Industry Market Trends

10 Questions to Ask Manufacturing Employees

Aug 06, 2014

With Baby Boomers retiring, companies must do all it can to keep employees and stem the brain drain as demographics change. Churn is also costly and highly detrimental to manufacturing businesses, which depend on trained workers and production consistency. Here's what you need to ask to find out what you need to know about your workforce.

The manufacturing workforce has changed dramatically over the last 15 years -- even in the last five. With more women, Millennials, and foreign-born employees entering the workforce and as Baby Boomers retire, the face of the manufacturing workforce is changing, and manufacturers need to change along with it.

In addition to the changing workforce demographics, the skills required of manufacturing line employees have transformed, too. A typical manufacturing employee today needs to have more technical and specialized skills in order to operate and manage equipment, adhere to manufacturing work processes, and function effectively in the production environment. Employees require initial training and, most important, ongoing training to maintain their skills and keep up with rapidly moving innovations.

A loss of a manufacturing employee today, by retirement or resignation, carries a high price tag as dollars invested in their skills, knowledge, and experience walk out the door. What can an employer do to retain the employees it can and limit the loss of vital labor skills and knowledge?

Communication is absolutely key. Get to know your workforce, and stay in touch with your employees on a regular basis. Here are 10 questions to ask employees to gauge the temperature of your manufacturing workforce and keep them engaged and satisfied:

1) Would you recommend us to others as a good place to work? A referral from a current employee is one of the best recruiting tools available. If your employees don't recommend the company to others, leadership needs to address the reasons. Dig deeper to find out what is stopping them from making recommendations.

2) If you could change one thing in your current workplace, what would that be? Your employees' answers signal areas of needed improvement in your company, especially if the same item is mentioned repeatedly throughout the workforce.

3) What "makes your day" at work? - Answers to this question will give insights into how your employees like particularly to be valued and appreciated. Most of the time, this has little to do with money. A simple "Hello" from a manager or a change to the offerings in the cafeteria can suffice.

4) What is your biggest challenge on a typical workday? - By identifying these challenges and correcting or minimizing them where possible, employees will be more satisfied with the work environment and more productive.

5) Do you have the training, tools, and knowledge to perform your job? - A well-trained, knowledge-equipped workforce is critical in today's manufacturing environment. Increases in product quality and decreases in accidents are just a few benefits from such a prepared workforce.

6) What would make you start looking for employment elsewhere? - Knowing what triggers an employee to start seeking other employment opportunities can help address current organizational issues and minimize the chance that an employee would leave voluntarily.

7) Do you have any talents or experience that you could be using but aren't? - Finding "hidden" talents within your workforce can help you unexpectedly to fill needs in various areas of the business, bring in new ideas and insights, and increase the satisfaction of the employee who is utilizing their talents and experience.

8) Are you satisfied with your current job? - Gauging an employee's job satisfaction can help identify areas of the business that need improvement. Based on the tone and content of this answer, employers may also be able to identify employees who are already "checked out" and could be considering employment elsewhere.

9) How could we improve our current reward and recognition program? - Everyone likes to be recognized and rewarded for a job well done. Understanding what makes workers feel valued and special can do wonders in increasing engagement, satisfaction, and overall morale.

10) Do you see yourself here in the next three, five, or 10 years? - Asking this question with any or all three of these numbers gives employers an idea of workforce stability and employee aspirations. If the majority see themselves here in 10 years, then they feel comfortable with the company, their performance, and their longevity. An answer of three years can raise a red flag about employee perception of management and the company as a whole. This perception should be addressed quickly to avoid a cycle of hiring and rehiring.

While some of these questions can be asked in casual conversation, some are better asked via anonymous means. An online or hard copy survey or a suggestion box can facilitate open and honest feedback. Retaining manufacturing employees is more important today than in the past. Understanding what motivates, engages, and rewards your production line workforce is essential in keeping retention levels high and voluntary exits low.

MORE FROM MICHELLE BENJAMIN: Recruiting and Filling Manufacturing Jobs Require New Tactics

Keeping Off-Shift Employees Engaged Has First-Shift Importance


Top photo credit: Haas Automation

Michelle-Benjamin-headshotSince 1985, Michelle Benjamin, founder and CEO of Benjamin Enterprises and Pivot Partners, has provided a broad range of workforce solutions to industries and government at all levels. Her clients have ranged from corporate giants like Anheuser-Busch, Kohl's Distribution, Consolidated Edison, General Electric, Entergy and United Parcel Service. Services can include strategic process enhancements, workforce optimization to increase productivity and the capabilities of employees, and operations improvements. To reach Michelle, contact her at or (800) 677-2532.