PLANT

Working safe

An effective strategy starts with getting out from behind the desk and communicating with people directly.


Engagement reduces mishaps and injuries. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK/VSTOCK LLC

Engagement reduces mishaps and injuries. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK/VSTOCK LLC

Since manufacturers are having so much difficulty finding people with the right skills to fill positions at all levels within their operations, having fully engaged employees is critical, but not just to reduce turnover cost.

Engagement also affects health and safety in plants, which brought Al Lutchin to the Partners in Prevention safety event (in April) presented by Workplace Safety and Prevention Services. The president and CEO of Career Compass Canada, a talent management and human resources firm based in Mississauga, Ont., was pretty engaging himself, running an interactive session for safety pros who came from a range of industries looking for tips on how to keep workers focused.

He led with some obvious benefits. Doing so reduces incidents and injuries, drives attention to detail and thought, engages conversation on hazards and solutions, increases performance and the quality of work, and promotes team work and care for others while creating a better sense of self-awareness and health.

And his first tip: “This is not us and them. It has to be ‘we’ for engagement to work.”

What is engagement? The workforce understands, supports and embraces the company’s mission, vision, goals and values; workers are keen to contribute to the success of the business; they build a culture of passion; they demonstrate innovation, solutions and service exceeding expectations; and they’re part of an environment that creates a personal sense of well-being, awareness, self esteem and confidence.

Yet survey results reported by Benefits Canada reveal more than half (56%) of companies worldwide find their engagement strategies are falling short of delivering bottom line results.

There are two drivers of engagement: compensation and the less visible characteristics of emotional intelligence, which include respect, being and feeling valued, communication, coaching to build relationships, recognition, teamwork, fairness and trust.

Lutchin itemized a number of reasons why people leave their companies. Among them, a lack of empowerment; work overload; inadequate compensation; lousy managers; unclear goals and decision making; they’re not involved in decision making; favouritism; office politics; bullying; lack of recognition; lack of control; and being micro-managed.

An effective employee engagement strategy starts with communication, especially on the shop floor.

“Technology, as wonderful as it is, has created more isolation. We need to get out from behind the computer,” said Lutchin. “See what’s going on – good or bad. If there’s a problem on the floor, you want to hear about it first.”

One-on-one communication at a large company isn’t possible, but he said there’s a pathway through supervisors and managers (providing they are capable of conveying the the company’s mission, vision and values).

He emphasized the importance of trust and building it so people will come to you to share a problem. When engaging feedback, respect employees’ opinions.

More than managers
Leading by example, demonstrating fairness and rewarding performance are key. He stressed the importance of senior management thanking people or praising them for doing a good job.

And develop a coaching culture. This requires supervisors to be more than managers. They must be excellent communicators, demonstrate respect and sensitivity, adopt a non-threatening approach to issues and challenges, advocate fairness and demonstrate leadership through accountability and responsibility.

Generations Z, Y and X will respond differently than baby boomers, so integrating them will be key to engagement, retention, performance and productivity. Look at hard versus soft skills and hire for the right fit.

Aside from creating workplace harmony and balance, engagement reduces employee turnover, which is costly. The rule of thumb (according to the American Management Association) is an exiting employee costs 150% of his or her remuneration package and costs climb the higher up the management ladder you go.

As noted in the Harvard Business Review, a 5% increase in retention rates decreases costs 10% while increasing productivity 25% to 75%.

But Lutchin noted some other important pluses. Retaining employees protects intellectual property, ensures quality standards are met, reduces training time and disruption, keeps your company ahead of the competition by maintaining continuity, and builds customer relations with trust.

When it’s hard to find the right people, keeping the ones you have on the job is a smart strategy that works best when employees are engaged and focused on safety.

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of PLANT.

Comments? E-mail jterrett@plant.ca.

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