#Workflex in Manufacturing: Not a Fantasy

manufacturing-cov-FINAL-400x517Toyota found a way to help employees on the night shift at auto assembly plants in Georgetown, Kentucky and Princeton, Indiana handle parenting responsibilities via after hours child care, and the result was little change to employees’ work schedules, but better work-life fit.

USG, a building materials producer, empowered employees by allowing them to coordinate their own break schedules and elicit line-worker input for a plan to institute shift structures at plants that work best for the location’s workforce rather than enforcing a single shift rotation schedule at all its plants.

Kraft Foods found that hourly workers in manufacturing plants were the least satisfied of all employee groups with work-life integration, so the company created a program to reinvent its vacation policies.

How do you support the work-life needs of production employees? It can be done, and these are just a few manufacturing employers doing just that.manu job

Workflex and Manufacturing Guide: More Than a Dream is your starting place for understanding what flexibility really means for manufacturers and how to help employees succeed both on and off the job. This guide, just released and available for free download now, describes the many types of flexibility that make sense for manufacturing and will help move the workflex conversation at your organization beyond just telework and individualized schedules.

Some examples of the tips in the Guide are:

  • See through the illusion of predictable inflexibility: No matter what policies or punishments you put in place, employees will still be absent when necessary to address personal and family lives. A broad, strategic, flexibility policy that encourages proactive and collaborative planning around absences is a more predictable, reliable and less expensive option than disciplining or separating from current employees and recruiting and training new ones.
  • Make workflex compatibility an equipment specification: Challenge your equipment designers, buyers and suppliers to provide equipment that is compatible with cross-training and workflex. For example, demand that newly purchased machinery have shorter warm-up and cool-down times and be easily reconfigured for different operators.
  • Remember that workflex is a mutual process: Flexibility is about creating a win-win for employers and employees. For a set of processes to be effective, one must be able to answer yes to the following two questions: (1) Do both employees and employers have reasonable control over changes in hours or schedule? (2) Can employees use workflex options without jeopardizing their pay, benefits, job security or the chance of advancement?
  • Explore Flexible Shift Arrangements: Though remote work and individualized scheduling are not generally possible in manufacturing (especially for those organizations that use assembly lines) consider the following alternatives to rigid, manager-arranged scheduling:
    • Shift swapping: Workers voluntarily exchange shifts or workdays to manage such personal and family responsibilities as school events, medical appointments or caring for a sick relative.
    • Alternative shift arrangements: Consider additional shift schedules for different teams or times of the year that would help employees meet personal and family demands without interfering with productivity.
    • Input into break arrangements: Instead of assigning break times, coordinate with employees so breaks coincide with needs, like medication schedules and checking in on kids coming home from school.
    • Split shifts: Split shifts allow employees to separate their shifts into two or more sections with a pause between each section.
    • Adjusted shifts: Consider whether the start, stop and break times for shifts can be better coordinated with other employee schedule demands, such as transporting children to school.

  • Economic security: Consider how particular workflex options impact employee economic security. Focus on efforts that allow employees to keep their benefits and service credit so employees are not penalized for using flexibility or volunteering for programs that help you manage payroll costs.


(The Workflex and Manufacturing Guide is the first in a series of guides being produced by the global When Work Works project with a vision to help #reinvent work across all industries. Follow the discussion via #WorkflexManufacturing and find out more by joining us at a special session at The Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference in Las Vegas this summer. It’s a meeting of the minds you won’t want to miss, offering real strategies and best practices from manufacturers who are changing the rules and trend-spotting research from thought leaders in the field.)


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