(From the April 16, 2012, issue of Rubber & Plastics News)
AKRON—He's a production worker at a rubber and plastics plant, an automotive parts company, doing very well of late.
The other day I was at a small gathering at his home—he had to work and missed it—when his wife's phone rang. She talked and mainly listened for awhile, then said hey, I have to go, I have dinner guests.
It was her husband. On break? No à just sitting at his machine, bored to death, waiting while, oh I don't know, the curing process took place.
Turns out this happens all the time. He's read a lot of books since he got this job, as there's plenty of downtime.
It got me to thinking about some contrasts in manufacturing in America, specifically rubber product manufacturing.
Awhile back I visited a rubber goods maker's plant that had a similar situation. Management found staff sitting around—bored—while their equipment went through various cycles.
Rather than pay people for doing nothing, the managers did a detailed study, and figured out how an employee could spend his or her time doing other work during downtime. Mostly it was light maintenance and setup.
Charts were made, goals set, rewards given for exceptional performance.
And it worked. Production is more efficient, of course. But talking to some of the people at the factory, I learned that just as important to them is they aren't stuck doing a repetitive job for an entire shift, since there are other tasks they can tackle. And their workday moves quickly because they aren't idle. This, of course, works best when a firm has a production cells set-up, which improves efficiency.
“Idle hands are the devil's workshop”—yeah, if the devil is boredom.
I know there are exceptions, but I believe most people in this country are willing to work, and want to do a good job. People define themselves by their profession—isn't it one of the first things Americans ask each other, what do you do for a living, where do you work?
It is the employer's or manager's task to make sure people are doing—and are aware they are doing—meaningful work, if only for the selfish reason they'll do a better job and contribute more to the bottom line, which is vital for everyone at a business.
At the first rubber product company, the guy I know is happy he has a job. At the second, the people are glad to be working their particular jobs at this particular company.
Who do you think would respond better when a problem, or an opportunity, arises that requires an extraordinary effort from the company's employees?
You know the answer.
Noga is the editor of Rubber & Plastics News.