Made in America: Great Manufacturing Workplaces

Ed Frauenheim  

Blog - Ed Frauenheim - December 6, 2014

Made in America: Great Manufacturing Workplaces

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Think about the manufacturing industry, and you may imagine hard-helmeted employees on assembly lines, working at all hours, in union shops, with poor or antagonistic relationships with bosses.

But that old-school version of industrial production doesn’t apply at the best workplaces in the manufacturing field.

They may have unionized workers and non-traditional hours, but great workplaces in production industries have built great cultures defined by high levels of trust between staff and management. Employees at these companies—even those working evening or weekend shifts—also typically enjoy the freedom to express ideas, generous professional development and strong camaraderie with their co-workers.

Consider food giant General Mills. The maker of Cheerios, Betty Crocker cake mixes and Gold Medal flour has cooked up a culture brimming over with esprit de corp. Fully 93 percent of General Mills employees describe their working environment as consistently friendly, while 84 percent call it caring. Almost eight out of 10 employees describe their leaders as approachable and easy to talk with. Employees have the opportunity to sit down with their managers, discuss their aspirations and create their own individual development plans for achieving professional and personal goals And each team, function, plant and division arranges celebrations and social events, where employees and their families celebrate milestones and company successes.

“General Mills is a large company with a family atmosphere,” one employee told us. “When an employee is faced with a family illness, everyone top down is supportive to provide resources, assistance and support, creating both flexibility and openness to take time off if needed. General Mills truly stands behind family first.”

Another food products titan, Mars, also has fostered a high-trust, collegial culture among staffers who whip up Snickers bars, M&M’s and pet care products. Departments at a Mars plant in Hackettstown, New Jersey, compete in a volleyball tournament and tug-of-war as part of a summer celebration. One department at the same facility holds monthly potluck luncheons where people swap recipes and socialize. On top of thecamaraderie staffers take great pride in the iconic Mars brands, have significant workplace flexibility and enjoy generous benefits. For example, the company’s large manufacturing plants have on-site health centers. A nurse routinely visits the sites and monitors workers for hearing loss and other risks associated with working in a factory.

These ingredients combine to make for a workplace that leaves a good taste in your mouth. In fact, 85 percent of employees working in Mars manufacturing plants say the company is a great workplace.

"Associates are not just nameless, faceless resources,” one Mars worker says. “They are unique, thinking, driving forces, and each one is important to the success of the business."

Both General Mills and Mars have earned spots on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list. But other manufacturing firms beyond this list also are working to produce great workplaces.

Take Nestle Purina PetCare. The maker of pet food and treats treats its own staff with care. The company has a flex-time policy to support those who commute long distances, an “Employee Assistance Program” provides free, confidential counseling to help with personal or family problems, and staffers at the St. Louis campus have access to a subsidized daycare across the street. In addition, employees are eligible for sabbaticals, extended breaks to pursue educational, political, community or personal interests after each 10-year milestone.

In Nestle Purina PetCare’s Great Rated! review, employees highlight the strengths that stand out for them. Says one employee of his overall experience: “You are treated with respect by the people you work with. Management at this facility is first class. They take safety very seriously.”

Nestle helps its employees’ message stand out among other reviews by increasing their visibility on the site through featured placement on the home page, reducing the potential distraction of competitive ads on their own page, and exercising control over the job listing experience attached to their review so that job seekers who have read about their culture come to them directly and can search and find the particular job they are interested in.

Moving from pet food to fine wine, consider Wente Family Estates. Wente is a winery, restaurant and golf course facility east of the San Francisco Bay Area. And its workers savor the family flavor of Wente’s culture. For example, Wente pays 80 percent of the health care premiums for eligible employees and their families. Wente’s "Nth Degree" program recognizes and rewards employees who go above and beyond. Winners are announced semi-annually at the company's town hall meetings and receive a cash reward. There also are barbecues held before and after the annual grape harvest, as well as end-of-year celebrations and luncheons.

“The family that owns the company is wonderful. Wente is the best company I have ever worked for, and I believe that it starts with outstanding ownership,” says one Wente staffer. “We have a great team, which makes it a pleasure coming to work.”

So let go of those outdated ideas about manufacturing jobs. Even the head gear worn by production workers might surprise you. At Wente, you may find employees wearing golf hats rather than hard helmets: staffers get discounted rounds on the Greg Norman-designed golf course.

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Be sure your talent acquisition teams know how Great Rated! helps support their recruiting efforts! See the best practices examples employers are using to promote their workplace culture in this recorded webinar with Great Rated! CEO Kim Peters and Great Place to Work’s Chris Culkin.

Ed Frauenheim
Ed Frauenheim

Ed Frauenheim is Director of Research and Content at Great Place to Work. Ed provides insights into how Great Places to Work For All are better for business, better for people, and better for the world. He has spoken at more than 20 events, co-written two books and published articles in Fortune, Wired and the Seattle Times.