Satisfaction Not Guaranteed

As manufacturing workers face an improving job market overall, are they preparing to jump ship? Recent studies of the manufacturing workforce suggest that confidence might actually translate into upheaval in an individual organization, as workers feel more comfortable looking for different opportunities outside of their current companies.

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As manufacturing workers face an improving job market overall, are they preparing to jump ship?

Confidence in the job market is a good thing, right? Experts are saying that if you run a manufacturing organization, it may not be quite that simple.

Recent studies of the manufacturing workforce suggest that confidence might actually translate into upheaval in an individual organization, as workers feel more comfortable looking for different opportunities outside of their current companies. When overall job market confidence is high, workers are more likely to leave their jobs in favor of taking a gamble on a new place of employment.

And this issue is especially prevalent when confidence in the overall job market is paired with an individual’s lack of confidence in their own organization. According to a recent study by Randstad, a global provider of HR services and the second largest staffing organization in the world, this perfect storm of factors is precisely what’s causing over 40 percent of the manufacturing workers surveyed to say they will look for a new job in the next 12 months.

Profile of the Manufacturing Worker

The Randstad Manufacturing Employee Confidence Index, a measure of overall confidence among manufacturing workers, increased 0.9 points to 51.9 in the second quarter of 2013. In addition to the increase in confidence, 44 percent of manufacturing workers say they are likely to look for a new job in the next 12 months, rising an astonishing 18 percentage points over those who said the same last quarter. According to Kim Brown, VP of Randstad Manufacturing & Logistics, there are a few possible trends behind this. First of all, says Brown, fewer manufacturing employees are saying the economy is getting weaker, coupled with fewer saying they have confidence in the future of their existing role or position. “As a result, manufacturing professionals have a low self confidence in their job security amid an improving outlook on the state of the job market,” explains Brown.

Some of this improved outlook on the overall market, says Brown, comes from positive news around external factors like energy costs. With reduced domestic energy costs compared to western Europe and Japan, some overseas companies are sending production stateside with the intention of exporting back a significant portion of what’s produced. “I think employees start to see that and are becoming optimistic and confident,” says Brown.

On the other side of the coin, the factors that influence employees’ exasperation with their current positions tend to center around pay, culture, and “added perks,” explains Brown. While many businesses, contending with the Affordable Care Act, sequestration, and other tax-related uncertainty, stick to a wait-and-see mentality, it appears employees are getting fed up. “I am seeing some companies are slow to change pay,” says Brown. “I think that in order for employers to keep their employees, they’ve got to keep some engagement mechanisms. Higher pay – and possibly bonuses – are included in that.”

But unfortunately for business owners, rate of pay is not the only element in play here. According to Brown, something as nebulous as culture can mean an employee will pick up and leave for a very small pay increase — sometimes 25 or 50 cents an hour. This indicates some broader issues as driving forces behind turnover, and manufacturers need to gain a better understanding of what’s driving this dissatisfaction.

The results of the Randstad index line up squarely with a recent study by, the well-known online job marketplace. According to Monster, close to one-half (47 percent) of manufacturing workers expressed dissatisfaction with their current job. According to a recent article on, workers in this sector are examining possible lateral shifts into vertical segments in burgeoning industries like semiconductors and electronics. Jeffrey Quinn, VP of Monster’s Global Insights, says “Manufacturing jobs on Monster are viewed close to 3 million times every month, indicating substantial interest from industry workers. Maybe finding the right job is a matter of bringing their talents to another industry in need.”

Get Engaged

Trevor Wilson, CEO of TWI Inc., is a global corporate speaker, human equity strategist, and author of “The Human Equity Advantage.” Wilson cites a recent Gallup poll of worker dissatisfaction where an alarming 20 million Americans are estimated to be “actively disengaged” – openly negative and unhappy about their work situation.

“To engage the 70 percent of non-committal or ‘actively disengaged’ employees, business managers need to change how they view human capital,” explains Wilson. “Engaging employees is an issue I’ve been working on for more than two decades, and there is a solution. I call it human equity — the unique assets each individual brings to the workplace that are often unrecognized.”

Wilson suggests finding ways to uncover valuable intangibles in employees (for Wilson's own process, the SHAPE V Talent model, see the sidebar below). “Recognizing and leveraging your own human equity, as well as that of your employees, addresses not only the incredible waste of human capital illustrated in the recent poll, but also related concerns business leaders share, including the constant need for innovation,” he says. “These challenges are not unique to the United States.” 

Randstad did its own study on employee engagement and determined that pay ranked one among many areas that could use improvement. “While employees’ salaries are a significant factor in workplace satisfaction, employee engagement is not all about financial compensation. There are many non-monetary programs employers can adopt to help improve the morale and productivity of its employee base,” Jim Link, Managing Director at Randstad U.S., said in the study.

The research also found employees tend to have mixed feelings about their supervisors. While a majority of employees trust their managers (73 percent) and feel that their supervisors have their best interests in mind (67 percent), a majority also believe they could do a better job than their manager (53 percent). Furthermore, a considerable number do not feel their salary is adequate for their position or level of responsibility (38 percent).

Besides these, many workers express desire for the little things, like flexibility, corporate culture, and rewarding high performance. Five factors that Randstad determined were key drivers of engagement include:

  • Flexible work arrangements or reduced hours: While only one-in-seven employees say their employers offer a reduced schedule or flex hours during the summer months, 91 percent of those who are offered summer flex time say it improves morale and 80 percent say it increases productivity — suggesting this is one of the most effective methods of engagement.
  • Seek employee input: Encouraging employees to share their ideas and opinions makes them feel valued and allows them to develop professionally.
  • Stimulating workplace: Fostering a comfortable and challenging work environment keeps employees inspired and engaged, with 22 percent of respondents ranking this as a top engagement tool.
  • Bonuses and promotions: Rewarding high performers with bonuses and promotions is cited as the number one tool for employee engagement (ranked as the top tool by 30 percent).
  • Invest in training and skill enhancement activities: Empower employees with opportunities to expand their abilities through training, development, and continuing education — which ultimately benefits the employer as well.

In the End

Randstad estimates that the cost to replace an employee amounts to one-fifth of that employee’s annual salary. With manufacturers staring down the prospect of so much dissatisfaction and potential movement, it’s critical managers take a serious look at how to better engage employees. As the aforementioned studies show, it’s not necessarily just dollars that will win over your personnel, however figuring out what does motivate their loyalty is a job easier said than done.

“Employees need to feel like employers are really investing in their careers, and in overall workplace well-being,” says Brown. “That could be career training, performance reviews, child care… rewarding productive employees is really where the employee engagement comes in, which translates into higher employee retention, and higher productivity as well.”

The SHAPE V Talent Model

There is a reason why executive royalty, such as Warren Buffet and former General Electric CEO Jack Welsh, sought talent beyond traditional criteria like knowledge and skills, which are also important, says Trevor Wilson, author of The Human Equity Advantage. Wilson’s solution, the SHAPE V Talent Model, can be summarized with the following key points:

Strengths: Consider strength as defined by the 1999 Gallup Strengths Finder study, which includes “consistent near-perfect performance in an activity.” The study identifies 34 qualities, which can be innate and, unlike skills, are not learned. Individual employees and managers should not force a square peg into a round hole; if an employee’s near-perfect, near-effortless strength is in research and analysis, but not so much in data management, managers should allocate this resource accordingly.

Heart: Have you ever wondered what comes first, whether you’re good at something because you like it, or you like it because you’re good at it? The chicken-or-egg question aside, what matters is the passion one has for a talent. This includes activities a worker would do even if he or she didn’t have to do it on the job. If a talented manager won the lottery and decided to quit his job, for example, he might be inclined to manage people in a local political campaign or take the helm of his son’s little league team.

Attitude: There are three general attitudes an employee might have, according to a branch of study in positive psychology. First, there are those who approach their work as a job, who seek only a paycheck and benefits. The second group includes those with a career perspective who seek advancement. The third group views their work as a calling and deeply connects with what they do every day.

Personality: In 2009, nearly $500 million was spent on personality testing in North America alone. A reliable test isn’t valuable in so much as it reveals differences among workers, which are most likely already apparent. The value of these tests is in showing how and where differences lie. Understanding differences can lead to an appreciation for how and why coworkers perform and improve the synergy of teams.

Experience: Who is the person you’re sitting next to at work; who is she when she’s not making business-to-business calls, scheduling meetings, or troubleshooting technical problems? How does her race, religion, economic background, family situation, and overall lifestyle influence – or not influence – her work life? More importantly, how might her life beyond work offer diversity of thought in the workplace? Life experience should not be overlooked when assessing talent.

Virtue: “Value in action, that’s virtue,” Wilson says. Candor, temperance, courage — these traits preempt problems like public scandals, harassment, and discrimination and foster a positive moral pragmatism among coworkers and practical wisdom among leaders. With social media continuing to expose bad behavior and employee morale revealed to be at a stunning low, this is a significant quality in the on-going search for the best talent. 

For more information on The Human Equity Advantage, visit