Optimizing employee engagement across the globe
Although manufacturing goods in Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe offers electronics companies and their manufacturing and solutions partners significant economic advantages, this strategy is not a panacea. When employees feel a company is not meeting their needs, the results can be expensive—from high turnover and the cost of hiring and training replacements to low productivity and a suffering reputation.
Ensuring employees are happy and fulfilled is not only the right thing to do, it’s good for business. And companies aiming for just that must often rethink their approach to employee engagement, not just individual initiatives but, more critically, the overall culture. By carefully evaluating employees’ situations and needs and implementing corporate best practices adapted to these different scenarios, manufacturers can improve performance.
Whether it involves better onboarding to make new workers feel at home, training for career advancement or guidance in people management for front-line supervisors, a strategy for improving the employee experience can pay big dividends for everyone.
What is employee engagement?
The concept of engagement refers to the emotional commitment of employees to their work and the company. Engaged workers care about contributing to organizational goals and are more willing to lend their time and talent. They’re more willing to go above and beyond their job descriptions.
Employee engagement is complex, ranging from the basics of a safe and comfortable workplace and a decent place to live to career opportunities, education, and satisfying work relationships. It also means engendering loyalty, pride, and a sense of identity and community.
Importantly, engagement is a two-way process. Companies must engage employees in their principles, programs, and policies, and encourage them to respond through participation. When the process is optimized, the effects can be dramatic: engaged employees provide a higher level of service, quality, and productivity, leading to more satisfied customers and higher revenues. Turnover drops and the company’s reputation is enhanced.
Global engagement challenges
Regional differences, including culture and laws, play a significant role in engaging employees. In China higher wage rates and increasing labor shortages have defined the market in recent years. Employees, many of whom have moved hundreds of miles for work, have their choice of jobs in China’s manufacturing-intensive regions and may be easily persuaded to change jobs for a small increase in compensation.
Ensuring employees have professional and social connections, fair pay, and a safe and respectful working environment are key. They must feel comfortable with the company culture and that they are contributing to the company’s success in order for them to stay.
In Mexico, where employees typically have extended families nearby, ensuring they have access to medical care, transportation, and schedules that allow them to care for their children is important. It is powerful for companies to invest in community support services such as schools and health centers.
Engagement from the ground up
Many electronics original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and service providers tackle the basics of engagement by providing on-campus dormitories and meals for employees in certain countries, transportation from offsite locations, and health and safety programs. Additionally, a strong corporate commitment to investing in development programs is needed to drive success.
Following are examples from Jabil, Inc. of current and planned initiatives that target the full spectrum of engagement needs.
- Welcoming new employees. Jabil conducts extensive onboarding of new employees to make them feel at home in the organization. A new global program that rolled out in February 2014 focuses on three groups: production employees, office employees, and managers. Every employee is given a “buddy,” and coworkers from the same hometown are encouraged to reach out to the new hire. The company also provides a special kit with a discount card for local stores and information about the next job level to which the worker can aspire. To help employees prepare for advancement, educational funding is offered.
- Empowering individual advancement. The company’s Employee Development International Institute in China is a six-month training program in functional skills, English language, and leadership. Applicants are taken from the production workforce and immersed in the program, with the goal of developing competitive, knowledgeable, and skilled employees committed to continuous improvement, learning, and critical thinking. In Mexico, another program enrolls high-performing production workers for a year of development in functional skills, English, leadership, and external university training. In fiscal year 2013, Jabil delivered more than 500,000 hours of training and education to employees through online and classroom instruction.
- Guiding frontline managers. The company created a manager engagement toolkit to help managers motivate their employees. Further, Jabil designed a structured manager training program promoting the corporate culture and values, which is part of manager development.
- Tapping the power of the smartphone. Smartphones are extremely popular in China in spite of their expense—about 80% of workers have them. Several Jabil initiatives take advantage of this high usage to reach more employees. A “storytelling” contest encourages employees to take “selfies” with their smartphones and post them along with a story about innovation, customer service, collaboration, continuous improvement, or other areas. The best stories are selected and publicized internally. Another innovative program is a special app designed by MicroBenefits, a provider of employee loyalty solutions, which provides outreach, company news, pulse surveys, and training in Jabil’s culture and corporate values to smartphone users.
As referenced earlier, employee engagement is infectious. Just as negative behaviors can cause a downward spiral for a company, employee engagement drives a virtuous upward spiral. Engaged employees affect other employees, and strong overall employee engagement drives customer loyalty. Quality, on-time delivery (OTD), and cost all improve as employees expend their discretionary effort on behalf of their company, and ultimately on behalf of their customers. At Jabil, we have customers who share our excitement related to providing a dignified work experience for our people; in many cases, we are their manufacturing arm and are considered a key part of their supply chain. They celebrate our efforts to serve our employees just as we do.
Although employment challenges and employer practices vary across the world, it is clear that an engaged workforce can make a tremendous difference to any organization. Thoughtful policies and programs tailored to the needs of the locality, supported by genuine concern for and interest in each individual, can drive strong loyalty, pride, and commitment that are essential to a high-quality end product and financial returns.
Phil Hubbell, Jr. is vice president, employee engagement and regional human resources at Jabil, a global company that provides supply chain and manufacturing services.