How to motivate production workers?

Table of contents

    One of your goals as a small manufacturing business owner is to motivate employees to stay on the job. It is not an easy task,  but creating a high level of employee motivation in a production environment offers several advantages. It increases the number of goods produced, minimizes downtime and reduces the frequency of quality control issues. Motivated workers tend to display fewer disciplinary problems. They are more likely to stay with a company over the long term. This reduces the costs associated with recruiting and training new employees and prevents burning out.

    Motivate production workers by addressing their needs 

    Abraham Maslow suggested that if you meet the physiological, safety, social, self-esteem and self-fulfilment needs of workers, they will produce more and be happier. Physiological needs include food and drink. Safety is one of the most basic needs and not only includes equipment but procedures that let employees know you care about their work environment. Other elements of work safety include:

    • stability of employment,
    • the level of salaries,
    • healthy and safe work environment,
    • predictability of managers’ decisions,
    • clear goals,
    • positive work environment.

    In many industries, the main factors motivating employees are economical, which translates into a good long-term employment contract, high hourly wage, and respect for the supervisor. Although the majority of workers state that the financial factor is very important for them and you might hope that standard salaries and benefits would be enough to keep employees working diligently, this is often not the case. The importance of salary is closely connected with the level of income. The higher the income, the less dominant financial motivation is. Once a certain level of income is achieved, there are other needs that become more relevant such as social needs, self-esteem, and self-accomplishment. Using such motivators will pay off, as staff retention will decrease and employees start to recognize company goals as their own. And surely, a good manager knows how to incorporate different motivational tools, add incentives, team-building and involve employees in the business to achieve a strong motivation to work harder.

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    Motivate production workers by addressing their higher needs 

    According to Maslow, esteem and self-actualisation stand out as we progress through the hierarchy of needs. The first one involves the desire to feel good about ourselves and feel valued by others; that is, feeling that other people have recognized our achievements and contributions. The second refers to feeling fulfilled or that we are living up to our potential. Work in the manufacturing company involves, at least partially, cooperation with others and social interactions. The need to belong and be part of a group is very important. Interactions between employees have been shown to improve performance in the workplace. That’s why team building is so important. 

    Social needs can be met by communicative managers, an attractive break room, and occasional employee outings like family picnics. Self-esteem can come from recognition in employee-of-the-month clubs and awards. Foster self-fulfilment by promoting worthy employees. Employees produce more when managers express appreciation and recognition of employees as individuals and when employees work near each other.  

    Motivate production workers with the aid of manufacturing software 

    The majority of manufacturing companies want to develop, so sooner or later, they will face a decision to introduce some technological improvements ex. in the form of production management software. These changes inside the company can affect staff motivation and alter how their basic needs are fulfilled. Many years of consulting experience show that those changes can be smooth and beneficial when the implementation process is cleverly guided.

    motivate production workers effectively

    Manufacturing software implementation and workers’ needs

    The basic need for safety is very often in danger once the decision to implement new software is made. Both managers and workers are afraid of the situation in the future.  

    Motivate production workers and avoid fear 

    What are employees and small company owners afraid of: 

    • staff protests (implementation decisions are usually made at the top level, and workers have very little to say, hence they might feel that new software is “forced” on them. The thought of change is usually scarier than the reality);
    • new manufacturing software will be difficult to use, and older workers won’t be able to learn how to use it. Needless to say, introducing new software provides an opportunity for workers to learn new skills. This boosts employee motivation and helps people stay engaged with their jobs. Making ongoing learning a part of the overall corporate culture is good. Implementing just a couple of these innovations shows employees that you respect their cognitive abilities;
    • key employees will quit, that’s why owners often intentionally slow down the implementation process in their manufacturing company. They fear people will leave the company when they start to monitor productivity, check production norms and ask workers to register their presence at work. Many production employees regard norms as a way of control, which leads to an archaic “slavery” system, where each minute at the production hall has to be accounted for. Their fears are often unfounded because working time and various programs such as “Employee of the Month” are useful. They combine public praise with financial recognition and harness people’s competitive nature. When it comes to the annual assessment, clear results can be helpful as they make it easier to decide who deserves a bonus or incentive. 
    • problems with high staff turnover (nowadays it is hard to find a skilled specialist – they are in demand because they have all the precious know-how and many years of experience, what if they quit?);
    • complaints about low productivity of production employees.

    Motivate production workers – a positive experience

    From the company’s point of view, the most beneficial is a situation when experienced, and knowledgeable workers stay in the manufacturing company as long as it is possible. This is how to reduce the costs of training new workers, mistakes made by inexperienced staff or delays resulting from vacancies and lack of staff. That’s why manufacturing companies try to attract new workers and make them stay for long while developing and introducing new technological solutions while still keeping workers motivated. 

    Based on years of experience in consulting and different software implementation as well as optimization processes (since 2005), it is possible to say: when production employees are not motivated and fear implementation and new procedures, it is not a good start. However, it is usually a complicated system responsible for those fears and implementation mistakes.

    The majority of people want to show that they do a great job. When they are committed to something, they wish to prove themselves and do their best; the company owner’s approach to monitoring is very important: either he can present production control as a calculation exercise or pester them about a proverbial 2 seconds delay or minute norm disproportion. It is clear that in the latter case, the effect will be opposite to what is desired. Everybody wants to be respected at work, not just treated as a slave or used. It is connected with the fulfilment of basic needs (I do a great job, so I won’t be fired, I am safe), and higher social needs (I am a part of a greater unit, my job makes sense, I take pride in my job, my boss sees my efforts, they trust me, I get a bonus, I am a specialist in my field). When we simplify things – in a random group consisting of 10 workers, there will always be 1 person who complains and is never motivated, 1 person who is a workaholic (no matter how much they get paid or how they are treated). This leaves 8 more people, who just want to get on with their tasks.

    Production management software can also be a great tool to motivate a team in the social dimension. On top of training, constant learning (for example, becoming certified in project management), teamwork, cooperation or performance analyses (the need for recognition), we can add solving difficult situations and minimizing conflicts. When everything is clear and easy to understand, like in Prodio software, there aren’t any fights about responsibilities. When somebody comes to work in the morning, they can check which tasks they were assigned and which ones are due first and start working following the priority of things in the queue. From this perspective, the software offers more order and transparency. In case of a mistake, it is easy to check why it happened: was it a faulty machine, an incorrect procedure, or a human error? It helps to promote a culture focused on solving problems, not blaming others, where each worker knows how the company works. Job description and the list of responsibilities are very important; many company owners think that thanks to a new production system, employees will double the number of daily tasks. And that’s the reason why implementations can go wrong.

    Changes in the organization can be used to motivate employees positively. There are multiple examples and case studies that prove Prodio’s implementation had a great impact on staff morale. Their common factor is: when you implement production planning software, make it AS EASY AS POSSIBLE. Don’t make a revolution, but rather step by step, make minute changes to make life easier for everybody so people would get used to the idea of a news organization.  

    Motivate production workers and implement manufacturing software successfully  

    First and foremost: keep it simple. The implementation itself is going to be a milestone if you had tons of papers at your production hall, and now all data is in one system. You don’t have to add everything to your new software. Remember: do no harm and try to find a balance between old habits and new ways of organizing your production hall. If you attempt to analyse all data available, you might feel overwhelmed, frustrated and disappointed because you won’t get more free time; only the number of tables will double. This is not the right way: focus on your goal, and don’t be tempted to get involved in complicated accounting analyses. When we look at the majority of ERP systems implementation, many people, including the staff in the office, don’t speak highly about such programs. The amount of data required to enter at the beginning, lack of flexibility, sophisticated analyses, etc., seem to be off-putting for the small manufacturing company. 

    When you make a decision about the implementation of a new production planning software, stick to it and be consequent; regularity and repetitiveness are the key features of the system. If you skip things or fail to enter the program, it means that the system is wrong. 

    Motivate production workers using the Deming cycle

    William Edwards Deming is considered a quality management pioneer because he was one of the first people who in the 1950s, suggested a modern approach to the quality of products. He claimed that managers are to be blamed for 94% of all quality problems due to a lack of suitable standards and a poor style of management. This approach is typical for ISO 9001 but also works in production software management. Production should be optimized to minimise the number of mistakes, improve quality, and stop wastefulness and the number of complaints. When workers have clear information about how to work, when the order is due, etc., it is possible to avoid costly mistakes and stress. The communication is smooth, as well as the workflow. 

    It is possible to influence motivation using a production management system by fulfilment of social needs (being part of the group is one of them). A good example of such a situation is when the boss initiates the learning process by introducing new software, training, varying tasks, etc. Differentiation makes workers maintain a higher level of productivity than the monotony of repetition. It results in fewer complaints and employees focusing on finding ways to achieve goals. This allows for fresh ideas in processes and procedures but also provides a chance for management to show workers that they value the input of production workers. It is a pleasure to work in an environment where there is a clear schedule of work and the boss motivates instead of changing their mind every two minutes about orders, tasks, and priorities. The unnecessary stress is limited.

    The knowledge and company know-how isn’t in the heads of key employees but in the system. Thanks to that, even new workers can perform their tasks without repeating the same mistakes. The fear of being fired is unfounded because the risk of making a mistake is minimized. 

    Successful change of the work system that has been in the company for some time requires knowledge and experience in a few areas – work psychology, human resources management and typical production management areas (eg. 5S, JIT, Kaizen).

    To sum up: well-implemented manufacturing software can positively motivate production workers if we follow these rules: 

    – 1. Do no harm

    – 2. Make day-to-day life easier for workers

    – 3. Find a balance

    – 4. Stick to the plan

    It’s good for production. It’s good for the employees. And it’s good for morale. 

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