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Steps Manufacturers Can Take to Minimize Quiet Quitting and Mass Resignations

By Laura Dunn Nelson   |   

As a manager or supervisor, the terms “quiet quitting” and “great resignation” could be ruining your sleep.

Few HR professionals would have ever predicted that we’d see a time when people were leaving their jobs in droves while so many others admit to doing the very least possible at work.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than 47 million people in the United States voluntarily left their jobs last year. Of those who have remained behind, more than 50% admit to being “quiet quitters,” according to a new Gallup poll. The new buzz word “quiet quitting” is an informal term for doing the minimum requirements of one’s job and putting in no more time, effort, or enthusiasm than necessary. 

The same Gallup poll showed employee engagement began to drop in the second half of 2021, just as the great resignation began gaining steam. Only 32% of employees remained engaged, and the number of actively disengaged employees increased to 18%.  

A disengaged employee can have a devastating impact on your workplace and food safety culture. We rely on a culture where employees are motivated and empowered to sound the alarm when something is wrong. We depend on a “when you see something, say something” mentality. To effectively manage our operational risks, we need those discretionary behaviors from our employees – going beyond day-to-day assigned activities – recognizing potential risks and alerting their supervisors.

We know highly motivated employees are over two times more likely to adhere to food safety protocols on the manufacturing floor consistently. But we also know that under the best training programs, only 40% of employees follow food safety protocols.

Unfortunately, when employees are burned out and disengaged, they stop caring about food and workplace safety. To them, a food recall or another employee being injured isn’t their problem. 

Empathy is so important here. While there are steps you can take to help mitigate the impact of quiet quitting in your workforce, it’s important first to examine what’s driving it. Let’s take a look at the causes.

Understand the Causes

Essential Workers Without a Break
At the start of the pandemic, food workers and manufacturing employees were identified as “essential workers,” which opened the door to all kinds of stress. These workers were mandated to show up to work when none of us fully understood how the virus was spreading.

Remember, a general belief at this time was that we could get COVID by touching a doorknob, lifting the handle at the gas pump, or just being around others. While people in other fields were safely working from home, food and manufacturing workers were putting their lives on the line daily. And now, many of those same workers are still on the job, having never had a break.

Extra Workloads Without the Rewards
Dedicated employees who stay on the job have to pick up extra shifts and take on more responsibilities as employers contend with the worker shortage. In addition, they might be seeing other employees leave to accept signing bonuses. And many of them probably know that brand new employees are likely being paid as much as, or even more than, them to sweeten recruiting efforts.

Inflation Fatigue 
In addition to more work, stagnant pay, and long shifts, food and manufacturing employees struggle to make ends meet during this historically high period of inflation. It’s impossible for me to over-emphasize the inflationary challenges for the lower and middle class.

People have to make difficult decisions at the grocery store. Some have to decide between the high price of gas to drive to work and utilities to keep the lights and water running. One in six people is behind on paying their utilities. Research conducted in early 2022 by LendingTree noted that a quarter of Americans (28%) said their reliance on credit cards has increased compared to this time last year and more than half (56%) of Americans wouldn’t be able to cover all their monthly expenses without charging a credit card.

Steps to Take Now

Balance Empathy and Discipline
Given everything manufacturing employees have endured over the last two years, it’s now more important than ever to ask questions about their general well-being and concerns. In this environment, communications and active listening skills are critical. This means it’s time to emphasize leadership training to ensure your managers and supervisors know how to motivate employees with effective communications.

Leadership training should also provide instructions on 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 much more significant consequences and cause other workers to develop bad safety habits.

Maintain Orientation and Onboarding Training
Manufacturers might also be tempted to forgo orientation and onboarding training after seeing employees leave within days of being hired. Frankly, it’s too risky to let employees go days without the proper training. Within hours of their first day on the job, untrained employees can cause damage to themselves or your customers that can negatively impact your brand reputation for years.

As frustrating as it might be to see newly trained employees walk out the door during their first week, you can’t let safety measures languish while waiting to see if they’ll stay.

Enhance Cross Training and Development
In addition to orientation and onboarding, some manufacturers also begin cross-training new employees for their next role within the company. Cross-training provides an opportunity for growth. And a “pay per skills” environment can help them increase their pay and gain balance with the higher wages you might be paying to attract new employees. Cross-training will also introduce employees to more workers, helping to create relationships that might make them want to stay on the job.

Cross-training also helps employees understand the importance of their role within your overall operation. Knowing their value within the organization can help develop an emotional and personal connection to their work. Take the time to articulate the organization’s strategy clearly and then provide employees with an opportunity to suggest improvements.

For example, Ajinomoto created an employee cross-training program that starts during their employees’ first few months on the job. In addition to learning their initial role, they have an opportunity to train for different parts of the manufacturing line, allowing them to engage with co-workers outside their stations and understand operations for the entire production line.

Invest in Employee Well-being
Many companies are discovering they need more than signing bonuses and various perks to keep employees motivated. They must invest in services and programs that enhance their work environment and employee well-being. The Future of Work HR sentiment survey found that 68% of senior leaders rated employee well-being and mental health as a top priority.

Companies are investing in strategic recognition programs to combat employee burnout, improve social wellbeing, and reduce stress. Successful recognition programs are integrated in a company’s culture. They’re personalized, equitably distributed and meet employee expectations. For example, Unilever (featured in the Forbes 2021 list of America’s Best Employers) organizes The Unilever Heroes Awards annually to celebrate, honor, and recognize employees who make a difference, show excellence, great initiative, and commitment. 

Mondelez International launched a worldwide rewards program called Great Rewards that offers a product shop for their employees, desk drops for all new products, performance-based bonuses, and annual Employee Benefits Awards that spotlight teams and individuals who make a difference.

Tyson recently announced a $200 million expansion of its beef plant in Amarillo, Texas, that includes upgrades to locker rooms, cafeteria, and office space designed to enhance the employee experience. The new upgrade plans are part of the company’s commitment to be the most sought-after place to work and provide a better onsite work experience.

If there is an upside to this era of quiet quitting and mass resignations, it might be that food and manufacturing companies have an opportunity to be better employers. The pandemic has given us greater insight into the life struggles of our employees. 

The research is clear: more engaged employees reduce turnover, increase productivity and prevent operational risks. Greater investments in training and efforts to make work more rewarding and enjoyable are essential to developing and maintaining a more substantial food safety culture and overall safer workplace.

Watch this video to hear directly from frontline workers how much they value an employer that invests in their development. And if you need help bolstering your workforce training and development programs, learn how we can help here.

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About the Author

Laura Dunn Nelson is Alchemy's Vice President of Business Development. She brings over 30 years of experience implementing food safety and quality control programs for processing, packaging, food service, and retail operations. She has worked with global retailers and manufacturers in the implementation of their food and workplace safety programs. Laura is a graduate of University of Texas with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology.

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