Fifty-one (51) percent of people leave their jobs because they don’t feel appreciated. Sadly, most managers don’t even realize how important feeling appreciated is to employees. In The Cycle of Leadership, Noel M. Tichy compares what managers think employees want to what employees say matters most. Managers think morale is most affected by: 1. High wages, 2. Job security, 3. Promotion in the company, 4. Good working conditions, and 5. Interesting work. While this all sounds good, what the employees site as most important are: 1. Full appreciation of work done, 2. Feeling of being in on things, 3. Help on personal problems, 4. Job security, and 5. High wages.
Manual material handling (MMH) operates a little differently than a cubicle-laden workplace. Physical labor always adds some unique elements to the manager-employee dynamic. Telling an employee you appreciate his hard work is necessary, but it only works if it’s genuine. If employees are feeling unappreciated because of their work, telling them they’re appreciated won’t sound authentic. Let’s look at how you can show your MMH staff a “full appreciation of work done.”
Safety and Ergonomics
When you show your employees that you care about their health and safety, you are showing appreciation. However, simply having a safety protocol (as every MMH environment does) and having equipment that used to be ergonomic isn’t enough to say “I appreciate this back-breaking work you do.” In fact, if you really want employees to feel appreciated, literally make the job less likely to break their backs. Additionally, experience what they are doing all day – either by jumping in and doing it alongside them or asking for feedback about what they need most in their jobs. It is both humanizing and inclusive. Here are some things you can do to give your employees all 5 of the things they really want:
- If you haven’t updated your safety protocol in several years, do so now, and do it as a team. If your staff is too big to talk to each individual on your own, develop a safety team to assess the environment and collect feedback from every employee. These are the people who know how sore they are every day, how difficult it is to complete work on time, and how close they are to losing a finger on a machine. Have you ever met a person who has nothing to complain about at the end of a work day? Find out what their complaints are and which ones you can do something about.
- If your safety protocol is fine but employees are skipping steps, anyway, have a meeting. Don’t just go over what they already know; that is a waste of their time. Find out why they’re not wearing their safety equipment or skipping vital steps and what you can do to fix it.
- Assess all operations and identify the tasks most likely to cause injury. These will be your pushing/pulling, lifting, carrying, gripping, and awkward positions tasks. If an employee is sore after a shift, find out where and what he or she did all day. Replace any equipment and automate any process you can to make it more ergonomic. In some cases, this means a complete overhaul of the facility. In more cases, however, people are able to find a relatively simple solution that is paid off in the first year. For example, power tuggers have been used to replace pushing and pulling in every industry from meat packing to health care. OSHA’s website outlines dozens of great examples of ergonomic solutions that companies have implemented to boost safety, productivity, and morale.
- Go forklift-free. Not only is it safer and less expensive, it empowers people to do more. Equipment like the powered tugs that have been replacing forklifts can be operated by anyone. Productivity and safety have been shown to increase significantly in forklift-free environments.
- Make sure you are giving enough breaks and rotating job duties when applicable. If you can’t cut out the physical nature of the job, give enough time to recover from it. If working conditions are in a hot environment, give even more breaks and ensure your employees are hydrated.
By asking employees for input regarding changes you want to make and then following through with the changes, you cover numbers 1 and 2 of what employees want in a job. If their current work causes them pain, they may feel like that is a personal problem. Automating tasks or rearranging work stations helps with that personal problem (#3). Looking at research of other companies who have implemented or revised their safety and ergonomics, the resulting efficiency, productivity, and savings will mean job security and higher wages (#4 and #5) for your employees.
It takes a lot of time and money to train and develop your best employees. Even successful managers can let quality employees “get away” by misunderstanding their needs. It takes planning, organizing, and predicting to be a great manager. It takes direction, analysis and change to be a great leader. Show your employees appreciation and lead your company to great success.