Optimizing Employee Engagement Globally

Phil Hubbell Jr., Jabil Inc.

Although manufacturing goods in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe offers electronics companies and their manufacturing and solutions partners significant economic advantages, this strategy is not a panacea. When employees feel a company is not meeting their needs, the results can be expensive – from high turnover and the cost of hiring and training replacements to low productivity and a suffering reputation.

Ensuring employees are happy and fulfilled is not only the right thing to do, but it's also good for business. Companies striving for this must often rethink their approach to employee engagement, not just individual initiatives but the overall culture. By carefully evaluating employees' situations and needs and implementing corporate best practices adapted to these different scenarios, manufacturers can improve performance.

Whether it involves better onboarding to make new workers feel at home, training for career advancement or guidance in people management for front-line supervisors, a strategy for improving the employee experience can pay big dividends for everyone.

What is Employee Engagement?

The concept of engagement refers to the emotional commitment of employees to their work and the company. Engaged workers care about contributing to organizational goals and are more willing to lend their time and talent. They're more willing to go above and beyond their job descriptions.

Employee engagement is complex, ranging from the basics of a safe and comfortable workplace and a decent place to live to career opportunities, education and satisfying work relationships. It also means engendering loyalty, pride and a sense of identity and community. 

Importantly, engagement is a two-way process. Companies must engage employees in their principles, programs and policies, and encourage them to respond through participation. When the process is optimized, the effects can be dramatic. Engaged employees provide a higher level of service, quality and productivity, leading to more satisfied customers and higher revenues. Turnover drops and the company's reputation is enhanced.

Following are some metrics on engagement:

Global Engagement Challenges

Regional differences, including culture and laws, play a significant role in engaging employees. In China, higher wage rates and increasing labor shortages have defined the market in recent years. Employees – many of whom have moved hundreds of miles for work – have their choice of jobs in China's manufacturing-intensive regions and may be easily persuaded to change jobs for a small increase in compensation.

Ensuring employees have professional and social connections, fair pay and a safe and respectful working environment is key. They must feel comfortable with the company culture and that they are contributing to the company's success in order for them to stay.

In Mexico, where employees typically have extended families nearby, it is important to make certain that they have access to medical care, transportation and schedules that allow them to care for their children. It can be powerful for companies to invest in community-support services such as schools and health centers.

Engagement from the Ground up

Many electronics original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and service providers tackle the basics of engagement by providing on-campus dormitories and meals for employees in certain countries, transportation from offsite locations, and health and safety programs. Additionally, a strong corporate commitment to investing in development programs is needed to drive success.

Following are a few examples of initiatives that target the full spectrum of engagement needs.

Welcoming New Employees

Conducting extensive onboarding of new employees makes them feel at home in the organization. For example, the global program at Jabil Inc. focuses on three groups: production employees, office employees and managers. Every employee is given a "buddy," and co-workers from the same home town are encouraged to reach out to the new hire. The company also provides a special kit with a discount card for local stores and information about the next job level to which the worker can aspire. Educational funding is offered to help employees prepare for advancement.   

Empowering Individual Advancement

Training and education are critical to empower individual advancement. The goal should be to develop competitive, knowledgeable and skilled employees committed to continuous improvement, learning and critical thinking.

At Jabil's Employee Development International Institute in China, employees are trained for six months in functional skills, English and leadership. In Mexico, another program enrolls high-performing production workers for a year of development in functional skills, English, leadership and university training. In 2013, Jabil delivered more than 500,000 hours of training and education to employees through online and classroom instruction.

Guiding Frontline Managers

A manager engagement toolkit can help managers motivate their employees. A structured manager training program will promote the corporate culture and values, which should be part of manager development.

Tapping the Power of the Smartphone

With the popularity of smartphones, it is essential to take advantage of this high usage to reach more employees. A "storytelling" contest can encourage employees to take "selfies" with their phones and post them along with a story about innovation, customer service, collaboration, continuous improvement or other areas. The best stories may then be selected and publicized internally. Company news, surveys and training on company culture and corporate values can also be provided via smartphones.

Remember, employee engagement is infectious. Just as negative behaviors can cause a downward spiral for a company, employee engagement drives a virtuous upward spiral. Engaged employees affect other employees, and strong overall employee engagement influences customer loyalty. Quality, on-time delivery and cost all improve as employees expend their discretionary effort on behalf of their company and customers.

Although employment challenges and employer practices vary across the world, it is clear that an engaged workforce can make a tremendous difference to any organization. Thoughtful policies and programs tailored to the needs of the locality, supported by genuine concern for and interest in each individual, can drive strong loyalty, pride and commitment that are essential to a high-quality end product and financial returns. 

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