Factory Engineer Man Operating Machine Control Panel In Dairy Mi
Factory engineer man operating machine control panel in dairy milk production plant

By Laura Dunn Nelson, VP of Food Safety & Global Alliances, Intertek Alchemy

If “quiet quitting” – employees doing the bare minimum to meet their job description – is negatively impacting your workforce and culture, chances are you’re not alone. According to a recent Gallup poll, quiet quitters make up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce.

In the food manufacturing industry, we rely heavily on a culture where employees are motivated and empowered to speak up when they notice something is wrong. But when employees are burned out and disengaged, they stop caring about food and workplace safety and allow things to fall through the cracks thinking “it’s someone else’s job.” In our complex food production world where we can’t be everywhere and see everything, this behavior poses a risk to our operations.

Before food executives can take steps to eliminate quiet quitting from their workforce, they need to examine what’s driving it.

At the start of the pandemic, many food workers were categorized as “essential,” which opened the door to all kinds of stress. These workers were mandated to show up to work and wear cumbersome PPE when none of us fully understood how the virus was spreading. Food 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 from the chaos.

In addition to more work, stagnant pay, and long shifts, food manufacturing employees struggle to make ends meet during this historically high period of inflation. The impact and inflationary challenges for the lower and middle class are intense and have the potential to get worse in the coming months.

Times are tough for many Americans and can be more challenging for essential employees whose pay has not kept up with the inflation rate. How do we consider the gravity of the situation we find ourselves in while ensuring that our workplace safety culture remains intact and our food supply remains safe? Let’s talk about some steps food manufacturing leaders can take to mitigate those impacts. 

Establish a culture of communication

Due to the factors above, it’s more important than ever to ask questions about your employees’ general well-being and concerns. In this environment, communications and active listening skills are critical.

Do your supervisors and managers have the needed leadership skills? One way to emphasize this from the top down is effective leadership training. Leadership training can help to ensure your managers and supervisors know how to motivate employees with effective communication. It 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 due to our labor shortage, failing to address safety issues and noncompliance can lead to much more significant consequences and cause other workers to develop bad safety habits.

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Prioritize employee development

Manufacturers might 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 product, negatively impacting your brand reputation for years.

Cross-training also provides an opportunity for employee growth. And a “pay per skills” environment can help workers 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.

Invest in worker well-being

Many companies have discovered they need more than signing bonuses and 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 top priorities.

Companies are now investing in strategic recognition programs to combat employee burnout, improve social well-being, and reduce stress. Successful recognition programs are personalized, equitably distributed, and meet employee expectations.

More engaged employees reduce turnover, increase productivity, and prevent operational risks. More significant 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.

If there is an upside to this era of quiet quitting and mass resignations, it might be that food manufacturing executives have an opportunity to take a fresh approach to employee relations. This can lead to more engaged, productive workers as well as powerful food safety cultures that reduce risk and improve your brand’s reputation.

Laura Dunn Nelson is the VP of Food Safety & Global Alliances at Intertek Alchemy. As a member of GFSI’s Food Safety Culture Technical Working Group and Chair of the “People” subgroup, Laura helped draft the food safety culture guidelines set forth by GFSI. Currently, Laura is the Vice Chair of IAFP’s Food Safety Culture Professional Development Group and a member of the BSI PAS 320 Food Safety Culture Steering Group.