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Holly Mockus, Product Manager, Alchemy Systems
Food Safety Culture Club

Improve Employee Loyalty and Food Safety by Building Better Leaders

By Holly Mockus
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Holly Mockus, Product Manager, Alchemy Systems

No matter where you look, labor shortages continue to linger. Good workers are in short supply, whether at a coffee shop, retail store, or food manufacturing plant. In some states, the problem has gotten so bad that lawmakers are proposing changes to child labor laws. Iowa, for example, has introduced legislation to make it legal for 14-year-olds to work in meat packing plants, which could present significant challenges to food and workplace safety. We shouldn’t have to resort to such drastic measures to maintain a stable workforce.

In addition to using higher wages and bonuses to attract workers, more manufacturers are creating workplace cultures that foster a feeling of importance, opportunity for advancement, and employee well-being—which all hinge on the strength of their frontline supervisors.

Bad supervisors or managers are among the most common reasons people cite for leaving their jobs. Last year, the employment and background screening services company GoodHire conducted a survey to determine why employees quit their jobs. Of the 3,000 workers surveyed, 82% identified bad managers as the top reason for leaving.

Set Up Leaders for Success

Being a good manager or supervisor is about displaying leadership qualities and habits that foster employee loyalty and best practices. That’s why it’s crucial to invest in leadership development. Good leaders can impact employee engagement by up to 70%, which improves safety and quality, enhances productivity, and reduces absenteeism and employee turnover.

In manufacturing, leaders are often selected based on their attendance or job performance. But we know it takes much more to be a good leader. Leaders must learn how to properly coach frontline workers, conduct constructive conversations, resolve conflicts, and more.

Frontline supervisors need leadership and soft skills training to improve communication, create good first impressions, provide and receive feedback, and conduct difficult conversations. Leadership training can also build trust and employee engagement in a manner that values differences.

Balance Empathy with Discipline

One of the biggest challenges for supervisors is maintaining a balance of empathy and discipline. While it’s important to understand and appreciate the challenges that manufacturing workers have endured over the last two years, supervisors must still hold employees accountable for their actions.

Many employees who were classified as essential workers during the pandemic are still working without a significant break. They’re watching friends leave for other jobs with higher pay. And they are taking on more work while replacements are slowly hired. They’re struggling financially as inflation outstrips their pay. And they might still be working without a path for promotions.

So, it’s important for leaders to understand their pain without looking the other way when safety policies go unfollowed. Leaders should be taught how to listen and ask questions about the general well-being of their teams while holding workers accountable for mistakes and shortcuts that can lead to safety issues.

While it might seem like a time to tread lightly around employees, letting safety issues go unfollowed can lead to significant consequences and allow other workers to develop bad safety habits.

Actively Listen to Employees and Value Differences

Frontline employees often complain that their supervisors rarely listen to their concerns. Active listening skills are needed to create an environment where employees feel included and valued. Training can help emerging leaders improve their listening skills and turn that feedback into something actionable.

Employees also need to feel included, which means leaders must learn how to understand and appreciate different backgrounds and cultures. In manufacturing plants with employees from multiple cultures and nationalities, it is essential for leaders to understand what drives and motivates employees before, during and after work.

This is also the time to improve overall listening skills, such as maintaining contact and eliminating distractions during conversations. Effective communication involves more than speaking clearly; it’s also about knowing when to stop talking and give others a chance to speak. Not all employees are comfortable with face-to-face meetings and being asked questions in a crowd. So, it’s important to know how employees like to communicate. This might involve email vs. direct or group conversations.

Make the Leap from Co-Worker to Leader

As leaders are selected from their groups, one of their biggest challenges will be transitioning from co-worker to supervisor. Too often, this conflict creates an environment where exceptions are made for friends. Training can help new leaders set clear expectations and boundaries for their friends and understand when they need to be firm and when they can be flexible.

These are just a few training areas that can help set new leaders up for success. Other areas of leadership training may include anger management, how to deal with difficult people, disciplinary actions, performance evaluations, and providing and receiving feedback.

When it comes to recruiting, new employees might come for the perks, but they’ll stay for a good supervisor.