Every employer wants an engaged workforce; people who know what’s expected of them at work and enthusiastically arrive on the job to earn a paycheck and to contribute to the organization’s success. Engaged employees are loyal workers who add value to a material recovery facility (MRF) every day.

When engagement is high, employees are loyal, committed to their work and refer others to the team. On the other hand, MRFs that experience high turnover and poor performance probably have an engagement problem.

The good news is that any MRF can take steps to create an environment that fosters engagement, productivity and profitability, even among temporary workers.

  1. Start at the interview. Creating an engaged workforce starts at the interview. Set the stage with an interview space that includes your hiring materials, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other equipment. This communicates that you’re an organized, prepared and reliable employer. Be upfront and honest about the work and your expectations. Always follow up with new hires before the start of their first shift. This makes them feel like they are a part of the team from the beginning.
  2. Build cooperative teams. The most crucial time to engage with employees is in the first few days on the job. The MRF environment is fast paced and chaotic; motivation and direction can easily be lost. Make sure each new hire is catching on to his or her role and answer questions. Take time to introduce new hires to the rest of the team. Pair new hires with an experienced “buddy” during the first week on the job. Follow up with new hires regularly to keep building their engagement.
  3. Get personal. Make an effort to build relationships with your employees. Get to know them as people, listen to their concerns and give them opportunities to grow. It takes more time to manage this way, but it creates a team of sorters who care about the job and the company and translates directly to low turnover and high engagement.
  4. Offer flexibility. Today’s employees often consider a flexible schedule to be equally or more important than overall compensation. Employers can create flexibility in several ways that may improve hiring and results, employee satisfaction and loyalty.
    • Rotating schedules and assignments can keep employees from becoming overworked or bored on the job. For new hires, consider scheduling them to work a half week or don’t have them sort for a full shift. This can help them learn the job more quickly. Consider offering tenured employees the option to choose their preferred shifts.
    • If work slows down or your MRF has seasonal peaks and valleys, consider putting a portion of your workforce in part-time or shared jobs. Some MRFs shift their employees to “busy work” until things pick up. Others offer volunteer furloughs, allowing employees to leave or take a break when the system is slow and to come back when the opportunity returns. Options like these can help improve retention, reduce your hiring and training expense and drive engagement.
  5. Keep safety interesting. The safety program at your MRF is an aspect of the employer-employee relationship that clearly communicates how much you value your workforce. It’s crucial to keep employees involved, make safety programs interesting and help employees internalize key points day after day. Effective safety programs can reduce incidents and improve motivation. Safety huddles are standard at most MRFs, but their routine focus could cause employees to tune out. Try these ideas for safety huddles:
    • Create a quiz to test the team’s knowledge. Read it out loud and solicit answers from the group.
    • After the safety meeting, stop and ask employees questions from that day’s meeting.
    • Move the location of the safety huddle to a place relevant to the topic. For example, if you are discussing fire drill and evacuation procedures, meet at the first rally point. Sound the alarm so employees know what it sounds like.

    Safety committees also help to keep safety interesting and a priority. These committees offer members a chance to prove themselves, connect with management and implement ideas that make the operation better. When choosing safety committee members, seek out employees who have been a part of the team awhile and have the respect of their peers; people who enjoy participating in a group and aren’t afraid of voicing their opinions.

  6. Cross-train and promote. A career in recycling can be exciting and appealing to a wide range of people. Identify sorters who have the potential do to more, then coach them to advance into roles like line lead or on-site manager. Cross-training is another way to improve output, build retention and increase morale. At Leadpoint, many of our on-site managers started as sorters, learned different jobs and worked their way up. Their advancement inspires and creates engagement at the sites we support.
  7. Set the right wage. Understanding your market and setting attractive and competitive wages for sorters, line leads and other general labor positions not only generates engagement but also can result in a net improvement to the bottom line. Here are some reasons why:
    • A competitive wage increase can be motivating and create a more loyal, stable workforce. These engaged workers stay on the job longer and recommend their workplace to others, so you spend less time on recruiting, training and safety issues.
    • When employees believe they are being treated fairly, viewed with respect and valued for their contributions, they work harder and become more productive over time. That level of engagement translates to improved efficiency, lower contamination levels, less equipment downtime and improved diversion rates.
    • Keeping a focus on market wages and adjusting as conditions change allows MRFs to recruit and retain the best possible employees. The savings that come from reduced turnover and improved performance can offset the initial cost of the wage increase and add long-term value through higher quality output.
  8. Set clear expectations and overcommunicate. Keep job performance top of mind by communicating what’s expected of employees and how they are doing. Clearly identify the performance measures for individual and team success. You can’t cover these points once and move on; they’re something to come back to again and again. Leadpoint’s managers have used these tactics to set expectations.
    • Implement an attendance tracking system. This communicates that each employee’s attendance matters to the team’s success.
    • Post hand speeds and quality data. It’s information everyone can use to understand expectations and to check their performance against a goal.
    • Make job expectations a topic that you address weekly at the daily meeting or devote one meeting each month to the topic of performance, goals and expectations.
    • Celebrate individually and as a team when goals or milestones are achieved.

Creating an engaged workforce isn’t easy, but the rewards are worth the effort. At Leadpoint, our experience shows that sorters can and do stay on the job long term when they are engaged in their work, feel like part of the team and are inspired by the success of those around them.

This article was submitted by Phoenix-based Leadpoint Business Services. Since 2000, Leadpoint has helped recycling companies make better decisions about how to maximize their workforce and improve the productivity, efficiency and profitability of their operations. More information is available at www.leadpointusa.com.