Guide to Employee Engagement in Manufacturing

Engaged manufacturing workers are 70% more productive, 78% safer, 44% more profitable, and turn out higher quality work than unengaged workers.  While in practice, the manufacturing sector has chronically low engagement.If organizations want to remain competitive, it's time to act. 

“Enthusiastic”. “Energized.” “Dedicated”. “Responsible”. “On-time”. “Enterprising”. “Attentive.” “Involved.”

Ask a manufacturer to describe their dream employee and those are some of the terms you’re likely to get. Traits like this can be summed up with one word: engagement.

Employee engagement in manufacturing might sound somewhat vague, but it encompasses measurements of employee satisfaction, how passionate they feel about work and the organization as a whole, amongst other aspects.

Understanding the challenges for employee engagement in manufacturing

In a PWC study, only 48% of manufacturing leaders reported having engaged frontline workers. [3] Related metrics also indicate a major problem. Around 34% of manufacturers name absenteeism as a serious problem. And in 2023’s Q3, around 36% of manufacturers reported frontline worker attrition rates of over 10% within the last six months. [3]

Similar to finding the cure, which starts by mapping out the symptoms, understanding why engagement levels in manufacturing are declining requires a comprehensive examination of the underlying factors.

A growing communication gap between managers and frontline employees

Communication gaps between manufacturing leaders and frontline workers are almost endemic. That shouldn’t be surprising, since there are different work locations, schedules, and cultural dynamics to maneuver around. Not to mention the challenges of reaching deskless team members who aren’t working on personal computers. [4]

Traditional on-site methods like bulletin boards, posters, handouts, and even digital kiosks don’t facilitate smooth communication or open dialogue. And even in-person connection opportunities aren’t cutting it anymore.

According to research from McKinsey, the majority of frontline workers engage in available internal communications events fewer than once a month. Around 55% participated in town halls less than once a month while 60% participated in employee resource groups less than once a month. [5]

No matter what the reason is, top-down communication barriers inhibit leaders from effectively connecting with and engaging their employees. And great manufacturing companies are ones where senior leaders actively inform, inspire, encourage, motivate, and engage their core frontline workforce.

Insufficient employee feedback

Remember the PWC findings where less than half of manufacturing leaders reported frontline worker engagement? Turns out, another quarter wasn’t even getting enough feedback to be able to tell. [3]

This appears to be a prevalent issue within manufacturing, at least when it comes to production workers.

One study from The Workforce Institute found that 87% of manufacturing workers are asked for feedback. However, 48% of those workers further qualified their response as being only “somewhat” asked, while only 39% said “very much”. [6]

Other research into the general workforce population found that 75% of employees don’t feel heard on important topics like benefits, safety, and timesheets. And 40% of those who do feel heard don’t believe their feedback has led to actionable change. [7]

Feeling heard at work is a core engagement drive. In fact, it makes workers feel 4.6 times more empowered to perform their best. [8] And 92% of highly engaged workers feel heard versus only 30% of non-engaged workers. [7]

Manufacturing workers often don’t feel recognized, valued, or important

Only 1 in 10 of frontline manufacturing employees report recognition as being an important and valued part of their company culture. [11] This puts the sector far behind other industries, like education, healthcare, and finance. Workplace recognition is critical for building engagement, community, and motivation. And it’s an aspect that employees are willing to resign over. [9] [12]

9 Strategies for creating more engaged frontline workers in manufacturing

Financial compensation is an important factor in retaining, motivating, and engaging employees. However, compensation alone doesn’t outweigh an environment where employees don’t feel connected, rewarded, or fulfilled. [13]

Provide a smooth onboarding process

A bare-bones onboarding process integrates new hires into the organization’s legal structure. An exceptional one also integrates them into its culture, values, norms, dynamics, and lived experience.

And this kickstarts engagement.

If you want frontline team members to be invested and involved throughout their tenure, encourage this behavior from the beginning.

Fill them in on all the hows and whys of being an excellent employee. Share best practice work scenarios, spotlight coworkers to model, and make the corporate mission come alive with leadership profiles and end-user impact stories.

Make this more efficient by uploading onboarding resources into your internal communications solution.

Give your employees a voice and listen to them

Remember. Frontline team members need to feel and be heard. This is a driving factor between engaged and non-engaged employees.

So, give them a voice. Then listen and let them know they’re heard.

Discover what your frontline workers think about big things, like safety concerns, benefits, and scheduling. Find out how they feel about commonly overlooked issues, like getting along with co-workers or mentorship opportunities. It’s even helpful to get opinions on minor things, like break room options or get-togethers.

Solicit feedback on an ongoing basis and provide ways for employees to share on their own initiative. Some tools to use include surveys, polls, and internal social networks.

One final point is to make sure the feedback accurately reflects the workforce, being representative and inclusive of all demographics. This is important because feedback can easily be skewed if certain groups are more responsive than others. [6]

Modernize your communication tools

Bulletin boards, physical handouts, and company town halls are fine to use as long as your primary communication method is digital and modern.

Frontline manufacturing team members value working in tech-friendly facilities. And digitizing their communications, HR materials, and training solutions is a fairly easy upgrade. [10] [5]  

Streamline your employee communication channels

Streamline employee communications through a single source of information, such as an employee experience platform.

Using a digital communication hub is the most effective way to engage deskless workers and ensure engagement. It consolidates scattered material, facilitates real-time updates, and enables user tracking and analytics. [5]

Plus, it’s practical and convenient for both leadership and workers.

Promote safety at every turn

Safe manufacturing environments foster employee trust which then builds the confidence needed for stronger engagement.

Safety occurs on an organizational and individual level. So, give all team members access to their full range of safety materials and cultivate a pro-safety culture.

Some best practices include facilitating regular training sessions, making safety documentation accessible, installing clear hazard statuses, and providing safety routines and daily checklists.

Your employee experience platform should serve as a digital library and communications solution. Use it to offer comprehensive safety resources and to send out updates when new material is available.

In addition, visual safety reminders will never be outdated and the workplace should have plenty of signs, posters, hazard warnings, and other cues.

Make work more meaningful

Modern workplace culture has evolved to prioritize meaningful work that positively contributes to society. And these expectations extend into the manufacturing sector, which has traditionally been more transactional than purposeful. [15]

“It’s not just about financial compensation, but also listening more carefully to their aspirations and what they care about.” - Stéphane Souchet, KPMG Global Head of Industrial Manufacturing Industry Sector. [16]

Create a sense of purposefulness, support organizational connectedness, and facilitate personal growth. [3]

Localize your focus

Workers can care about the company’s mission, but nothing matters more than home. To further stoke connection, meaning, and engagement, tailor your focus to their local community.

“The problem is that most leaders think big, while most workers feel local,” - Denise Delahanty, former Senior Practice Consultant at Gallup. [17]

Tell frontline workers how the company benefits their local community. This is fairly straightforward for companies participating in charitable programs, community outreach, or sustainability initiatives. 

At companies without ESG, CSR, or philanthropic activities, uncover and personalize the positive economic impact. E.g., does the company make it easy for young people to get their first jobs? Or does it employ multiple generations of the same family? Share their stories.

Recognize, appreciate, and value your workers

Workers who receive enough meaningful recognition are four times more likely to be engaged than workers who don’t. [11] And for manufacturing workers considering whether to resign, feeling valued is more important than financial compensation. [2]

Appreciate them in a concrete way. Talk about the tangible impact their work creates for the company and its end users. And include some peer-based recognition to charge them up even more. [18] To do this, many organizations are using employee engagement platform which allows giving employees a platform to recognize and celebrate achievements.

Cultivate feelings of workplace belonging

Feelings of organizational fit and belonging are tied to frontline workers’ mental health, well-being, and retention levels.

79% of frontline workers who feel they belong at work plan to stay with their employer, versus only 33% of those who don’t. And those who fit in are four times less likely to have declining mental health or well-being levels. [19]

This is essential for talent retention, engagement, and development, particularly for underrepresented groups. [9]

How to know if your employee engagement initiatives are successful

Now that we’ve covered what employee engagement in manufacturing is, why it’s low, and how to improve it, it’s time to discuss how to measure and evaluate your success.

Implement feedback mechanisms

Engagement generates a measurable impact on core business outcomes and goals. But not everything shows up in metrics.

Some insight, like team happiness and satisfaction levels, has to be gathered directly from employees. In addition, employees need a way to share thoughts, opinions, and other input at their own initiative.

Direct feedback mechanisms like surveys and internal communication channels make this possible. [3]

These tools are a precise and efficient way to gather workforce intelligence and find out what’s going on with your employees. Without collecting this insight, you’ll be out of touch, operating in the dark, and leaving your workers unheard.

Top employee engagement metrics to track

  •   Turnover: This measures how many employees that are to be replaced leave the company within a certain timeframe.
  •   Retention: Measure the average employee tenure. Retention is driven by factors like work satisfaction, culture, and growth potential.
  •       Attrition: Measure how many employees are leaving that aren’t to be replaced. It can be used to measure total attrition, voluntary, or involuntary.
  •   Absenteeism: Track the time employees take away from work. This can be due to illness, low morale, or other cultural issues.
  •   Incident rate: On-the-job accidents, safety errors, and other incidents provide insight into how focused, present, and aware workers are.
  •   Quality or Defects: The more engaged, focused, and involved workers are, the better their quality of work should be.
  •   Productivity: This almost directly measures engagement, as highly involved and enthused workers should be more productive.
  •   Health: employee health and wellness is tied to engagement.


Evaluate, improve, repeat

You can’t create an organization full of thriving, happy, engaged workers with a one-time project, no matter how incredible it is. And you won’t consistently hit the mark without maintaining insight into the organization and its employees.

So, take a methodical, continuous, and data-driven approach. Use feedback mechanisms and engagement-impacted metrics to gauge the organization’s pulse, determine priorities, and measure your success.

Metrics can be used to analyze organizational performance as a whole. Or used to target specific groups, such as high-performers, high-potential workers, senior workers, or specific departments, teams, managers, etc.

For example, are senior workers quitting at a higher rate than normal? Find out what’s driving them away and work to reintegrate them. Are safety incidents abnormally high for young hires? Build targeted safety campaigns and offer digital resources, like checklists and daily routines.


Communication barriers, an image problem, and frontline workers who feel unheard, unrecognized, and undervalued. Those issues might not sound severe, but altogether, they are responsible for driving engagement levels down to a dangerous low.

And this is not a good time for leadership and frontliners to be out of sync.

Workplace culture is evolving, the labor market is competitive, and manufacturing is advancing further into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. At this point in time, long-term economic success demands deep engagement.

Actively cultivate it to optimize your workforce and build a stronger, more resilient, future-ready organization.



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