-of-the-month awards, public recognition of high performance and bonuses for exceeding quotas. Friendly competition can fire up even your least productive workers. 

4. Build a Family 

Many manufacturing workers don't feel vested in their company's fortunes. If employees feel like they just punch a clock for pay, morale is likely to suffer. 

Try promoting your business as a "family" with social functions, such as summer cookouts and holiday parties. Consider inviting employees' spouses and children. Make sure management attend these gatherings and mingle with rank-and-file workers. Doing so can set a positive tone from the top of your organization. 

5. Keep Talking (and Listening) 

Workplace communication should be a two-way street. Instead of dictating orders, management needs to foster an environment where workers feel comfortable speaking up and volunteering ideas. Although you should always be receptive to feedback, consider giving workers specific forums, such as all-company meetings or individual performance reviews. Even if you aren't able to implement a suggestion, thank the worker and encourage him or her to "keep 'em coming." 

Important: Make sure you and your managers also listen to employees' personal concerns. This is especially important during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. For example, workers may have concerns about health, job security, retirement savings and childcare. You can help address and alleviate these concerns by explaining your company's family leave and sick pay benefits and by offering flexible work schedules, if feasible. And if you anticipate laying off staff or cutting their hours, be honest about it. Above all, provide employees with regular COVID-19 updates — even if you have nothing new to report.

6. Cut Employees Some Slack 

Burnout is a problem in all types of jobs, and manufacturing is no exception. According to a recent Bankrate survey, most American workers don't use all — or even most — of their allocated paid time off. Enable your workers to recharge their batteries by setting up a vacation schedule that encourages (or even requires) them to take adequate time off and ensures you aren't left short-handed in the summer or around holidays. 

7. Provide Productive Feedback 

If you don't tell employees what they're doing wrong, they might never do the job right. On the other hand, you don't want to make workers resentful so that they take the first opportunity to jump ship. It's important to make your feedback motivating and constructive. Acknowledge good work, when appropriate, and avoid personal attacks or sweeping criticism. The most productive feedback is clear, specific and unbiased. 

Remaining Flexible 

In today's volatile marketplace, flexibility is critical. Navigating unexpected changes and challenges requires manufacturers to be responsive to workers' needs, such as the desire for a better work/life balance and educational opportunities. In general, you'll recoup any costs with greater loyalty and productivity. If you have any questions please contact Erin Young at eyoung@vlcpa.com or our HR Consulting team.