Smiling Man Using Tablet While Standing In Food Factory.
Smiling man using tablet while standing in food factory.

Sponsored by QAD Redzone

Only 31% of North American employees are engaged at work, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report. Engaged employees are those who find their work meaningful, feel connected to their team and organization, and take ownership of their job performance. In other words, these are the employees that contribute most to a company’s success.

What about the other almost 70%?

Gallup found that 52% are not engaged – they’re “quiet quitting,” which means they’re putting in the minimum effort required until it’s time to go home. And 17% are actively disengaged, aka “loud quitting” – they’re directly harming the business by undercutting its goals and opposing its leaders. This lack of engagement comes with a huge cost. Gallup estimates the price tag at $8.8 trillion globally, the equivalent of 9% of global GDP.

For food and beverage manufacturers, these numbers likely don’t come as a surprise. A labor shortage and high employee turnover – two telltale signs of disengagement – have plagued the industry for a long time. And while automation can reduce manual labor, operators are still needed to run the machines, and engaged operators do that much more effectively than unengaged (or disengaged) ones.

Zack Sosebee, SVP Operations, QAD Redzone

So, how can food and beverage manufacturers create a more engaged workforce? What does engagement look like on a factory floor? And what benefits will companies realize from investing in employee engagement? To answer these questions, I spoke with Zack Sosebee, Senior Vice President, Operations, at QAD Redzone, the leading connected workforce solution for manufacturers.

Redzone brings production, quality, and maintenance workers together into one team and gives them the tools to work with purpose. “We focus on providing our manufacturing customers with software solutions that engage the frontline team; connect that workforce to the wider plant, the leadership, and the equipment they work on; and give them the visibility and access they need to run the plant more efficiently,” Zosebee says. “What we offer is a way of working that gives people a different experience of their daily life on the plant floor.”

The result? Not only an increase in engagement and less turnover, but big improvements in key metrics. On average, manufacturers experience a 29% increase in productivity and a 14-point increase in OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) within just 90 days of implementing Redzone. After 2 years, the OEE uplift climbs to 22 points.

Read on to learn more about employee engagement and how Redzone helps manufacturers boost engagement and translate it into bottom-line results.

Let’s set the context. What is employee engagement as it relates to manufacturing?

Zack Sosebee: I’m not your typical employee engagement person. I come from the school of manufacturing and working with people to come together and add value to products that customers are willing to pay for. To me, employee engagement is when a team of people recognizes their role, appreciates their role, and wants to do a good job.

Employees have a very different experience when they feel like part of a team that’s solving problems and adding value for customers, as opposed to just being given tasks to do. It makes them want to go home and talk about their day at work because they feel like they had an impact.

Before I joined Redzone, I was in manufacturing, and the most important question for me was: How do we get the people on the frontline to feel like their work in a given 8-hour shift contributes to the business needs? If everyone in the company feels like they can have an impact on the business, they’re going to put in more effort.

People want to win, and they want to be part of a winning team. The real test of engagement is not what people do when they’re winning, but what they do when they’re not. On tough days, an engaged employee is one who cares that it’s a tough day and has the ability to change that trajectory, and so they spend their time solving problems.

This is what we provide with Redzone. We give frontline employees visibility into whether or not it’s a good day, as well as the tools to change the trajectory when necessary. Essentially, we teach people a new way of working so that they move from “I’m just doing my job” to “I want to be a part of a winning culture.”

In addition to the technology, we have a coaching program, which I run. We coach in a process to help people solve problems in real time. We show them how to look at the data and make decisions in the moment rather than waiting until the next day. Coaching in those types of behaviors elevates how they use Redzone from a tool to collect data and provide visibility to a new way of working focused on continuous, sustainable improvement.

That’s great. Can you share an example of how this approach manifests on the plant floor?

ZS: We have what we call a “green bar, gold star day.” Redzone collects data directly from the machines about how the line is running, and we place iPads with our app locally at key pieces of equipment so the operators can monitor the production and log any challenges. This gives manufacturers insight into issues such as changeovers getting worse over time or a bagging machine that constantly fails, and it gives frontline teams the information they need to solve these types of issues.

We also put TVs around the shop floor that show dashboards for how things are going based on the company’s targets. Say your target run rate is 70% – below 65% and you’re in the red, 65-69% is orange, 70-80% is green, and above 80% you get a gold star. All of the production lines are up on the screen, and there’s a leaderboard so everyone can see their team’s performance. You get points for every hour you’re in the target range – a few points for green, more points for a gold star – and people work very hard to achieve these goals.

For example, changeovers are common times for machines to have issues or go down. We’ve seen people leave their break early because they have a changeover coming up and they want to make sure their line stays in the green. They willingly sacrifice their free time because they want their team to win. I believe the majority of people in manufacturing think this way – they want to care, they want to win – and Redzone empowers them to experience that level of engagement.

This sounds like not just a new technology, but a culture change. Can you talk a little about this?

ZS: Currently, about 70% of the workforce is not engaged, which is scary. If you’re the owner of a business and you think about 70% of your people being unengaged, what does that mean for your brand? This is a challenge that I think most manufacturing leaders are thinking about right now.

To make things worse, less than three in 10 Americans say they would encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career. That makes me sick because I’ve had the greatest career you could ever imagine in manufacturing. There’s nothing I like more. But if the industry has that reputation, the only way to fix it is by having people in the industry say it’s a good place to work. And there are certainly great leaders who come to us and say, “We need a different way of life in our facility, and we think you’re a good fit for that.”

But most of our customers come to us because they need higher productivity and an employee retention solution. They don’t buy it for the culture change – they buy it because it provides a good return on investment. But then they experience the culture change, and that’s why they become fans for life.

Speaking of ROI, what are the business risks of low engagement and the benefits of having an engaged, connected workforce?

ZS: The risks of low engagement are pretty terrible. Obviously, there’s employee turnover, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In my view, it’s even worse to have disengaged workers who stay because of their impact on company culture. When workers don’t feel heard, negativity compounds, and one disengaged worker leads to another disengaged worker and so on. This creates a horrible environment where morale is low, output decreases, product quality goes downhill, and safety issues arise.

On the flip side, an engaged workforce knows they have a voice, so when they ask for help or flag an issue, they do it because the management team listens and responds. We find that the middle management is critical because they set the tone for whether the frontline people are going to be engaged. Redzone provides the means of communication between frontline workers and management, and it’s up to management to listen and take action.

[Note: Gallup concluded that the best way to improve engagement is to change how employees are managed.]

Working with purpose, having a voice, making an impact – these are all things that Gen Z wants in their jobs. How can Redzone help manufacturers appeal to these younger workers that they’ve so far struggled to attract?

ZS: I’ll start with the fact that I think Gen Z gets a bad rap. These are digital natives who grew up with technologies like iPads, iPhones, Bluetooth, etc., and now they walk into factories where a lot of information is still written down on pieces of paper. What a culture shock!

I empathize with the Gen Z crew because they want easy communication, they want technology to simplify their tasks, and they want to see a fast path to growth. Their desire for growth is often negatively characterized as wanting a promotion, but that’s not true. What they want is ownership – to be given good feedback and be trusted to take action. These are the same things Baby Boomers likely wanted when they entered the workforce 60 years ago.

The Redzone platform enables those needs to be met from a technology perspective – you go digital on day one, you have that visibility, and then it’s up to you as an employer to help Gen Z rise to the challenge.

Any final thoughts about employee engagement that food and beverage manufacturers should keep in mind?

ZS: When I think about the leaders of companies, I think one of the legacies they want to leave behind is a workforce that cares about the business. Imagine you’re the third-generation owner of a family business. How do you get your employees to care about the company as much as you do? To wake up in the morning, put on a shirt with your family’s name on it, and work hard to contribute to the company’s success? If you were to ask your employees to describe their role in the company, what would they say? “I get an hourly wage to put stuff in cases,” or “I’m part of a team that works together to put smiles on our customers’ faces by making a great product”?

That’s what we’re talking about with employee engagement. It’s about creating a culture where the employees think like the owner, and one of the biggest factors is making sure those people have a voice.

I’ve had many conversations with leaders who want to automate the people out of factory work. They think that if they can reduce jobs down to just pushing a button, they’ll never have another personnel issue. But this is wrong. Rather than dumbing down jobs, manufacturers should be investing more in those roles. Of course they should enhance equipment with automation and robotics, but somebody still has to run the equipment, as well as service and maintain it. By engaging those employees, and giving them a voice, manufacturers can solve both their retention problems and their productivity problems.

One last example: As the Baby Boomers retire, manufacturers are losing a lot of valuable institutional knowledge. We have some customers whose long-time employees have decided to delay their retirement for a year so they could record everything they know in the Redzone learning module. I’m not talking C-level executives making hundreds of thousands of dollars with stock options. These are frontline operators who decided they want to leave a knowledge legacy for the next generation of workers. That’s employee engagement done right.

That’s a great place to end. Thank you, Zack!

ZS: Thank you.