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How to Reduce Employee Turnover in Manufacturing in 8 Simple Steps

by Kristy Dolihite, on January 05, 2023
For many manufacturing companies, high employee turnover is an ongoing struggle that can seem impossible to overcome. Manufacturing leaders that face high turnover have two options: 1) Be reactive and fill vacant roles when necessary, or 2) Be proactive by developing and utilizing solutions that reduce turnover before it happens. Choosing option two is the right move when it comes to long-term success.
Ways to reduce employee turnover in manufacturing include:
  • Identifying and eliminating safety issues
  • Improving employee recognition efforts
  • Utilizing contingent labor
  • Enhancing employees’ skills through upskilling
Most high-turnover situations can’t be solved with just one solution, so it’s important to understand multiple approaches. Our guide below outlines eight proven steps for effectively reducing employee turnover in manufacturing.

1. Conduct Exit Interviews When Possible

While employees leaving is undoubtedly a bad outcome, some positives can be salvaged from the situation. Conducting exit interviews with workers that are planning to leave can provide you with valuable information. In fact, the purpose of an exit interview is to gain information that will help you improve employee retention and increase engagement.
Questions to ask during an exit interview should focus on the employee’s experience with the company and what is ultimately causing them to leave. However, some questions should also touch on the positive aspects of the employee’s experience so that you can uncover current strengths.
Exit interview questions can include:
  • What are the causes for choosing to leave the company? Which is the top reason?
  • What did you enjoy most during your time working here?
  • Were you missing any necessary resources to be successful in your role? If so, what resources?
  • Did you receive the necessary training to succeed in your position?
  • Would you recommend working for us to a family member or friend?
Arguably, the most important detail regarding exit interviews is ensuring that you use the data and information. Make sure that you have a solid system where you record and categorize the information. A reliable and easy-to-use system will enable you to identify actionable trends to improve employee satisfaction and reduce turnover.

2. Survey Current Employees

Like interviewing employees that are leaving, talking to your current employees is equally important. Surveying current employees regarding their job satisfaction puts you in a proactive position. Based on the survey results, you’ll have the opportunity to make positive changes to show commitment to your current staff.
There are a few key details to keep in mind when conducting an employee satisfaction survey.

Keep The Survey Anonymous and Communicate This To Your Employees

Making your survey anonymous and assuring your employees of this will improve the data you receive. Employees will be more open and honest with their responses when there isn’t a fear that the information they provide will somehow be used against them. Even if your survey is anonymous, don’t assume that your employees know that. Make a point to explain that it’s anonymous, so there’s no doubt or confusion.

Segment The Data By Department And Shift

While there are likely common trends across the entire company, it’s also critical to note similarities within specific departments and shifts. For example, your maintenance department may be experiencing a culture issue within their team, while the production team has outstanding group culture. Pinpointing unique issues and opportunities at the team/shift level will allow leaders to develop appropriate solutions for each group.

Review The Results with Your Leadership and Staff

Sufficient follow-up after the survey is essential. Failing to provide your staff and leaders with information that you gather through the survey almost guarantees a negative reaction and impact. You’ll build more trust among your employees and leaders if you’re transparent and open with the survey results.

Implement An Action Plan and Conduct A Follow-Up Survey

Creating and executing a plan to address the issues uncovered in the survey is a critical component of the follow-up. When you take a specific action that’s focused on the survey issues, you gain valuable buy-in from your employees.  
After you’ve given your solution adequate time to work, it’s wise to conduct the same survey again to assess the effectiveness of your efforts. While the length of time to rerun your survey varies by situation, six months is a safe minimum.

3. Identify Safety Issues and Execute a Plan to Resolve Them

Employee safety is fundamental across all industries, but especially in manufacturing. Due to the often-increased risks of injury, manufacturing companies need to place an additional emphasis on maintaining a safe workplace.
Your workplace may not be experiencing safety issues, which is certainly a relief. However, if your safety standards are not being met, improving them should be your top priority.
A poor safety record and reputation will not only cause current employees to leave, but high-quality, prospective workers will also choose to work elsewhere. No matter how great other aspects of your company are, safety issues can prolong and even cause more employee turnover challenges.
Even if employees don’t mention safety as a top concern during 1-on-1 discussions or feedback surveys, an effort must be made to fix the problem(s). If the safety issues are severe, they should be addressed before implementing other solutions. Minor issues can likely be resolved simultaneously with other approaches mentioned on this list.  

4. Establish a High Potential (HiPo) Employee Program

Perhaps even worse than having an employee leave is having a top-performing, highly talented employee leave. Recruiting and hiring top-level talent is significantly more difficult than doing the same for an average performer. A heavy emphasis should be placed on identifying and retaining top performers within your company.
In recent years, many companies have created and utilized High Potential (HiPo) employee programs to retain and grow top-level talent.
Most HiPo programs are characterized by the following:
  • Targeted selection of program participants by managers and supervisors
  • Ongoing education focused on personal and career growth
  • Career path resources aimed at helping the employees grow within the company
  • Additional on-the-job training and resources to develop leadership skills
  • Internal and external mentorship opportunities
When creating and rolling out a HiPo program, it’s important to clearly communicate to your staff what the program is, its intent, and how to join it. The program’s benefits can’t be fully realized if employees don’t clearly understand it.

5. Utilize a Contingent Labor Workforce

A proven solution to reducing employee turnover, especially in manufacturing, is using skilled, contingent labor. When one or more employees leave, you need to react quickly to fill the vacancies to ensure production deadlines aren’t missed.
In the traditional recruiting and hiring model, you need to post the job to one or more job boards, screen and interview candidates, make offers and complete new hire paperwork. This process is quicker and easier if you partner with a staffing company/workforce partner.
When one or more vacancies open, you notify your partner, and they complete the necessary work to quickly fill the positions you need with a temporary employee. A reliable workforce partner will have a pool of qualified and skilled workers to promptly fill the roles you need.
While the temporary workers provide an immediate solution, you or your workforce partner can go through the standard recruiting process to permanently fill the role. Alternatively, if the temporary workers excel in their role, you can explore a temp-to-hire option if your workforce partner offers that.
Lastly, a contingent workforce is extremely useful for project or seasonal-based needs. When you know that you’re going to need additional workers for a specified amount of time, it typically makes more sense to hire them on a temporary basis rather than permanently.

Utilizing a contingent workforce is also a way to help reduce per unit labor cost. To learn more check out our guide on How to Reduce Labor Costs in Manufacturing

6. Create/Update Your Employee Recognition Processes

According to Gallup, employees who don’t feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll leave their current job within the next year. Knowing that employee recognition can determine whether an employee leaves or stays shows how fundamental it is in retaining workers and reducing turnover.
Employee recognition programs should include the following characteristics:
  • Team and Individual Recognition- Acknowledging positive team outcomes generally encourages teamwork and collaboration, which is the desired result for many leaders. On the other hand, individual recognition tends to be more meaningful. Including both as part of your overall strategy satisfies the positive impact of each.
  • Provide Recognition That Matches Company Objectives- One of the best ways to increase buy-in for key company goals is to provide positive reinforcement when employees are contributing towards these goals.
For example, if your plant is working towards reducing accidents, commend employees when you notice them actively contributing to this goal. Consistently wearing protective equipment and removing hazardous materials from a workspace are situations where recognition may be warranted.
  • Formal and Informal- While employee recognition can take many forms, most instances can be categorized as formal or informal.
Formal recognition involves detailed, direct, planned feedback and often in a formal setting, such as a team meeting or performance review. Informal recognition is shorter and simpler and can occur in a variety of ways, such as a brief verbal acknowledgment, quick email, or phone call.
A balanced approach utilizes both formal and informal recognition. Formal recognition requires more time and planning to deliver, which makes informal acknowledgment a great complement.
  • Appropriate Frequency- Many leaders’ biggest struggle related to employee recognition is in how frequently it’s provided. It can be easy to provide positive feedback in a performance review and feel that your employee doesn’t need any more positive recognition for a while. Providing infrequent recognition can sometimes be as impactful as providing none at all.
Employees are more engaged when they receive recognition on a consistent basis. Informal recognition is a perfect solution for ongoing feedback. Even something as simple as a verbal acknowledgment of a job well done or performance improvement can go a long way in reducing turnover.
It’s important to note that when your employees are undergoing workplace changes, you’ll need to adjust your recognition practices as necessary. Most often, you’ll need to provide additional recognition during this time. Examples include changes to shift hours, the use of new equipment/technology and new roles and responsibilities.

7. Grow Employees’ Abilities Through Upskilling

When executed properly, upskilling can be a multi-purpose tool for manufacturing leaders. Upskilling refers to providing training and other resources to employees that enable them to learn new workplace skills. The new skills that workers obtain can support their professional growth within and outside of the company and may also align with their personal goals.
Manufacturing upskilling examples include training on how to:
  • Operate a forklift or other power industrial equipment
  • Program precision manufacturing equipment
  • Properly use 3D printing software and hardware
  • Conduct routine basic and preventive maintenance
  • Complete standard quality inspection tasks
As noted above, upskilling has the potential to provide multiple benefits to your manufacturing organization.
First, when turnover does occur, your workforce will be more prepared to fill in the gaps either temporarily or permanently. This reduces the typical negative impact caused when one or more employees leave. Second, upskilling programs have been shown to improve employee morale and job satisfaction. With morale and job satisfaction improved, turnover is decreased.

8. Get Help from a Strategic Workforce Partner

If you’ve already tried one or more solutions listed in this guide or are simply overwhelmed by the turnover issues facing your organization, it might be time to get help from an expert.
Unsuccessful attempts to resolve turnover issues could be caused by unknown issues, execution problems, or lack of resources. An outside workforce expert can help you identify what’s causing your efforts to fail and what actions to take to have success.
In the case of major turnover problems, you need to act quickly and likely won’t have time for a “trial and error” approach. Due to turnover, missed production deadlines, quality issues, and safety incidents can quickly add up and become even bigger problems. Working with an external partner provides you with additional resources and expertise to swiftly identify and resolve turnover issues.

For positions outside of manufacturing, check out our more general "How To Reduce Employee Turnover" post.

Reduce Manufacturing Turnover Issues with Landrum Workforce Solutions

No matter where you’re at in your struggle with employee turnover, Landrum Workforce Solutions is here to help you.
We’ve been supporting businesses for over 50 years in solving their critical workplace challenges, including employee turnover. Even better, our team has specific experience and expertise in supporting manufacturing organizations thanks to our long-time, direct partnerships with numerous manufacturers.
Thanks to our efforts, our manufacturing partners experience positive results, including:
  • 90% quarterly employee retention rates
  • 20%+ reduction in documented safety incidents
  • 10-12% hard dollar savings in labor cost per unit in the first year
Learn more about our workforce solutions services or contact our team today to find out how Landrum Workforce Solutions can help you.
Kristy Dolihite

Kristy is the Branch Manager of Workforce Solutions at LandrumHR. She has over 23 years of staffing industry experience that includes recruiting, sales, and operations. She has been with LandrumHR for over 20 years and has a passion for helping others. She lives with her husband and two children and enjoys spending time with her family and friends. Her hobbies include swimming, cooking, visiting new places, and watching Auburn University sports.

View more blogs by Kristy Dolihite