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7:35 pm
June 19, 2013
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For On The Floor: Take This Job… And Improve It

rick carterBy Rick Carter, Executive Editor

Although our Reader Panel is on hiatus this month, MT hasn’t lost interest in research related to our readers’ jobs. 

As referenced in Editor Jane Alexander’s April “My Take” column, a recent online overview of the “most and least satisfied professions” based on Gallup survey information piqued our curiosity. It ranked “Manufacturing and Production” 13th out of 14 job categories. This sobering perspective (find it at 247wallst.com) was based on the 2012 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which explored various factors that support human health and happiness, including job satisfaction. Of respondents who work in manufacturing, just over 83% reported satisfaction with their jobs, compared with nearly 96% working in the top-ranked category (“Physician”). While the point spread here isn’t enormous, the fact remains that “Manufacturing” was surpassed by every major job group in the survey except “Transportation,” which included jobs like bus driver and flight attendant. 

Turns out that Gallup’s definition of a manufacturing job was very generous: It included “assembly-line worker,” as well as “food-preparation worker” and other titles that aren’t closely associated with today’s manufacturing-maintenance professional. To achieve more precision with the sample, we polled MT readers about their job-satisfaction, and in two days got more than 200 responses—along with other engaging perspectives on what it means to work in manufacturing today. (Take MT’s “Job Satisfaction Survey” at www.mt-online.com/satisfaction.) We have recapped our findings here and posted charts supporting them at the bottom of this article.

How our readers responded
When we asked MT readers, “How satisfied are you with your current manufacturing job?” 28% said “very satisfied.” Another 47% said “somewhat satisfied.” Combined, these groups represent 75% that are “satisfied” with their jobs in manufacturing: not a bad number, but, disappointingly, still lower than the Gallup survey. 

The rest of the MT group—nearly one-fourth—falls into the “unsatisfied” group: 14% are somewhat so; 10% are flat-out unsatisfied. Translation: An operation with 1000 employees might have some 750 workers who are “OK” with their jobs, and maybe another 240 who aren’t. Sounds like a lot of malcontents, doesn’t it? But before we get to the reasons for this satisfaction/dissatisfaction, let’s clarify what titles we’re talking about. . . 

Most of our respondents—nearly two-thirds—are maintenance pros. Predominant titles, held by 45%, are maintenance manager and maintenance team leader. Another 17% said they were part of a maintenance crew. Titles like plant engineer, operations manager and production team member make up most of the remainder. 

Respondents’ top age range and sex are also as might be expected: The group is largely male (97%), and more than half (56%) are between the ages of 50 and 65. Women are hardly represented (3%), as are those under 30 (2%). Most—71%—have worked in manufacturing 20 years or more.

Thus, we’re hearing from what has become the standard-bearer for today’s manufacturing professional: a male Baby Boomer not far from retirement. This person has seen a lot in 20+ years on
the job and is still shaping opinions about what’s going on in his/her profession. Nonetheless, it’s rather unsettling to see what emerged as top factors that respondents said could boost job satisfaction among those who are anything less than “very satisfied” with their current situation: “Higher pay” (listed by 33%) was predictable, but the very close second (at 32%) was “more opportunities for training and advancement.” Considering that only one answer could be entered for the question, this response is noteworthy.

It’s not just the money
The fact that our respondents rated training and advancement opportunities nearly on a par with pay as the single reason that would boost their job satisfaction should serve as a loud wake-up call to manufacturing employers everywhere. The fact that this view comes mostly from long-time manufacturing employees over age 50 should make it even louder. In an age when manufacturers desperately need more skills on the floor, how can limits on training opportunities exist anywhere?

The open-ended-response option to this question may provide clues. Remember that only one response was allowed—each of which was considered by the respondent as the “single” factor that would make his/ her job more satisfying. Here’s a sampling of the write-in responses: “We need more resources to be successful”; “I wish my boss would stop lying about career-progression criteria;” “More consistency in decision-making;” “Less continual increase in paperwork and record-keeping;” “More efficient management;” “Better leadership;” “Better communication;” and last but not least, “Less stupidity.”

Other job-satisfaction-improvement options in the question fell by the wayside, comparatively. Even the hot-button topic “better health coverage,” for example, is deemed a single critical factor by only 15% of respondents. All other options—including “better working conditions,” “different working hours” and “on-site improvements” (like an exercise facility, cafeteria or day-care center)were considered even less important. 

The better news
Manufacturing employees might not be the happiest, but MT readers’ responses do reflect improvement. The survey asked them how their current level of satisfaction compares with their level of satisfaction five or more years ago. The largest single response group—24%—said they are “slightly more satisfied” now. Another 18% said they are “much more satisfied” now, meaning that overall, 42% of respondents feel better about their jobs today than earlier in their careers.

But almost as many feel the opposite: 18% are “slightly less satisfied” now and 23% are “much less satisfied,” indicating that 41% believe their job situation has deteriorated from five or more years ago. Only about 9% say things haven’t changed.

Our survey could have ended here, but we took a cue from Gallup’s “well-being” focus and included a few non-job-related questions to see what other factors might impact job satisfaction. The first of these asked our respondents simply to rate their own health. “Average” was the top answer, given by 57%. Encouragingly, 42% rate their health “above average,” while only 1% think it is “below average.”

Does this mean the stereotypical image of the out-of-shape factory worker has no basis in reality? Could be, especially when you factor in the amount of exercise today’s worker gets.

Some 30% of MT’s respondents, for example, report getting five or more hours of physical exercise outside of work each week. More than half—54%—get at least 1 to 5 hours. And while about 13% report getting less than one hour, only a handful (3%) claim to get no physical activity whatsoever.

Most of our respondents report that they are generally happy with their lives overall, despite job misgivings. Asked about their level of satisfaction with their lives outside of work, 53% of respondents report being “very satisfied,” and 40% are “somewhat satisfied.” Just short of 5% are “somewhat unsatisfied” and 3% are “unsatisfied,” which may be as low as such numbers could possibly go.

With health and home-life happiness on his/her side, today’s maintenance professional has a positive outlook on life, but is somewhat less enthusiastic on the job front. Respondents say better opportunities for training and advancement would go a long way to improving this part of their lives. It’s an issue that deserves review in these pages again—as well as at your next management meeting. MT

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