Topic: Company Culture

5 Culture Trends for Manufacturing Companies

Manufacturing employees discussing a process

Continued shifts in the workplace provide manufacturing organizations with opportunities to create people-centered strategies that engage their workforce and help all employees thrive. What will 2024 bring? Read on to see 5 workplace culture trends for this next year and how you can prepare for them.

Culture trend #1: Workplace flexibility is here to stay, but what it means is shifting

In the past, workplace flexibility for manufacturing and production workers seemed impossible. But with advances in technology and innovative scheduling practices like compressed work weeks and the opportunity to swap or split shifts, providing flexibility at work for production employees has become more feasible.

According to the 2024 Global Culture Report, published by the O.C. Tanner Institute, 80% of manufacturing employees said having flexibility at work would have an influence in their decision to stay or leave their organization. Unfortunately, only 50% of production employees say their leader is supportive when they need to change their work schedule.

The meaning of workplace flexibility is also shifting. Flexibility is no longer just about where employees work. The future of workplace flexibility is in how employees are able to do their work, and while this includes time and place, it’s also about autonomy and control over their time at work. Research from our 2024 Global Culture Report found there are 5 factors to workplace flexibility that contribute to employees feeling balance, trusted, and valued at work:

The 5 factors of workplace flexibility are leadership support, organization support, employee empowerment, work choice, and time management.

Flexibility now includes things like time for personal matters and development, as well as autonomy in how employees accomplish their work. But flexibility must be equitable and available to all employees. While not all jobs can have the same types of flexibility (nor do employees expect them to), organizations can still offer some to every role. This could be adjusting work hours to fit childcare needs, a doctor’s appointment, or to attend a class. It could also mean letting employees find a quiet environment when they need to focus, and allowing them to choose projects they’re interested in.

“Every job deserves some flexibility. It cannot be viewed as a scarce or privileged resource. True flexibility aligns employers and employees to achieve mutual gain in meeting both performance and work-life needs.”
—Ellen Ernst Kossek, Patricia Gettings, Kaumudi Misra, Harvard Business Review

What organizations can do

Ensure all employees, including your frontline employees (see Culture Trend #3), have flexibility to take time off and adjust their schedules and workloads as needed to fit their unique situations. And when they do, leaders and teams should be supportive. Flexible shift start and end times, job sharing, cross training employees, and creating multi-functional teams can provide flexibility in ways that are important to production workers.

Recognize leaders and team members when they provide and facilitate flexibility for employees, and use recognition to connect and build community when employees aren’t in the office.

Culture Trend #2: Employees are looking for empathy—with action.

With return-to-work mandates, layoffs, strikes, and continued post-pandemic burnout, empathy seems to have taken a back seat. Only 60% of employees in manufacturing companies say empathy is a core part of their organization’s workplace culture, and 64% feel their direct leader is empathetic.

Empathy is not a new concept in the post-pandemic workplace, but employees need more than just feelings of sympathy from their leaders. They need supportive action that is sustainable.

Practical empathy is a step beyond understanding what an employee is experiencing and verbalizing concern. It is a practice of care that all leaders can do. When leaders act in concert with their empathy, they can dramatically improve employees’ sense of connection and wellbeing. Unfortunately, our research finds only 65% of manufacturing employees feel that empathy from leaders is accompanied by meaningful action and support.

The components of practical empathy: focus on the person, seek understanding, listen to learn, embrace perspectives, take supportive action, and respect boundaries.

Leaders demonstrate practical empathy when they identify, understand, and actively meet employee needs. Providing resources for work or flexibility for personal matters, removing roadblocks, and making changes in processes to help employees are all ways leaders can put empathy into practice.

When employees perceive both their leader and the overall organization is empathetic, they:

  • Feel more seen and valued (+64%)
  • Feel more fulfilled at work (+40%)
  • Are more satisfied with workplace culture (+40%)
  • Want to stay longer (+3 years)
  • Are more creative (87%), efficient (86%) and innovative (85%)
“Empathy is a muscle, so it needs to be exercised.”
—Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft

What organizations can do

Empathy is a practice, not a trait, and small shifts in how leaders practice it can make a big difference. Establish actionable steps, policies, programs, and empowerment that allow leaders to practice empathy in ways that meet employee needs. Train leaders to listen to their people and understand their unique situations. Provide them with the knowledge, resources, and support to help their employees. And recognize leaders when they take supportive action.

Also important: establishing boundaries on leader empathy. Clearly define where a leader’s responsibility ends and where other company or outside resources are available for employees. Doing so will effectively address employee needs while protecting leader wellbeing and preventing burnout.

Culture Trend #3: Remembering the essential 80%

Your essential workers may have limited access to technology that connects them to your organization and may also lack autonomy, voice, and opportunity in their roles. We call this segment of employees workers in the 80%, and these critical workers are at the heart of your company as well as the world’s economies and communities.

But the efforts of the 80% and their constraints with access and enablement often go unseen, leaving them feeling invisible, unappreciated, and expendable compared to their corporate counterparts. Less than three-quarters (61%) of production workers say everyone has the same access to opportunities in their organization.

50% of frontline employees feel expendable at work

Even those employees who have access to technology at work don’t necessarily have the same experiences as corporate employees when it comes to things like flexibility, decision making, or autonomy over how they do their work. Many workers in the 80% aren’t able to take time off work for a doctor’s appointment or family event, or be recognized with the same rewards as their corporate peers.

To help workers in the 80% feel seen, valued, empowered, and engaged, leaders need to look at challenges and opportunities across both access to technology as well as enablement at work  (having autonomy, influence, and a voice). When employees in the 80% have high access and enablement at work, their employee experience improves dramatically:

Chart displaying that high access and enablement improve the 80% experience when it comes to feelings of belonging, engagement, fulfillment, and connection, which improves odds that 80% workers will stay with the organization longer.

What organizations can do

Remember all your workers, including employees in the 80%, in your employee experience initiatives. Provide flexibility at work for everyone (which may look different for your frontline employees than their corporate peers), give them autonomy in how they do their jobs, and seek their feedback and voice in important decisions.

Organizations should have tools for HR processes, culture building, and employee recognition to reach the 80% in meaningful ways. Provide offline tools and physical awards and tell stories of their accomplishments so everyone can see the contributions and value of the 80%.

Culture Trend #4: Skill building builds more than just skills

According to the World Economic Forum, the fastest growing roles today are driven by technology, digitalization, and sustainability, and 44% of current skills will be disrupted in the next five years. Over half (6 in 10 workers) will require new training, and only half have access to the right training opportunities.

The needs for skills are changing, and so should our skill-building strategies.

Skill building is important in providing growth and development opportunities for employees, helping organizations fill gaps when there are talent shortages, and enabling companies to get ahead of emerging trends like AI and industry shifts. But skill building also does something else—it shows employees they are valued, that the company cares about them, and it helps build belonging and inclusion.

There is a 9x increase in odds that employees plan on staying another year when organizations and their leaders support skill building

Luckily, many manufacturing companies do offer some skill building opportunities: 67% of manufacturing employees say skill building is offered by their organizations, and 64% say their job provides them time during work hours to participate in skill building.

To be effective, skill-building efforts must be thoughtfully crafted by organizations together with their people. Employees need a variety of options for skill building, including classes and opportunities to learn personal and non-work-related skills. Skill building must also be available to all employees, regardless of type, level, or location. Organizations should work hand-in-hand with their people to identify meaningful skill-building opportunities, and provide the autonomy and support to seize them.

Chart of positive impact on feelings of belonging, inclusion and community when organizations offer various skill-building programs like reimbursement for hobbies, professional classes, and tuition.

What organizations can do

Give people ample time and opportunities for skill building during work hours, including hobby-type classes. Give people ample time and opportunities for skill building at work, including hobby-type classes. Ensure all employees are able and encouraged to take advantage of skill building opportunities. Solicit employee feedback on what classes, programs, or opportunities would be most meaningful to them.

And remember to recognize employees while they’re building new skills, whether it’s learning something new along the way, achieving a certification, or applying their extended abilities in the workplace.

Culture Trend #5: Workplace challenges will require more than blunt endurance

Traditional definitions of resilience—asking employees to push through, or grin and bear it—can directly lead to burnout. Truly resilient organizations know that the key to survival is not to simply withstand hardships, but to anticipate and adapt to them.

Nimble resilience is imperative in manufacturing organizations to prevent burnout and encourage innovation and productivity. But 52% of manufacturing workers say their organizations are stuck doing things the way they’ve always done them, and 47% are concerned their organizations are not prepared to handle changes in their industry.

Nimble resilience is not reactive, but rather proactive to challenges. From advancing technology to evolving customer demands to industry or political disruptions, the ability to embrace and innovate through adversity is what enables organizations to thrive in a dynamic workplace.

“The way we look at resilience has changed. We used to think it was grit, being strong, getting through it. Now it has shifted to more self-awareness and responsiveness to the people around you.”
—Steven Stein, Founder, Multi-Health Systems

Building nimble resilience in a workforce and organization requires three things:

  • Adaptability: Anticipating changes or challenges and adjusting or innovating to meet them.
  • Proactivity: Continually evolving by seeking new ways of doing things instead of only reacting.
  • Perseverance: Seeing setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow rather than as crises.
Traits of nimbly resilient employees, leaders and organizations, which includes adjusting work approach easily, accepting unexpected challenges, innovation, and recovering from setbacks quickly.

Organizations that create policies and practices to support nimbly resilient behaviors will see more innovation, retention, and prosperity.

When organizations are nimbly resilient, there are increased odds of greater revenue, Innovation in the face of obstacles, a strong desire to stay with the organization for at least one year, and having a thriving workplace culture.

What organizations can do

Rather than ask employees to simply endure, put in place policies that encourage nimbly resilient practices. Ask leaders to openly share information about challenges and changes in the organization, give employees autonomy and flexibility in their work to meet those challenges, and prioritize employee wellbeing and psychological safety. Promote collaboration across the organization and empower employees to rethink how things are done.

Recognize and reward employees when they’re nimbly resilient and share their stories across the organization, so all employees understand what it means to be adaptable and proactive, and to persevere.

See more culture trends and best practices to manage them in our 2024 Global Culture Report

Manufacturing employees discussing a process

Continued shifts in the workplace provide manufacturing organizations with opportunities to create people-centered strategies that engage their workforce and help all employees thrive. What will 2024 bring? Read on to see 5 workplace culture trends for this next year and how you can prepare for them.

Culture trend #1: Workplace flexibility is here to stay, but what it means is shifting

In the past, workplace flexibility for manufacturing and production workers seemed impossible. But with advances in technology and innovative scheduling practices like compressed work weeks and the opportunity to swap or split shifts, providing flexibility at work for production employees has become more feasible.

According to the 2024 Global Culture Report, published by the O.C. Tanner Institute, 80% of manufacturing employees said having flexibility at work would have an influence in their decision to stay or leave their organization. Unfortunately, only 50% of production employees say their leader is supportive when they need to change their work schedule.

The meaning of workplace flexibility is also shifting. Flexibility is no longer just about where employees work. The future of workplace flexibility is in how employees are able to do their work, and while this includes time and place, it’s also about autonomy and control over their time at work. Research from our 2024 Global Culture Report found there are 5 factors to workplace flexibility that contribute to employees feeling balance, trusted, and valued at work:

The 5 factors of workplace flexibility are leadership support, organization support, employee empowerment, work choice, and time management.

Flexibility now includes things like time for personal matters and development, as well as autonomy in how employees accomplish their work. But flexibility must be equitable and available to all employees. While not all jobs can have the same types of flexibility (nor do employees expect them to), organizations can still offer some to every role. This could be adjusting work hours to fit childcare needs, a doctor’s appointment, or to attend a class. It could also mean letting employees find a quiet environment when they need to focus, and allowing them to choose projects they’re interested in.

“Every job deserves some flexibility. It cannot be viewed as a scarce or privileged resource. True flexibility aligns employers and employees to achieve mutual gain in meeting both performance and work-life needs.”
—Ellen Ernst Kossek, Patricia Gettings, Kaumudi Misra, Harvard Business Review

What organizations can do

Ensure all employees, including your frontline employees (see Culture Trend #3), have flexibility to take time off and adjust their schedules and workloads as needed to fit their unique situations. And when they do, leaders and teams should be supportive. Flexible shift start and end times, job sharing, cross training employees, and creating multi-functional teams can provide flexibility in ways that are important to production workers.

Recognize leaders and team members when they provide and facilitate flexibility for employees, and use recognition to connect and build community when employees aren’t in the office.

Culture Trend #2: Employees are looking for empathy—with action.

With return-to-work mandates, layoffs, strikes, and continued post-pandemic burnout, empathy seems to have taken a back seat. Only 60% of employees in manufacturing companies say empathy is a core part of their organization’s workplace culture, and 64% feel their direct leader is empathetic.

Empathy is not a new concept in the post-pandemic workplace, but employees need more than just feelings of sympathy from their leaders. They need supportive action that is sustainable.

Practical empathy is a step beyond understanding what an employee is experiencing and verbalizing concern. It is a practice of care that all leaders can do. When leaders act in concert with their empathy, they can dramatically improve employees’ sense of connection and wellbeing. Unfortunately, our research finds only 65% of manufacturing employees feel that empathy from leaders is accompanied by meaningful action and support.

The components of practical empathy: focus on the person, seek understanding, listen to learn, embrace perspectives, take supportive action, and respect boundaries.

Leaders demonstrate practical empathy when they identify, understand, and actively meet employee needs. Providing resources for work or flexibility for personal matters, removing roadblocks, and making changes in processes to help employees are all ways leaders can put empathy into practice.

When employees perceive both their leader and the overall organization is empathetic, they:

  • Feel more seen and valued (+64%)
  • Feel more fulfilled at work (+40%)
  • Are more satisfied with workplace culture (+40%)
  • Want to stay longer (+3 years)
  • Are more creative (87%), efficient (86%) and innovative (85%)
“Empathy is a muscle, so it needs to be exercised.”
—Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft

What organizations can do

Empathy is a practice, not a trait, and small shifts in how leaders practice it can make a big difference. Establish actionable steps, policies, programs, and empowerment that allow leaders to practice empathy in ways that meet employee needs. Train leaders to listen to their people and understand their unique situations. Provide them with the knowledge, resources, and support to help their employees. And recognize leaders when they take supportive action.

Also important: establishing boundaries on leader empathy. Clearly define where a leader’s responsibility ends and where other company or outside resources are available for employees. Doing so will effectively address employee needs while protecting leader wellbeing and preventing burnout.

Culture Trend #3: Remembering the essential 80%

Your essential workers may have limited access to technology that connects them to your organization and may also lack autonomy, voice, and opportunity in their roles. We call this segment of employees workers in the 80%, and these critical workers are at the heart of your company as well as the world’s economies and communities.

But the efforts of the 80% and their constraints with access and enablement often go unseen, leaving them feeling invisible, unappreciated, and expendable compared to their corporate counterparts. Less than three-quarters (61%) of production workers say everyone has the same access to opportunities in their organization.

50% of frontline employees feel expendable at work

Even those employees who have access to technology at work don’t necessarily have the same experiences as corporate employees when it comes to things like flexibility, decision making, or autonomy over how they do their work. Many workers in the 80% aren’t able to take time off work for a doctor’s appointment or family event, or be recognized with the same rewards as their corporate peers.

To help workers in the 80% feel seen, valued, empowered, and engaged, leaders need to look at challenges and opportunities across both access to technology as well as enablement at work  (having autonomy, influence, and a voice). When employees in the 80% have high access and enablement at work, their employee experience improves dramatically:

Chart displaying that high access and enablement improve the 80% experience when it comes to feelings of belonging, engagement, fulfillment, and connection, which improves odds that 80% workers will stay with the organization longer.

What organizations can do

Remember all your workers, including employees in the 80%, in your employee experience initiatives. Provide flexibility at work for everyone (which may look different for your frontline employees than their corporate peers), give them autonomy in how they do their jobs, and seek their feedback and voice in important decisions.

Organizations should have tools for HR processes, culture building, and employee recognition to reach the 80% in meaningful ways. Provide offline tools and physical awards and tell stories of their accomplishments so everyone can see the contributions and value of the 80%.

Culture Trend #4: Skill building builds more than just skills

According to the World Economic Forum, the fastest growing roles today are driven by technology, digitalization, and sustainability, and 44% of current skills will be disrupted in the next five years. Over half (6 in 10 workers) will require new training, and only half have access to the right training opportunities.

The needs for skills are changing, and so should our skill-building strategies.

Skill building is important in providing growth and development opportunities for employees, helping organizations fill gaps when there are talent shortages, and enabling companies to get ahead of emerging trends like AI and industry shifts. But skill building also does something else—it shows employees they are valued, that the company cares about them, and it helps build belonging and inclusion.

There is a 9x increase in odds that employees plan on staying another year when organizations and their leaders support skill building

Luckily, many manufacturing companies do offer some skill building opportunities: 67% of manufacturing employees say skill building is offered by their organizations, and 64% say their job provides them time during work hours to participate in skill building.

To be effective, skill-building efforts must be thoughtfully crafted by organizations together with their people. Employees need a variety of options for skill building, including classes and opportunities to learn personal and non-work-related skills. Skill building must also be available to all employees, regardless of type, level, or location. Organizations should work hand-in-hand with their people to identify meaningful skill-building opportunities, and provide the autonomy and support to seize them.

Chart of positive impact on feelings of belonging, inclusion and community when organizations offer various skill-building programs like reimbursement for hobbies, professional classes, and tuition.

What organizations can do

Give people ample time and opportunities for skill building during work hours, including hobby-type classes. Give people ample time and opportunities for skill building at work, including hobby-type classes. Ensure all employees are able and encouraged to take advantage of skill building opportunities. Solicit employee feedback on what classes, programs, or opportunities would be most meaningful to them.

And remember to recognize employees while they’re building new skills, whether it’s learning something new along the way, achieving a certification, or applying their extended abilities in the workplace.

Culture Trend #5: Workplace challenges will require more than blunt endurance

Traditional definitions of resilience—asking employees to push through, or grin and bear it—can directly lead to burnout. Truly resilient organizations know that the key to survival is not to simply withstand hardships, but to anticipate and adapt to them.

Nimble resilience is imperative in manufacturing organizations to prevent burnout and encourage innovation and productivity. But 52% of manufacturing workers say their organizations are stuck doing things the way they’ve always done them, and 47% are concerned their organizations are not prepared to handle changes in their industry.

Nimble resilience is not reactive, but rather proactive to challenges. From advancing technology to evolving customer demands to industry or political disruptions, the ability to embrace and innovate through adversity is what enables organizations to thrive in a dynamic workplace.

“The way we look at resilience has changed. We used to think it was grit, being strong, getting through it. Now it has shifted to more self-awareness and responsiveness to the people around you.”
—Steven Stein, Founder, Multi-Health Systems

Building nimble resilience in a workforce and organization requires three things:

  • Adaptability: Anticipating changes or challenges and adjusting or innovating to meet them.
  • Proactivity: Continually evolving by seeking new ways of doing things instead of only reacting.
  • Perseverance: Seeing setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow rather than as crises.
Traits of nimbly resilient employees, leaders and organizations, which includes adjusting work approach easily, accepting unexpected challenges, innovation, and recovering from setbacks quickly.

Organizations that create policies and practices to support nimbly resilient behaviors will see more innovation, retention, and prosperity.

When organizations are nimbly resilient, there are increased odds of greater revenue, Innovation in the face of obstacles, a strong desire to stay with the organization for at least one year, and having a thriving workplace culture.

What organizations can do

Rather than ask employees to simply endure, put in place policies that encourage nimbly resilient practices. Ask leaders to openly share information about challenges and changes in the organization, give employees autonomy and flexibility in their work to meet those challenges, and prioritize employee wellbeing and psychological safety. Promote collaboration across the organization and empower employees to rethink how things are done.

Recognize and reward employees when they’re nimbly resilient and share their stories across the organization, so all employees understand what it means to be adaptable and proactive, and to persevere.

See more culture trends and best practices to manage them in our 2024 Global Culture Report