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How to Reduce Turnover in Manufacturing 

Manufacturing was experiencing a hiring issue before the pandemic, but that issue exploded into a full-blown crisis when the pandemic reordered just about all of our lives. 

To stay afloat, companies have had to scramble to fill employment gaps. Part of that has been to examine the industry and find ways to attract talented and dedicated employees. 

Here are some lessons learned since manufacturing started to “get back to normal.” 

Tell Employees What Expectations Are 

One of the quickest ways to lose a manufacturing workforce mentally is to have expectations all over the map. Making expectations clear from the hiring process onward and sticking to them helps employees frame how they will do their job. Keeping them guessing opens the door for disenchantment. 

For example, constantly assigning employees to work on tasks that are not part of their job description can cause some of these issues: 

  • Resentment at being given tasks outside their job description with no additional payment 
  • Resentment at not being chosen to work on special tasks 
  • Worry about not being trained to do a good job 
  • Irritation at being given more responsibilities 

Every job has occasions when employees have to work outside their comfort zone. However, if it is a constant, employees will start to look at “special projects” with animosity. 

From the start, make sure every employee knows: 

  • Quality of work expectations 
  • Job description and boundaries 
  • Required skills to do a good job (with training to help employees get there) 

Invest in Training 

Another easy way to lose a good employee is to throw them into the “deep end” and see if they can “swim.” Employees that lack training are prone to mistakes and cause safety issues. Training provides more than cover for the company. Good programs can give employees the tools to do the best job in the safest environment possible. 

With programmatic job advertising, training assessments in the recruiting stage can also help identify the best candidates. A standard advertising process can incorporate assessments and tests into your application process.  

Offer Schedule Flexibility 

A manufacturing environment must have standardization in its work and employee scheduling, or it will not be successful. That does not mean, however, that some flexibility is impossible. If management works a little upfront, employees can be allowed to get the schedule they want and the flexibility they need. 

Ask employees during the hiring process what schedules work best for them. By letting employees have input in their schedules, more people will want to work at your company. Your employees will be happier, helping to reduce turnover. 

Choosing their schedules lets employees accommodate special needs without asking for time off. For example, parents of young children often struggle with getting them home from school or daycare and having an adult supervise them once they get home. If you are flexible with that employee, you relay to them that they matter to the company. 

Possible solutions to the situation include the employee: 

  • Starting their shift a little earlier 
  • Leaving and coming back on after their kids are home 
  • Switching shifts to one that works with the employee’s schedule 
  • Taking time off to pick up the child to drive them to a care provider 

Do Exit Interviews 

This step is crucial if you have a high attrition rate. If employees leave the company regularly, there is undoubtedly at least one reason. Understanding what they are is key to being able to remedy them. 

When an employee leaves, unless they are terminated, it is in your best interest to figure out why. Discussing the reason for their departure lets you document the driving force or forces. It also likely means that the employee departs on amicable terms. 

Conduct and Listen to Employee Surveys 

Just as exit interviews give you insight into why employees leave, ongoing surveys of employees are a great way to keep up with your team. They can help you address morale issues, training needs, and even general disenchantment among your staff. Your HR department should have voluntary input mechanisms and distribute periodic surveys. 

As important as it is to get input from employees, it is equally important to listen to the employees’ answers. If there is a theme of safety concerns, you need to figure out how to make the place safer. If employees are being run ragged by higher work volume, a trend in surveys might help you justify hiring more staff.  

There is always some hesitancy to use formal surveys because they might not be taken seriously. One way to ensure they are is to take the time during a shift to complete a survey. If there is anything that is easily addressed, make sure you tackle it before the following survey. 

Enhance Your Facility’s Safety 

Anyone that has worked on a manufacturing floor has joked, complained, or sarcastically commented on safety protocols. Always wearing safety goggles or enforcing a dress code on the floor can irritate employees. However, it helps reduce injuries, which helps productivity and avoids sapping morale.  

Another key factor to making a facility safe is employee training. Spills, slips, falls, fires, and any number of things can happen on any given day, and ensuring your employees are safe is invaluable. Invest in training employees on how to evacuate, what issues employees can address, and when to call in professional emergency responders.  

Finally, ensure that all your safety equipment is functional and operational, from the items employees wear on the floor to first aid kits to specialized safety and emergency response equipment. Inspect the facility regularly and test equipment more than the recommended amount. Ask employees on the floor if they need anything additional. 


Recognizing employees is always an important morale builder and key to reducing turnover in manufacturing. Too often, employees don’t feel that their work is appreciated. Make sure you recognize the loyalty, dedication, quality, and performance of employees as much as you can. Even acknowledging an employee in a meeting for a job well done can go a long way to building that employee up, improving self-confidence and overall morale. 

Ensure you have an incentive and reward program that is meaningful to employees. The more you focus on what the employee might want to receive as a reward for a job well done, the more likely they will take the program seriously and strive to win.  

Candidate Assessment 

You want the best-qualified employees possible, but is your hiring process conducive to figuring out who those employees are? The earliest and best way to ensure that is the case is to improve your candidate assessment process. Implement pre-hire assessments, skills tests, and evaluation tools to help highlight those that you think will be a great fit. 

Candidate assessments don’t just help you get the best fit for your immediate needs. Tests let you catalog the strengths and weaknesses of a candidate to allow for growth within the company. Tests also help you see if a candidate might be a better fit elsewhere in the company, ensuring that a potentially great employee does not walk out the door. 

Room to Advance 

Some employees like their shift, enjoy the stability and predictability of the job, and would be happy if they stayed in their position. Other employees, however, want and need the motivation of potential to keep them happy, engaged, and committed. 

These employees want to see that they can advance through the company if they do the work. An employee interested in advancement wants opportunities like additional job training as long as it shows tangible results. 

With employees like this, neglecting to provide them with a vision of what could be can lead to disenchantment and performance issues. 

The key to showing employees a path to a better position is to ensure that the path to advancement is legitimate. Nothing crushes morale and angers promising employees more than being led to believe their work will yield dividends and then having it go to waste.  

Final Thoughts  

These eight steps are “easy lifts” for most managers or HR personnel to reduce turnover in manufacturing. None of them, except perhaps the company’s purchase of equipment and training employees, requires much investment. Reducing attrition through them, though, can be invaluable.