Manufacturing executives tout happy workplaces as antidote to labor shortages

Dec. 20, 2021
Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing's webinar, 'Now Hiring – How to Find and Keep Workers in a Tight Labor Market,' which is available on-demand, provides insights into attracting, retaining workers.

Read more on the labor crunch:

By Karen Hanna 

Even amid a labor shortage, there is at least one type of worker companies would be better off without: The bully.  

“The last thing you want to do is terminate or lay off some of the high-performing people, but, if they’re toxic to your humanistic culture, you absolutely have to do it,” said Maureen Steinwall, the CEO/CFO of Steinwall Inc., a Minneapolis custom injection molder that places an emphasis on relationships and respect.  

Steinwall spoke during a Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing webinar on workforce issues, along with Michael Sinclair, co-owner of Elevate Solutions Group, an Atlanta-area injection molder and assembler of trays used by eye doctors to store contact lenses. Both manufacturing executives believe the workplace environment is more important than pay. 

For Sinclair, finding workers requires the same mindset as winning customers. In both cases, manufacturers need to consider the perspectives of the people they are trying to attract.

“I always asked myself, ‘Why would somebody want to come work for us?’ We have to give them reasons to vote for us versus some other candidates. Why would somebody want to come work for your company?” Sinclair asked. “In our case, I wanted to give them reasons to work here. Same thing for our customers, why would they want to buy from us and not somebody else?”  

For Sinclair, who is outspoken about his Christian beliefs, being an employer is a kind of calling — an opportunity to help others while living out his values. 

“Stand for something,” he advised during the webinar. “In our case, it’s faith-based and family-first. If that’s not your company, it could be a lot of different things. It could be sustainability, community involvement, industry leadership, almost anything.” 

While other companies are struggling to find workers, Elevate has more interest than it can handle — currently, it has a waitlist of eight people who would like jobs, but no role for them.  

“It’s remarkable what a high percentage of our current workforce has come through referrals from our current employees,” said Sinclair, who flipped through PowerPoint slides showing workers enjoying holiday parties and taking advantage of optional training opportunities.  

Defining the company’s mission and properly communicating it to workers is an important step in creating a culture in which every employee feels important and valued, Steinwall and Sinclair said. 

Good managers can talk to people in ways they understand, and know it sometimes takes multiple attempts to get a point across or master a new skill, Steinwall said. 

To succeed, employees have to know what is expected of them, why it’s expected of them and how to define good performance, she said. An annual review isn’t enough, Steinwall and Sinclair said — employees need regular feedback in an environment where they can make mistakes without fear of being embarrassed or bawled out. 

To Steinwall, mistakes are always evidence of a process failure, not a commentary on the person who made them.  

“When somebody brings an issue to me, and they say, ‘Mary screwed up,’ I ask them to never use the human being in the problem statement. You talk about it as a process failure. So how is it that we as management failed Mary, such that she made a mistake?” Steinwall said. 

Managers who are quick to blame the employee, along with the prima donnas and sociopaths who so often make workplaces unbearable, have no place in what Steinwall calls “humanistic” environments —where treating people well is the highest priority. 

Such environments can outcompete workplaces that pay a lot more, Steinwall said, because pay can’t compensate for having to endure abuse. 

That’s why Steinwall quipped that she has no qualms about unloading some workers. 

“That means that some of these people that have been around for quite a while doing a lot of productive work for you might find themselves working for your competition, and sometimes I say that that’s OK, I’ll paralyze my competitor with some of my poor customers and poor-performing employees,” she said. “The bullies have to go.” 

Karen Hanna, associate editor

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