How to retain and engage employees in the manufacturing sector

By Glen White
As confidence returns to the market there is one negative aspect – and that is handling growth. From a business perspective we have become experts...

As confidence returns to the market there is one negative aspect – and that is handling growth. From a business perspective we have become experts at tightening our belts and managing to do more with less. Now, we need to expand quickly to deal with an influx of orders and potential growth opportunities. As business leaders this is what we’re concerned with. But have we really looked at how employees are feeling?

For years people have sat tight in their jobs, fearful of making a move when the future is uncertain. Many would have seen their friends and colleagues made redundant and stepped into the breach taking on more responsibilities. They can only be pushed so far. They need support. They need to know that their organisation is looking out for them. If it isn’t, employees will start to look elsewhere and manufacturers could be facing a tidal wave of resignations.

In a survey that Festo commissioned in 2014, we asked manufacturing employees about their own jobs. 25% of those surveyed are looking to leave their jobs in the forthcoming year, with 46% saying they believed it was time for a change. An additional 35% are looking to leave for a pay rise or promotion, and 15% want to leave because they don’t like their boss.

On top of this, another 15% are going to be leaving as they reach retirement age. With manufacturers already experiencing a skills shortage and loss of knowledge through experienced engineers and skilled shop floor technicians leaving their posts, this could further increase the skills gap. Manufacturers are already suffering enough, so this is likely to cause further problems with skills and recruitment. 82% of employers said their organisations were suffering from a skills shortage with just under half (46%) stating that the situation had worsened over the previous 12 months.

The manufacturing industry needs to stem the tidal flow of losing people and shore up their internal ranks, quickly and effectively. Finding skilled employees is difficult enough so the first point of call is to make certain manufacturers keep the staff they have.

When discussing recruitment and retention, the issue of remuneration always raises its head. Daniel Karpantschof recently spoke at the Royal Society of Arts and has produced a superb video ‘How Motivation is driven by Purpose – and not Monetary Incentives’. He draws on research which shows that monetary rewards only lead to better performance when employees are engaged in simple and straight-forward tasks. For employees who are in skilled positions and undertake conceptual or creative thinking, using monetary incentives actually leads to a decline in performance.

Tips for retention

  1. Paint a clear and exciting vision for the future. Employees stay longer when they buy into the future of the business and are excited about the opportunities for their own growth and development.
  2. Leaders and managers need to make sure that every employee is clear about how their role contributes to growth and success. Changing business objectives into personal objectives and measuring these continuously can achieve this. Tools such as a Balanced Score Card work particularly effectively. 
  3. Assess your Employee Engagement strategies. Improving employee engagement is a long-term strategy but it increases productivity and enables organisations to grow faster and more sustainably.
  4. Recruitment is often reactive. A person leaves and there is a mad dash to find a replacement. It is far more effective to put in place a strategy that continuously looks for highly talented and skilled employees.
  5. Engaged employees are the best advocates for your company. Motivate them to refer and recommend your organisation to others.
  6. Market yourself externally as a company that is growing and has a clear vision of where it wants to be.
  7. The best staff will already be in employment and are never those proactively looking for a position. Tempt them to be in direct contact with you.
  8. Be sensible with your job descriptions. Because we suffer from a skills gap, there is a temptation to combine roles and responsibilities. After all, having one person do two people’s jobs makes financial sense. Unfortunately it won’t help your recruitment and finding someone with a broad skill set across diverse areas will impede your recruitment and can damage your reputation as an employer.

There is much to be positive about with renewed confidence in the market. Now is the time to focus on engaging your employees, retaining them for the long-term and proactively looking to recruit. Otherwise, manufacturers could witness a winter of discontent.

Festo has produced a White Paper on Employee Engagement which can be downloaded at


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