Top Challenges to Manufacturing Workers and How Leaders Can Fix Them - Image by Jonathan from PixabayAs a manufacturing leader, you not only want your workers to enjoy their work, you should take steps to alleviate the challenges they face each day. But do you know what challenges your factory workers are facing each day and how to address them?

The manufacturing industry has seen several changes over the past two years, including increased costs, supply chain challenges, and increased consumer demand. As a leader, you know how these changes are impacting your operations and bottom line. How are they impacting your frontline workers? Are they pivoting with the changes or on the way to burnout?

We recently surveyed 600 factory workers for our “Voice of the Essential Manufacturing Worker” in order to learn more about their day-to-day successes and challenges. Their insights can show you what steps you can take today to positively impact your workers’ daily lives.

Top Enjoyments and Challenges of Factory Workers

From our report, we found three different aspects factory workers find most enjoyable:

  • they like being part of building or creating something with their hands
  • they like contributing to the mission of the company
  • and they like their co-workers

Whether it be seeing a project accomplished, furthering the company’s mission, or getting to work with interesting people, factory workers are drawn to different aspects of the job that can increase engagement, happiness, and productivity.

However, they say their day has its challenges as well, which can negatively impact engagement, happiness, and productivity.

The top challenge they face is the increasing cost of raw materials. The increasing cost of raw materials may seem like a challenge to managers, not frontline workers. But if we look at the top reason they enjoy their work — building something with their hands — then rising materials costs can impact that. If there are no raw materials available, they cannot build anything.

Rising costs may be passed along to the customer as well, and impact the second top enjoyment of furthering the mission of the company — which is hard to do if customers turn to other, cheaper alternatives.

Finally, the rising cost of materials means that leadership has to adjust budgets in order to continue to use those raw materials, which can directly impact workers’ salaries, ability to work overtime, and bonuses.

According to the manufacturing workers we surveyed, supply chain shortages are another challenge. Supply chain shortages can disrupt productivity, change timelines, and alter budgets — all impacts that workers can feel even on the factory floor. Deloitte reports that shipping delays, part shortages, and transportation delays are causing the biggest impact on manufacturing supply chains, causing upwards of 13% profit losses. Additionally, the top operational concern is the inability to fulfill contracts, something that can directly impact frontline factory workers.

Finally, factory workers say their third biggest challenge is workload. In looking at other responses in the survey, we see that factory workers are also longing for more flexible work schedules and more paid time off, and many say their company isn’t embracing technology. So, we see that workers are being pulled into rigid schedules, aren’t being allowed to take time off, and don’t have the technology at hand, like automation, to ease their workloads.

Three Approaches for Manufacturing Leaders

Considering the challenges listed above, what are some steps that manufacturing workers say their leaders can take to ensure that they’re engaged, productive, and want to come to work each day?

Offer flexible work schedules and more paid time off

The factory workers we surveyed said that flexible work schedules and paid time off could create a better work environment. This makes sense considering flexible schedules and PTO contribute to high morale, create a more engaging work environment, and what workers would look for in a new company if they left. They’re likely seeking these things because of one of the challenges above: increasing workload. One way to stave off burnout, workers say, is through having the ability to influence their own schedule and take more time off than they’re currently taking. While managers may not be able to provide more days off, reassessing schedule flexibility and availability might go a long way in improving engagement.

Prioritize technology and sustainability

One of the reasons why factory workers enjoy coming to work is to further the mission of their company. Are your workers proud advocates for what you’re doing and the path you’re taking in the industry? Or would they leave for an organization with different values?

Actually, they would, as six out of ten respondents to our survey said they would take a pay cut to go work for a more technology-driven factory or a more sustainable factory. In fact, a report from HP found that workers who see their company as an industry leader in sustainability are not only happier and more productive, but are avid advocates of their company as well. Since factory workers value companies that are embracing new technologies and sustainable practices, you should as well.

Invest in new technology and upskilling

Manufacturing companies can also combat rising workloads by continuing to increase their adoption of technology. For example, manufacturing organizations can use the cloud to enable access to digital tools from anywhere, leverage data insights to streamline operations, and implement automation. These approaches are some ways that technology can help factory workers do their jobs better and more efficiently.

However, you can’t simply adopt a slate of new technologies and expect your workers to know how to use them. That’s why manufacturing leaders should invest in upskilling their workers. This can not only help them learn the new tools you provide, but can increase adoption of those tools because they’ll be more comfortable using them. According to Gallup, employees who increased their skills through upskilling said their overall satisfaction with their job has increased, their standard of living has increased, and their overall quality of life has improved.

Increasing Worker Enjoyment and Decreasing the Challenges

The manufacturing industry has been facing a number of changes over the past two years. Ensure that you’re taking steps to protect your workers from burnout by giving them the skills they need to advance in a tech-forward world. Additionally, prioritize what matters to them, like sustainability, so that the reasons they enjoy their work outnumber the challenges they face.


EpicorEpicor Software Corporation equips hard-working businesses with enterprise solutions that keep the world turning. For nearly 50 years, Epicor customers in the automotive, building supply, distribution, manufacturing, and retail industries have trusted Epicor to help them do business better. Innovative Epicor solution sets are carefully curated to fit customer needs and built to flexibly respond to their fast-changing reality. With deep industry knowledge and experience, Epicor accelerates its customers’ ambitions, whether to grow and transform, or simply become more productive and effective. Visit www.epicor.com for more information.

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