A friend of our family recently quit a decent-paying job that I would have thought she would have valued. I was puzzled by this, so I asked her why she quit. After all, she seemed to like the job. She was excited when she first landed the job. So, “why did she suddenly quit,” I wondered. The reason, she stated, was that she did not feel a connection to her fellow workers. She did not feel a sense of camaraderie.

As I visit various customers, I like to interact with the people on the plant floor to get a sense of how happy they are working in their particular plant environment, and how connected they feel as part of a team. What I find is that when employees feel a strong sense of camaraderie, they are both happier and more productive on the job. These companies have less turnover and a more stable workforce.

When a new employee starts with the company, you should have a team leader with a specific mission of making that employee feel welcome on the job. Everyone wants to feel that they are accepted as part of the team. Train the team leader to recognize the special skills or attributes that the new person brings to the table and make them feel special.

Part of camaraderie is embracing diversity. When a new employee joins the team, fellow members of the team make him or her feel welcome and embrace the uniqueness of the individual rather than pointing out the oddities. Everyone has special talents, and everyone is unique. These nuances are celebrated, oftentimes with nicknames that make these individuals feel especially appreciated. This makes them feel part of the family and builds a foundation for loyalty to the team.

Encourage friendships among employees. People who make close friends at work are much happier than those who do not. Allow flexibility of schedules so that people can work the same hours as their friends, and this will make them happier and increase retention rates.

Make the job fun, even if the methods seem unconventional at times. I recently visited a plant in the South with very hot working conditions. The employees were working 10- to 12-hour days,  six days a week. I did not hear anyone complaining. They all felt part of the team — part of a manufacturing family. They played games during the workday to combat boredom and to keep each other entertained as the day progressed.

I was amazed at the unconventional tools of the job that I saw. Sitting next to the gas-filling machine was a squirt gun. It is used to get the attention of team members who may otherwise have

Instant heat relief at an IG facility in the South.

drifted into boredom. A novelty “gas machine” that had nothing to do with argon was used to entertain fellow associates on the IG line. A novelty bracelet, similar to a slinky and called “the flow ring,” was rotating up and down the arm of an IG line worker during her break. She had a big smile on her face… a sure sign of stress relief. These games did not affect quality. If anything, they helped to improve it. Quality was spot on!

One of the most important things that can be done to nurture camaraderie is to install measurement methods on the factory floor that track and display team performance vs. goals, and to reward manufacturing teams as well as specific individuals for special accomplishments. Bringing in lunch or handing out gift cards are examples of team rewards given when new manufacturing goals are met. These methods are ways to celebrate team success. Also, recognizing specific team members with an award or perhaps a shirt designed to celebrate their individual accomplishments are ways to encourage individual performance while allowing other team members to celebrate the success of their fellow team member.

One thing is for certain. Ask any plant manager in the fenestration business and they will tell you that maintaining staffing levels with qualified and motivated people is one of their greatest challenges. In my daily travels to customer facilities, I have the opportunity to interact with many of these production  workers on the plant floor. I see the good, the bad and the ugly.  I see factories with frequent hiccups and quality problems, and I also see factories that are running as smoothly  as a well-oiled machine.

Recognition for excellent work can take many forms.

I can tell you that in the latter case the oil that is lubricating the machine is camaraderie. So, if you want to retain employees and optimize their performance in this tough labor market, pull out all the stops and do whatever you can to nurture it.

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