If you have worked in a blue-collar industry, you know the prevalence of employee burn-out. Watch a construction site early in the morning, and you’ll see more than one grumbling employee slam the truck shut, shotgun an energy drink, and mumble something about hating their job. If this pattern goes on too long, it’s only a matter of time before they’re gone.
You might think it’s just the nature of the industry. The work is demanding, and not everyone can keep up. Except how often are those employees leaving the blue-collar trade gig for data science? They don’t just leave the job site and become a Harvard professor of 14th-century French poetry. More often than not, they leave for a similar job at a different company. How do we keep those employees and avoid having to hire new ones?
The key is job satisfaction. It sounds like a complicated solution. How do you make someone happy about working? It’s shockingly simple. We have to stop treating employees like numbers or gaps to fill and start treating them like people. A little goes a long way here.
Know Your Employees
Managers should know who works for them. This goes beyond just knowing the name that is supposed to be on shift. Checking in with employees daily is a small gesture that makes employees feel like their manager respects them. Even better, it makes them respect their manager. Building genuine relationships on the crew makes everyone work more cohesively, as managers and coworkers change from being just “a guy from work” to a person they can rely on and trust.
Additionally, checking in regularly will allow managers and employees to communicate issues before they turn into disasters. Whether those issues are job-related or personal, a short conversation can avert potential problems before they start. Greeting employees by name or having a short crew meeting sometime during the shift are easy ways to build those relationships.
Give Constructive Criticism
Too many employees only hear from their manager when there’s a problem. One of the things that makes employees feel most appreciated is receiving recognition for the good things they do as often as they hear about their screw-ups. This can be done on an individual level, which means a short conversation and pat on the back, or as a group. You can use a daily meeting to congratulate a team on doing great work. Regular compliments make employees more attentive to negative feedback and receptive to criticism when they hear it. Getting regular, constructive criticism lets them know their work is seen and valued.
While most blue-collar workers can’t work from home, that doesn’t mean companies can’t offer some amount of flexibility. It might not be possible for employees to set their own hours, but it’s absurd to ignore the fact that employees have lives, families, and commitments outside of their job. Leave policies that ignore outside obligations can quickly demoralize the people. These kinds of policies demand that an employee schedule their personal day weeks in advance or make them take a full day off when they really just need a 2-hour lunch to keep a doctor’s appointment.
The ability to leave an hour or two early for a parent-teacher conference or change a schedule on short notice after a death in the family makes a world of difference to an employee. That difference is exactly what will keep people working for you. What’s more, you won’t have people wasting personal days when they were perfectly willing to show up for the majority of their shift.
Do It Daily and Mean It
If you want to know how an unappreciated employee feels, have I got a meme for you:
You can find similar sentiments from disgruntled employees all over the web. A semi-annual offering of Little Caesars and Sam’s Club soda isn’t enough to show your employees you care about them. Neither is a Christmas raffle for a single $5 gift card to WalMart. In fact, most employees find those gestures cynical at best, vaguely insulting at worst. The key is to make your appreciation known daily. It should be a part of routine operations. Not only should you do it daily, but you should also be authentic when you do it.
You don’t have to make any grand gestures that don’t come naturally to you. Nobody is asking you to give a weepy best man’s speech for every employee who does their job correctly. What you can do is give a solid handshake to someone who’s done good work and, if budget permits, take them out for lunch or buy them a coke. You don’t even have to buy them lunch, just sit down, eat with them, and shoot the breeze. Something that simple puts their position as a person first, rather than their position as an employee. Now, when they make a mistake or do something great, they know who they’re getting feedback from, and you know exactly who you’re giving it to.
Pizza parties, free sodas, and annual Christmas parties are fine and dandy, but actual appreciation can be given for free. Developing a standard for honest, constructive feedback is a budget-friendly way to build a rubber recycling plant that keeps its employees and encourages them to do the best work they’re capable of because they know it makes a difference when they do. Showing employees they’re valued gives employees the satisfaction of a job well done.