It’s that time of year: The busy season is upon us. Meanwhile, due to the wet conditions we have been seeing in many parts of the country, there is sure to be some pent-up demand that will bring peak production days to new heights.

As I travel and discuss production challenges with door and window companies, the biggest concern about meeting summer production schedules includes availability of manpower. And many believe that the key to solving this issue is managing stress on the plant floor.

Indeed, the concept that many operation managers are pondering these days is stress reduction. Reducing stress on the factory floor definitely helps reduce turnover. “Millennials do not seem to tolerate high levels of stress on the job,” says one vice president of operations. “Many of them were raised in environments in which we have protected them from stress, so, they have a very low tolerance for it. Whenever stress reaches a certain point that for us older folks is just a tough day, for them it means walking off the job and going to get a different one—one that maybe pays the same or even a little less but is less stressful. It is a different mentality we are dealing with in the labor pool,” he explains.

I have heard similar observations and concerns about stress from many production managers. Consequently, I am also seeing an increase in efforts to alleviate stress on the manufacturing floor. Here are five major areas where I have observed actions:

1. Better Organization Nobody likes to be disorganized. Disorganization is a giant stress cooker. It makes one feel powerless and confused. When the guy feeding the glasswasher is standing around with no glass or the lady making screens runs out of screen mesh and the delivery has yet to arrive, then stress rises rapidly. Every functional element that controls production flow is crucial. Nobody likes to be out of material, or, on the other end of the spectrum, people don’t like to be swamped. A steady production flow is blissful. A log-jam or work stoppage is quite stressful.

2. A Cleaner and More Comfortable Environment A clean and comfortable environment is crucial. Leave time in the day and adjust production schedules to allow for housekeeping. Make it part of the job and specific to each area. A sloppy environment leads to disorganization and mental fatigue. It can also cause accidents. A clean environment instills a sense of pride, boosts morale and provides an increase in energy. Clean equals comfort. Cool also equals comfort. So, I am seeing extra fans in key locations to maximize air flow. Some plants even have mist stations. Plenty of fresh water is also crucial. Hydration is a must.

3. Continuous Visual Feedback on Productivity Constant and visual feedback on productivity not only reduces stress, but motivates the production rate. Don’t wait until there are only two hours left in the production day to let everyone know that the team is running behind and may have to work over. People have families and other commitments. Working overtime is not necessarily viewed as an opportunity by millennials like it was in previous generations. What was once viewed as an opportunity to make extra money is now viewed as an infringement upon personal or family time. “This is not to say this view is wrong,” says one production manager. “You have to be happy at home to be happy at work.” In response to this, I am seeing production status boards popping up right near the production lines showing production rates updated hourly versus a goal. This helps immensely. “Can you imagine driving a car without a speedometer or a plane without an altimeter?” asks one production associate. This really helps in gauging our progress and allows us to make adjustments as the day progresses.

4. Teambuilding Games and Rewards Manufacturing managers are getting creative when it comes to motivating production teams to get results. Weekly and daily games are being organized as sort of a friendly competition between production teams. Rewards such as pizza or extra snacks for the winning teams help to sweeten the pot. This makes the job fun and also leads to improved morale and increased productivity. I would share a few of these ideas with you but my customers have sworn me to secrecy as they feel these ideas give them a competitive edge!

5. Don’t forget Quality Now, it is extremely important to make sure that quality control is an integral part of the productivity goals when designing these programs. It makes no sense to produce more units per hour if you are dealing with a higher reject rate. “Even if production output doesn’t increase, you have effectively improved productivity if you bring the reject rate down,” states one quality assurance manager.

The availability of a stable workforce is one of the major challenges currently facing door and window manufacturers, as well as all facets of the construction industry. Helping to alleviate stress on the manufacturing floor may be the key to reducing turnover to more manageable levels. This can be a major factor in helping our industry to control the rising costs of labor and help ensure continued growth.

So, don’t let stress weigh down your progress!

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