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Can a Factory Offer Flexible Work Schedules?

Manufacturing operations are meticulously scheduled and dependent on consistent in-person labor—so how can employers in the sector give workers the flexibility that many want?

With competition for workers remaining fierce, it’s a question that the Manufacturing Institute (the NAM’s workforce development and education affiliate) has started to tackle. Now, manufacturers looking into providing flexible options can consult a new MI whitepaper that draws on real companies’ experiences and decision-making processes. 

The new reality: Flexibility is a high priority for workers nowadays, as the MI’s own research shows.

  • “Nearly 50% of manufacturing employees cite flexibility as a reason they stay with their employer, with 63.5% reporting that they would look for more flexibility in their next role if they were to leave their current company.”

Figuring it out: So how are manufacturers adjusting? According to a working group of 17 companies convened by the MI, many manufacturers have started by surveying their workers and talking through options with them.

  • While feedback from current employees is often a prime motivator for companies considering flexible work arrangements, some manufacturers also pursue them to attract a wider pool of prospective workers—including parents of young children, who may put a premium on flexibility.

What’s on offer: As feedback from the working group showed, manufacturers are considering a wide range of creative options. The whitepaper cites several intriguing examples, which should give other manufacturers ideas for their own operations.

  • One manufacturer in the group was trying out different shift options, remarking that they’re “exploring 4–9s and 4–10s primarily as well as adding a Sunday second shift and having folks on rotating shifts.”
  • Other companies organized teams of “floaters.” At one firm, these employees work limited hours on different shifts and acquire a large variety of skills. While not full-time, such positions offer a viable option for workers in search of considerable flexibility.
  • Shift swapping was another option under discussion, with one company allowing workers to swap up to a week at a time, so long as a supervisor approved.

How to get started: Check out the full whitepaper for more useful tips, including a toolkit to help companies start making these complex decisions on their own.

  • Here is the recommended first step: “Identify the objectives that your company hopes to achieve in providing workplace flexibility by focusing on the challenges that you would like to solve, whether it’s increasing the number of applicants or reducing turnover and absenteeism. Establish your baseline by evaluating your company’s status on these metrics.”
  • Manufacturing employers can learn more about effective approaches to flexibility for production employees at the MI’s upcoming workshop March 19–20 in Washington, D.C. Check out more details from the MI here. 

The last word: As one working group participant said, “At our company, we’ve seen what workplace flexibility means for our production workers. The change in company culture is so valuable.” 

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