Employee Participation in Improving Your Shop Layout

When you first consider a change in your shop layout, especially a major change, you might think that your employees are an obstacle because they are reluctant to change. This is natural because most people think of change as meaning one of the following: their job will be different, their job will be more difficult, they will no longer be able to work with the same people, or fewer employees will be needed.

Some employees want to undermine a shop because they dislike changing, or because they feel it might affect their job security. Therefore, you must go about the change very carefully. But realizing these factors about your employees makes your job a lot easier. The smaller your shop, the easier this is because the owner is closer to his employees and knows them better individually.

Now you realize the reasons your employees are reluctant to change. As soon as you realize the next attribute of most people, you will see how easy making the change will really be. That is, peo­ple like to work in an atmosphere of understanding, participation and friendliness. They like to be given the opportunity to work to­ward their improvement.

How can you work within this framework? You can discuss with each employee what suggestions he has for making his job and the job of his co-workers easier. Not only does this make the employee feel important, but since he is the one who is doing the job every day, he probably has the best ideas anyway!

For example, when you pur­chase a new machine to increase production, you should explain to your employees how it will help them. Tell them that you have in­vested a considerable sum of money in the new machine so that you can produce more ductwork in less labor hours. Further, tell them that you are planning this so that you will be able to bid on more jobs at a lower price than your com­petitors, with the result of being able to do more jobs.

Group Discussions with Employees

When you discuss possible im­provements with your employees as a group, you will probably find amazing results. Each person's suggestions cause the others to think and come up with even more and better suggestions.

With this atmosphere, your em­ployees will feel free to mention their new ideas with you whenever they think of something, not just when you specifically ask them. Having a "Suggestion Box" might be a good idea. But remember to recognize the employee for his suggestions. A word of apprecia­tion in front of other employees will go a long way! Sometimes a pat on the back will go a lot fur­ther than extra money. Consider making up a sign and place it in the shop: "Do You Have A Sug­gestion For Improvement? Please Tell Un About It!" Having this sign gives the employees the feel­ing that you are open to sugges­tions. This is especially important if you have a large shop with less contact with each individual employee.

If you plan to have a group discussion with your employees concerning the improvement of your shop layout, remember these points:

  1. People like to participate in a group activity. They will be more comfortable being with their co-workers when they are also making suggestions. Sev­eral heads are better than one. Small discussions within the larger group are good to see; it shows they are enjoying the experience and it helps set an atmosphere of friendliness and working together. The best ideas will evolve gradually from the comments of several people.

  2. People like to try to improve. This is a natural tendency and is fostered by encouragement and recognition. The only rea­son some people do not want to improve is fear, usually fear of losing security or losing ac­ceptance by his friends or co-workers. Since some people see work simplification as a loss of someone's job, they fear it. You must combat this with under­standing and by conveying the idea that there is adequate work for all. Their natural de­sire to improve continues with confidence when they realize that the improvement is in their own best interest.

  3. What the people say is not as important as the way they say it. Not all of your employees' suggestions or ideas will be ac­tually good or workable. But the mere fact of having this discussion will open their minds to watching for ways of doing their job better, will es­tablish friendliness and under­standing among the employees and will make them feel more comfortable speaking with you, their employer.

  4. What your employees do is not as important as the way they do it. Using more efficient work methods gets more done with­out actually working harder. The time spent in having this discussion provides many bene­fits, both direct and indirect.

Providing your employees with the desire to improve is broad, is positive in nature, and is easily developed through an open group discussion among your employees. This all comes about due to our desire to belong to a group, to have a feeling of importance, to have a feeling of accomplishment, to have recognition, and to work with people who are understand­ing and appreciative. Do not hesi­tate to ask your employees for some suggestions. Remember, they are the ones who will be working in the shop.

Keep a List of Desired Improvements

Usually you are not able to do everything at once that you would like to do to improve your shop layout. This is due to a combina­tion of factors. You do not have ail the funds available to invest at one time. Your employees are busy and don't have time to make all the desired improvements immedi­ately.

Keeping an "Annual Shop Im­provement List" or a "Long-Range Shop Improvement List" can solve this problem. Whenever you or an employee think of something that should be done, write it on your list. This way, you do not forget some of the good ideas, and you can read the list occasionally to decide what should be done next.

You can turn time into profit for you. When an apprentice or a me­chanic finishes a job early, whether an hour or a half day, you can select an item on your im­provement list for him to do. Some of the items on this list might be:

  • Organize an area for hand tools
  • Organize an area for miscellaneous hardware fittings
  • Make a drop-off rack
  • Paint the machines light colors
  • Put up some shop safety posters (available from the National Safety Council, 425 Michigan Avenue, Chicago Illinois 60611).
  • Make a sign: “Please Return All Items To Their Proper Places.”

Another list to develop is for the tools and machines you should purchase. Since you usually cannot purchase them all at once, make a list very carefully indicating which ones are most important. In this way, each time you have a little capital you can invest, you merely take a look at your list, rather than spending time thinking and making a list each time. Everything is relative. When a small shop has $100 to invest, it is as important when a much larger shop has $500 or $1,000 to invest.