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Making Ways To Listen, Analyze, and Act On Feedback from Manufacturing Employees

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the business world at an unprecedented scale and speed. Manufacturing is among the industries most negatively affected as the pandemic heavily disrupts consumer demand, creates supply chain bottlenecks, and impairs organizations’ ability to efficiently deliver goods to market.

Major industries - including automotive, electronics, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and supplies, consumer goods, and more - have been significantly affected and there seems to be a “domino effect” of timing across the world; manufacturing in China now appears to be showing an upward trend, while those in Europe, the US, and the rest of the world are only now beginning to resume production, as it’s deemed safe to do so.

During this uncertain time, manufacturing organizations conducting employee surveys have voiced two common concerns:

  • Their employees want to feel even more connected and empowered to share their voices and concerns during this time.
  • They want to know how to conduct employee surveys during a pandemic. Even in the best of conditions, reaching all employees (e.g., truck drivers, plant and floor operations) can be a struggle. Add a pandemic, and making a survey accessible seems to become more challenging.

Now is an opportunity to invest in building a survey methodology that includes multiple methods to invite employees and communicate results (posters, emails, postcards, virtual town halls), as motivation and relevance are high. This approach can also lay the groundwork for future listening strategies.

As the pandemic continues, safeguarding workforce health and wellbeing is a top priority among businesses and governments. While prolonged plant closures (full or partial) may be necessary for manufacturers in hard-hit regions, those manufacturers continuing with or resuming production will be expected to implement a number of virus-slowing precautions, such as strict hygiene rules, social distancing, removal of canteen or break facilities (unless hygiene and distancing rules can be observed), face masks for staff, staggered shifts, etc.

During this time of unprecedented upheaval and anxiety, listening to your employees now carries additional, critical value. As you adapt your working environment in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, some changes may take time to adjust to, and may require further refinement. Many organizations (manufacturing, as well as other industries) find that there are crucial lessons to be learned and applied as we all become more seasoned at working in a more restrictive environment. It is important to check and adjust our operational strategies to stay as safe, productive, and innovative as possible as the situation evolves.

Surveys help provide meaningful feedback about employees’ challenges and concerns. This feedback can help to pinpoint issues for critical groups and inspire ideas for improvements, helping you to address employee concerns and take timely, decisive action throughout this period.

General trends from surveys conducted by manufacturing organizations since the start of the pandemic show some surprising and valuable findings:

  • Manufacturing employees, especially those who have continued working in the most essential roles, have very specific, constructive feedback. They are very innovative and solution-oriented with recommendations and ideas for improvements to make shifts, assembly lines, and interactions safer and more efficient. This is likely where some of the best ideas for “getting back to normal” will come from.
  • Manufacturing employees are keenly aware of anything employers can do to practice support for employees and their families. They are most appreciative of employers who provide aid such as food and supplies to employees and their families in isolated or restricted locations (think cities with a strict curfew). Employees also tend to view organizations as being more supportive and consistent when they receive financial consideration, such as paying out mid-year bonuses early, offering additional paid time off and/or sick leave, and providing stipends for medicine if a family member is sick.

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