Tackling Employee Burnout in the Manufacturing Sector
May 10 2021 - Employee pandemic 'burnout' levels in manufacturing are more than twice that found in other sectors. Glintís Steven Buck discusses the reasons for this and suggests some practical actions to address the issue.
Employee pandemic Ďburnoutí levels in manufacturing rose 86% in 2020, according to research from Glint, part of LinkedIn. These burnout levels are more than twice those of business services, which saw the second-highest increase in burnout. This level of employee burnout comes as the manufacturing workforce, which was stretched extremely thinly prior to the pandemic, finds itself under unsustainable pressure.
Employees in the manufacturing sector understandably have much less scope to work remotely. As stay at home and work from home orders were imposed, the manufacturing workforce had little choice but to continue to attend their workplace. Safety protocols were often introduced overnight, in many cases putting more distance between employees and tracking their movements for their own safety.
This had the effect of limiting the connection co-workers normally have during their working day - the chance to check in with each other at a time of national emergency or even just to ask a quick work-related question. This is a key contributor to stress levels. Our study revealed that feeling disconnected from colleagues is the most frequently-cited precursor to burnout, even more so than a high workload.
Skills gap challenge exacerbated
In addition, the manufacturing skills gap in the UK is well documented and the pandemic has only contributed to that. According to the Annual Manufacturing Report 2020, British manufacturers are facing the largest shortage of skilled workers since 1989, with many citing this as their biggest challenge. This had already led to a situation, before the pandemic hit, where staffing levels were critically low and vital skills were thin on the ground.
When the pandemic struck, manufacturing workers became frontline workers. In most cases it was vital for them to continue to come into work, while employers scrambled to make workplaces safe. Stress levels were high in the initial months of the pandemic, and employees who did come into work often had to work harder to cover for absent or sick colleagues. At the same time, employers, grappling with multiple challenges from financial to supply chain issues, lacked the bandwidth to support employees who were learning new responsibilities on the job.
Bridging the disconnect
Faced with an unprecedented level of disconnect both from their colleagues and their managers, it is hardly surprising that manufacturing workers are struggling. The first and most important step to take to address this is to communicate better. These conversations have taken on a more personal tone, including the home life of the employee rather than focusing solely on work. Employees may have health concerns or childcare challenges that make it hard to focus on work tasks. Individual workers may be balancing very different priorities, so itís important to check in on how people are managing.
Small interactions can keep the door open for deeper conversations. As informal opportunities for conversation are reduced, global HR analyst Josh Bersin points out that phoning or texting an employee and saying, "Howís it going?" can be hugely helpful "These small interactions with people, listening to them, giving them just a note, 'Hey, Iím here if you need any help' - those little things are basically what management is all about," he reminds us.
Scheduling a check-in with a team member over video may require a culture or even technology adjustment - but it can become a good way to connect with individual employees. Regular employee engagement surveys also support two-way communications.
Employees who have regular conversations with their managers report improved wellbeing and an ability to work more effectively. It is vital for manufacturers to take action now to prevent employee burnout becoming an existential crisis for the industry.