To engage hourly workers, follow these 3 steps

Part-time employees often get short shrift in strategizing and developing changes in workflow. That can be a costly mistake, in terms of efficiency and retention. Tap this lode of knowledge.

It’s time to stop taking the hourly employee for granted.

Hourly employees constitute nearly 60 percent of the U.S. workforce, yet leaders tend to discount them when formulating engagement strategies.

The high turnover in hourly positions, mixed with the idea that hourly workers are easily replaced, leads to management styles that ignore their needs. Leaders instead focus on engaging salaried employees, seen as more valuable because of the time, effort and costs involved in their recruitment.

In industrial work, hourly workers construct the product, ensuring standards are met. In administrative settings, they keep the organization running smoothly. In customer interactions, they’re the face of the business.

They are the backbone of any organization.

Here are three strategies to engage hourly employees:

1. Make work meaningful.

A sense of purpose is a key motivator. Millennials, especially, value purpose, but the desire for purpose spans all generations.

How do you cultivate that sense of purpose? Communication. Connect the dots between what your hourly workers do daily and how it helps the organization and the world at large.

Gallup found that this group might not care much for a company mission but did want to give back to the community. Businesses that embraced a local mission saw employees exhibit greater engagement and ownership over their work.

2. Build relationships.

Relationships with colleagues shape workplace engagement. When we have a best friend at work, we’re likelier to perform better and feel our work has meaning.

The employee/manager relationship is crucial; people leave managers, not companies. Employees in this group can leave for a slight wage increase elsewhere, so managers (and management styles) profoundly influence turnover.

You can improve this relationship by making yourself available. Prove that you value your employees by being around when it matters most.

I worked in HR for a manufacturer that operated 24/7; employees worked in three shifts. Every month, I came in on the third shift—the early-morning hours when no one wanted to work. I walked the floor and let employees know I was available if they needed me. That demonstration of support, showing up and letting them know I cared, did more for our relationship (and their relationship with the company) than an email or newsletter ever could.

3. Give them a seat at the table.

Hourly employees do the work, so they have firsthand knowledge of how to improve day-to-day operations and processes.

Don’t just pull your hourly workers aside for focus groups and implement their ideas without their further involvement. Allow them to introduce their suggested changes at ground level. At work, 70 percent of learning happens informally. Training protocol, employee manuals and other education programs aren’t as effective as interpersonal sharing and on-the-job experience.

Rob Seay is the HR director for Bonfyre. A version of this post first appeared on Bonfyre’s blog.

COMMENT Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from directly in your inbox.