From the “Great Resignation” to Quality Culture

An unexpected societal reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic and the sudden and dramatic changes the devastating virus demanded on all our lives has been termed “The Great Resignation,” “The Big Quit” or “The Great Realization.”

Taking hold a year into COVID’s three-year worldwide upheaval, over 41 million Americans reshuffled during “The Big Quit” to different work situations.

The reaction wrought great havoc on an already confused and changing work environment. People experienced what is now being called “pandemic burnout.” Many desperately wanted something different with their lives, relationships, and work.

The online job site Indeed asked US workers that switched jobs twice since 2020 why they made those changes, and 92% said: “the pandemic made them feel life is too short to stay in a job they weren’t passionate about.”

In yet another Indeed query, 5000 US professionals said the reasons people seek new opportunities are pay (39%), stress (26%), dissatisfaction (24%), and unhappiness (20%).

Every US manufacturer knows well how challenging it is to find applicants that are adequately skilled for the tasks their company demands. The natural reaction is to focus on how to pay more and offer more benefits and substantial growth opportunities.

While those points are historically significant considerations, job seekers say that in 2023, another factor has become very important to many.

“A good culture fit” was important to 46% of those seeking jobs last year. It was so important, in fact, that it caused them to not apply for jobs they were considering because they saw that particular job’s “workplace culture” not to be one in which they felt they would thrive.

72% of those job seekers said it was essential to see company culture details in job descriptions.

“Really?” veteran employers say. “Company culture is a reason not to apply for a job? Those applicants have obviously never been through a recession or a time when good-paying jobs were hard to find.”

Nevertheless, job seekers’ preferences are the harsh reality in 2023. And reason for TMA small and mid-sized manufacturers to pause and evaluate their company’s workplace culture.

What’s “workplace culture”? Is ours good, or is it not?
“Workplace culture” is defined as “the attitudes and behaviors of employees within an organization.” Company missions, values, goals, and policies work together with work environment to create a workplace culture.
Industry experts say good company culture encourages high levels of trust, morale, flexibility, productivity, engagement, motivation, and autonomy among the employees.

But for Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller Companies, a 12,000-employee global manufacturing technology and services supplier based in St. Louis, Missouri, a good workplace culture is more than that.

Much more.

In his book, “Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for People like Family,” Chapman says a good workplace culture means sending employees home after a day of work “safe and fulfilled.”

That’s because a company’s team members are to be thought of as family members. They should be cared for and nurtured to grow into the best they can be – not simply vehicles for profit and expansion.

Chapman says a stressful work environment negatively affects employees’ health. Company leaders should strive to “drive out fear and worry about criticism” in the workplace so everyone at the company is more productive. Collaboration and respect among employees should be encouraged.

“At Barry-Wehmiller, we measure success by how we touch people’s lives,” Chapman writes.

But that sounds too touchy-feely for some CEOs.

“All this talk about workplace culture is nice,” realistic company owners think to themselves, “but I have demanding and impatient customers. If we don’t make those customers happy, we eventually won’t have a company, and our employees won’t have their jobs. That will ultimately be a very negative touch on people’s lives. And after all, isn’t that really what’s important?”

Alex Hoffer, COO of TMA member Hoffer Plastics, who leads the third-generation company along with his two sisters, Gretchen and Charlotte, sees it differently.

He says a benefit of being a family-based company is that the leadership team can contribute to its success through its gifts and interests. As each person excels at what they do best, the company benefits – much like how a championship sports team works.

“The 1990s Chicago Bulls was a successful dynasty because Coach Phil Jackson got the team members to buy into playing well their roles on the team because there was only one Michael
Jordan. He had to get other characters such as Scotty Pippen and Dennis Rodman to play their roles in developing that championship team,” Hoffer said.

“Those of us in manufacturing company leadership know there’s definitely a coaching aspect to developing a positive work culture,” he said. “I often view myself as a point guard. I must pass the ball to our sales vice president so she can take the shot.”

In such a sports team-like scenario, the team benefits when each person is allowed to develop their skills and be free to use them at the top of their skill levels. Each team member’s passion, enjoyment, and fulfillment create excellent opportunities for all involved.

In other words, it creates a positive workplace culture – a desired result for all, even in manufacturing companies, Hoffer said.

How should developing a positive workplace culture begin?

“I think the first thing that should happen is for the company’s C-suite leaders to get out on the floor face-to-face and get to know their team members,” Hoffer said.

Hoffer suggested asking each one what their concerns are. Discuss with them individually how their workplaces could be more productive and comfortable.

Secondly, get a feel for the team members’ energy levels. He said that supply chain woes combined with pandemic stresses exhausted most American manufacturers.

“Just like good coaches, you can sense and feel dips in the team’s energy levels,” Hoffer said. “You ask yourself, are we ready to go, or do we need to move back and rest before moving forward?”

Combined with drained energy levels, are growing concerns among experts about unaddressed mental health issues and the toll drug and alcohol abuse are taking among Americans.

In any given year, 20 percent of American adults have a mental condition. It is widespread. In addition, some of the best employees may have mental health issues that can create challenges and drive success. At the same time, most people try to hide their mental health conditions from co-workers. Thus, they often don’t get the treatment their conditions demand.

A healthy, positive workplace culture delicately addresses these mental health needs, resulting in long-term cost savings for employers and higher morale in the workplace.

Basically, Alex Hoffer says, developing a healthy, positive workplace culture comes back to the foundational principle of genuine concern for what is best for others, not just oneself.
He said that the idea is historical and, when put into practice in the workplace, extends without bounds, making a better world all around.

“From a manufacturing perspective, what we do at Hoffer Plastics really is ‘The Golden Rule,’” he said. “It’s treating others as you want to be treated. Because we are in the custom injection molding business, believe it or not, the product we make impacts people and their pursuit of happiness.”

And, in creating a positive work culture, devastating turnover rates and problematic absenteeism will generally become less of a concern.

Thus, a hopeful conclusion to America’s “Big Quit” chapter will develop and a renewed focus will be on getting back to work and being productive again.

From TMA’s Jan/Feb 2023 News Bulletin. By Fran Eaton, News Bulletin editor

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