How to Offer Flexibility to Your Manufacturing Employees

Find out how your manufacturing company can provide flexible working opportunities that help attract and retain talent, while also boosting productivity.

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Chris Lennon, Vice President of Product Management at BirdDogHRChris Lennon, Vice President of Product Management at BirdDogHR

According to the 2018 Mercer Talent Trends Study, 51 percent of manufacturing employees want their company to offer more flexible work options. Yet only nine percent of HR leaders in the industry say flexible working is visibly present in their organization.

Workers increasingly cite flexibility as one of the top things they look for in a job. As a result, remote work has become more common in many workplaces, but this isn’t as easy for manufacturing companies to offer. For many roles, employees simply need to be on the factory floor to get the job done.

Even though employees can’t easily work from home, there are other ways manufacturing companies can provide flexibility. That’s great news—not just for employees who can achieve better work-life balance—but also for employers. Research has found that flexible work arrangements can improve employee engagement and effectiveness, which means your company has a lot to gain from offering flexibility.

Read on to find out how your manufacturing company can provide flexible working opportunities that help attract and retain talent, while also boosting productivity.

Offer Flexible Hours

Having on-site and shift work doesn’t mean there’s no room for flexibility at your company. Here are a few ways you can give your employees the ability to set a work schedule that works for them.

Flex Hours

At Globe Manufacturing Co. LLC in Pittsfield, New Hampshire, first-shift employees get to choose their start time between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. When the policy was first implemented, 80 percent of employees chose to keep their 6 a.m. start time, but they felt better about it because they had been given the choice.

Can your company offer employees a choice in their hours? Employees—especially those with young children who may need to do the school run—will see something as simple as choosing whether to come in at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. as a way to significantly improve their working lives.

Shift Swapping

Shift swapping is common at retail companies and in restaurants, and it can work well in the manufacturing setting. This flexible perk is exactly what it sounds like: employees are allowed to swap shifts with managerial approval. Some companies also allow employees to swap split shifts, switching just four hours out of an eight-hour shift.

Shift swaps can accommodate medical appointments, family care, and other situations that require employees to be out for some time during working hours. If you adopt shift swapping at your company, make sure to establish a clear procedure. Ask yourself:

  • How many shifts are employees allowed to swap in a given month or shift rotation?
  • Who needs to approve shift swaps?
  • How do employees get this approval?

Once you’ve established your shift swap procedure, you can consider using scheduling software to make the procedure easier and avoid any miscommunications around the trading of shifts.

Compressed or Short Work Weeks

Another way to provide more flexible hours is to offer compressed or short work weeks.

In compressed work weeks, employees work longer days in order to work fewer days. Compressed schedules are common among firefighters and nurses, who often work three 12-hour days and then have four days off. Other common compressed schedules include working 9-hour work days and taking every second Friday off; and working 10-hour work days and taking every Friday off.


Some employers have everyone take Friday off. Globe Manufacturing Co. LLC — the same company that offers flex hours — avoided layoffs in 2008 by scheduling four-day workweeks from Monday to Thursday. One-quarter of U.S. workers would take a 20 percent pay cut to work one fewer day a week, which might make this an attractive option for flexibility at your company.

Be Flexible With Time Off

When it comes to offering your staff greater flexibility, it’s just as important to take into consideration the time your employees don’t spend at work. Here are a few ways to be flexible with employee time off.

Create a Paid Time Off Policy

A paid time off (PTO) policy lumps together vacation days, sick time, and personal time into a single bank of days which employees can use to take paid time off work.


Giving employees the discretion to draw from a single bank of days provides more flexibility than having separate allotments for vacations, sick time, and personal time. It also frees up time for your managers, as they don’t have to police requests for various types of leave. With this arrangement, it’s important to ensure that your employees don’t consider all PTO to be impromptu vacation time and start coming to work when they are sick.


For a better PTO experience, require that employees put in their PTO requests with at least two days’ notice, except when sick. If your company requires a doctor’s note for absences that last more than a certain number of days, a PTO policy can still accommodate that within its terms.

Offer Floating Holidays

If a PTO policy doesn’t make sense for your organization, consider offering floating holidays, where employees choose the days they take for vacation — subject to their manager’s approval and business needs, of course.


While many manufacturing plants close down for predetermined weeks each year, your employees may sometimes want to take vacation days outside of this period. Floating holidays offer them the chance to enjoy days off they’ve chosen without affecting their overall work commitment.

Ask Employees When the Company Should Shut Down

Maybe your plant shuts down for two weeks in January, but most of your employees would prefer two weeks off in July instead. Or perhaps your staff wonders why they have to come in between Christmas and New Year’s when little or no work is occurring during that period.


By surveying your employees about when they would prefer the company to take a break, you can come up with a schedule that suits your staff and the needs of your company in order to ensure the most productivity. This can also boost employee engagement at your company by letting team members have a say in their own work-life balance.


You likely won’t be able to set a two-week break that meets every individual’s preferences, but it goes a long way simply to show employees their voices are heard when making the decision.

Offer Part-Time Work and Job Sharing

Your company may already offer part-time positions on the assembly line, but other positions can be part-time, too. Professional, skilled part-time work is quite common in countries like Switzerland.


Offering part-time positions, both on the floor and in the office, can make your company a more appealing place to work, helping you to attract and retain key team members. Employees at all levels — from entry-level manufacturing positions to senior-level managers — may be interested in part-time work if it’s available to them.


For positions that require a full-time presence, job sharing allows two people to share a position, performing one job. One person might work from Monday to Wednesday and the other from Wednesday to Friday, with a handoff on the overlapping days.

When an employee who previously worked full-time has personal or health issues that mean they can no longer maintain full-time hours, job sharing is an excellent solution. It prevents your company from losing the person’s expertise while ensuring that the work gets done. It also sets a foundation for smooth succession planning if the more experienced person were to leave the company in the future.

When employees have more control over their schedules, they are happier, less stressed, and more productive. You may not be able to allow employees to work from home, but that doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer them. By offering flexibility in creative ways, you can give your staff a better work-life balance and increase their productivity and engagement at work, so your company can thrive.

Chris Lennon is Vice President of Product Management at BirdDogHR. Chris is an active participant in the talent management community bringing over 18 years of experience to BirdDogHR. 

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