Insight into the thoughts and understandings of SA shop floor workers

Insight into the thoughts and understandings of sa shop floor workers

There is a massive disconnect in communication between management and the shop floor in South African industries. The problem does not lie with the shop floor or the trade unions; it lies squarely on the shoulders of management.

That is the conclusion drawn after the analysis of 15 years of ongoing research into employee engagement and the psychological needs satisfaction of employees, drawing on more than 50 000 responses to quantitative and qualitative research conducted on over 200 shop floors in the manufacturing sector in South Africa.

This research formed the basis of a Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology, one of the first of its kind in South Africa. The degree was sponsored by Full Circle Business Communications (FCBC), a company specialising in facilitating communication between the shop floor and management, with branches in all major South African centres and the UK.

FCBC’s co-founder and joint Managing Director, Graham Ferreira, has spent the past four decades working in business communication.
“Full Circle client services staff are in daily contact with site management, supervisors, and the shop floor, and have, over the past 15 years, built the trust and co-operation of the South African manufacturing operations environment,” he said.

FCBC employs a full-time research team, headed by Gina Gerber, who has a degree in business statistics as well as a Master’s degree in psychology.

“The vast body of our research has given us the ability to mine data relating to how the shop floor relates, communicates, and engages with management,” she said.

“This data of practical onsite research into the relationship between shop floor and management, added to our in-house academic research, meta-analysis of neuro-scientific research into areas such as the Attachment heory, affect behaviour, and the role of mirror neurons in communication, has shaped ongoing research into how to win the hearts and minds of the South African manufacturing shop floor,” said Ferreira.

According to the data mined from the vast body of research, there is a huge disconnect between management and the shop floor.
Our research shows the difference in perception between management and the shop floor to a simple statement like: “Top management communicates openly and honestly with employees”.

More than 4 000 South African managers gave that statement a score of 76%, while over 100 000 shop floor workers only scored it 63%.
Distell, AB InBev (SAB) RCL FOODS, Sappi, MAN Automotive, Smiths Manufacturing, Altech, Langeberg & Ashton and Glencore are just some of the manufacturing giants with which FCBC interacts daily.

“This gives us daily access to the thoughts and understandings of over 100 000 South African shop floor workers in the manufacturing, agricultural, food processing and mining sectors every working day of the year. We are in a unique position to understand how to gain the hearts and minds of the shop floor and facilitate meaningful engagement between workers and management,” said Ferreira.

“The key, according to the extensive psychological needs analysis, is re-engineering top-down corporate culture,” says Gerber, whose Masters at the University of Melbourne explored the dynamics between dominant cultural and popular narratives, which leads to how we understand the world and, thereby, how behaviour can be changed.

“The lowest quantitative score on the Full Circle measurement tool was to the statement: ‘Management knows and understands the problems and concerns of employees’,” Gerber commented.

This is at the heart of the disconnect between management and the shop floor.

“Successful change can only occur when identity, beliefs, competencies and behaviours are aligned. The organisation collectively has to change their culture and take ownership of their personal and organisational change,” said Gerber.

Changing the culture of an organisation is not about the ultimate ‘best’ plan, or about ‘being right’, it is about ‘getting it right’ – employee engagement in small groups and co-creating successful change.

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