Left Behind

Communication is a desire of all humans.  Over the centuries, humans have found better, faster and easier ways to communicate.  We’ve even found ways to communicate with people who are thousands of miles away or in space.  As we’ve advanced, we’ve benefited – at least most of us.  One specific area that has benefited is workplace communication.  Modern technological advances have allowed organizations to have intranet sites that inform employees about company sponsored events, stock value, employee resource groups and training opportunities.  Employees visiting their intranet sites can learn more about the company and what leadership’s goals and vision are.  They can view organizational charts, access forms and policy documents and even read company newsletters.  Those who have company issued devices such as laptops and smartphones have the means to send and receive messages via company email, use an electronic time keeping system and access various applications.  Because companies have kept up the pace with modern technology, communication within them has been enhanced.  It has opened wonderful doors of opportunity for many employees.  However, there is one segment of the workforce that lags far behind the others in terms of having good access to modern communication methods and modes – production workers.

Employee engagement is lowest among production workers.  This lower employee engagement can be linked to less efficient communication to and from production workers.  So, while the majority of our workforce has been able to take advantage of and reap the benefits of what Mary Chayko, in her book Superconnected, calls a participatory culture, production workers do not have these same opportunities.  While internal workplace communication is growing and changing with the times among all other segments of the workforce, production workers are being left behind.  It’s no wonder they are less engaged.

While solutions to this problem are difficult to find, the reasons are fairly simple.  If, for example, you are a welder working the third shift at a large company, you most likely don’t have a company issued laptop or smart phone, you don’t have the ability to leave your work on the line to attend a town hall meeting and you probably don’t even have a company email address.  So, much of the company information about upcoming events, changes, training opportunities, policies, etc., is cascaded down to you through word of mount or perhaps a poster on the break room bulletin board.  You are not a part of the participatory culture that everyone else enjoys.  This creates a serious communication gap between production workers and the rest of the organization.

How can we bridge this digital divide between production workers and the rest of the workforce?  How can we give them better opportunities to participate and engage with the business they are such a valuable part of?  Is it financially feasible and beneficial for organizations to invest in ways to create avenues with which communication can flow to and from production workers?  An article by Jeffry Bartash in MarketWatch emphasizes how low unemployment rates (among other factors) have left many businesses facing a labor shortage.  Companies are paying for workers to take courses and get certifications as a way to obtain more skilled laborers.  They’re also offering better pay and benefits to attract workers.  What if some companies offered production workers time to attend town hall meetings and other company-wide events, or leverage mobile application technology? Bulent Osman writes in Forbes  magazine about how important it is to reach these employees, and that leveraging mobile technology is a feasible way.   Companies absorb the costs of providing workers with the tools to communicate better because they know how it benefits the business and increases employee engagement.  I issue a challenge that we begin to find ways to close the digital divide between production workers and the rest of the workforce, and that we provide them with better communication tools.

Posted on September 16, 2018, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I like the connection made between the reading and the Bartash & Osman readings, but I also need to know a little more about who falls under the definition of production worker in your estimate?

    In addition to the digital divide issue, I wonder if better communication tools will lead to the secondary problem of being “always on”? That is, either needing to stay online for fear of missing something, or being expected to be available by an employer. There’s a growing body of scholarship about emotional labor, which dovetails with popular media’s takes on self-care and medical leaves. I wonder how that fits in with your takes on engagement and production workers?

  2. Hello Dr. Pignetti,
    To give you a little background on where I’m coming from, I work as a Communications Specialist at a large company. I’m part of our Branding and Communications team. We have low engagement from our shop floor/hourly employees in almost every area. As we dive deeper into this issue, we are finding that there are very few avenues of communication going to and coming from them. They just aren’t hearing about wellness initiatives, company sponsored events and ways to share the good things they are doing across the enterprise. So, as I was reading the material for this week, I thought of how these production workers are kind of lost. Some research I’ve done outside of this class has also showed me that many companies are struggling with this. In general, manufacturing/production workers are years behind everyone else in the workforce in terms of workplace communication.
    I do think that your point about being “always on” could be an issue. And this is already an issue with office employees. But, I think if we make it a priority to communicate through new technology with office workers, we should do the same for production.
    Thank you for your comments!

  3. Hi Lisa,

    I really enjoy the title of your blog post. It begins to set the stage and gets my mind flowing on all the individual parts of communication we use on day-to-day basis which could be leaving us behind if we don’t take it upon ourselves to become acclimated to the capabilities it provides us.

    You are spot in with workplace communication becoming more advanced and companies offering their employees personal laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc. You mention this being an advantage for those employees who have the opportunity to utilize this type of technology and communication. I agree that companies and organizations will only benefit if their associates continually have access to information before, during and after work hours. But, when does an employee have the opportunity to step away from all of this communication. It seems the expectations for answering texts, calls and emails only increases as one continues to gain access to these resources. What are your thoughts on this?

    You raise a great point about the production worker falling behind by not being able to contribute to this participatory culture. This was something I had not thought about. I currently work in the field of Marketing and Communications and i manage two phones one for work and one for personal usage, so I would identify more closely with the inclusive group integrated in a participatory culture.

    This item addresses a critical component of retaining employees and having engaged employees willing and ready to work each day. What is the best way to offer or incentivize them stay engaged with the company. You are absolutely right that their daily contribution is an essential component to the company’s longevity. Maybe this question begins with a field survey, analysis or case study to compare and contrast the variety of ways to maintaining or improving employee’s engagement levels.

    Very interesting post and topic. I am very curious to hear your feedback. I think this could make for a strong case study or semester project.

    – Kim

  4. Hi Kim,
    I have looked into this issue in a previous class I took here at UW Stout – the issue of production workers not having the same communication opportunities as everyone else. I am in the process of doing some focus groups with production workers at the company I work for. This is in response to us realizing that there is very low engagement from them. Yet, we’ve also heard about issues with production workers using their personal cell phones while at work. I wonder if we just see it as being okay for office workers to stop what they’re doing to answer a call or text, but if a production worker does it, it is somehow seen in a negative light. If, however, a production worker stops or halts work on the line because he/she is spending too much time on his/her phone, then I totally understand. It’s relative to the situation. Either way, I think more work needs to be done to see how we can better communicate with and receive communication from our production workforce.

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