External Report: “Workflex and Manufacturing Guide: More Than a Dream”

Published by When Work Works (authors: Kenneth Matos and Eve Tahmincioglu)

Employers typically require some degree of flexibility from their employees to meet their organizational needs, but employees require some flexibility of their own to manage family responsibilities. Creating, implementing and maintaining a workplace flexibility/workflex program is not always a simple task, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution that can guarantee a workplace meets the needs of employees, employers and their customers.

To facilitate healthy workplaces and effective workflex programs, When Work Works (a joint initiative of the Society for Human Resources Management and the Families and Work Institute) recently released Workflex and Manufacturing Guide: More Than a Dream, a guide that will assist employers in the manufacturing sector to start the conversation and that will encourage employers and employees to see the benefits of workflex.

The guide acknowledges that manufacturing jobs have unique circumstances that must be considered; assembly lines, specialized equipment, unions, fluctuations in production and multiple shifts all impact the needs and experiences of manufacturing work. But this doesn’t mean that workflex is impossible in the manufacturing context. Employees can be cross-trained to work on a number of different pieces of equipment. Adjustable equipment that can be easily modified can facilitate cross-training.

Conversations between employees and union leaders can help determine the flexibility requirements of the workforce. Pilot programs can allow employers and employees to test innovative approaches to workflex.

The report includes examples of manufacturers who implemented workflex strategies to overcome adversities. American Sensor Technologies faced economic challenges during the 2008 recession when many orders were being cancelled but was able to maintain its skilled workforce and to reduce labour costs by implementing rolling furloughs – rather than relying solely on layoffs – and by cross-training their production employees so they could fulfill different roles as required. PlastiCert has also embraced cross-training to maintain production levels, which allows for interchangeability in staffing when a particular employee is unavailable.

Flexibility on the part of both the employee and the employer is key to the success of a workflex program in the manufacturing sector. Both parties need to have a reasonable amount of control over the changes in hours or the schedule. Employees must be able to “use workflex options without jeopardizing their pay, benefits, job security or the chance of advancement.”

Workflex and Manufacturing Guide: More Than a Dream is a valuable resource for employers and employees in the manufacturing sector, and a conversation catalyst that can help start and guide important negotiations about workflex to benefit all sides. After all, flexible work arrangements don’t just help employees fulfill family responsibilities, they also “boost employee satisfaction, and ultimately productivity and the bottom line.”

This report can be downloaded from the When Work Works website.

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