top of page
Free-To-Grow tree
Boosting employee wellbeing growth and engagement

Keys to getting shopfloor employees on board

Author: Alinda Nortje, Founder and CEO of Free To Grow. Published in People Dynamics June-July 2023

Every employee who is at work and fulfilling their job responsibilities is on board physically. But not every employee who is on board physically is on board mentally and emotionally.

Getting employees on board mentally and emotionally involves engaging them on a deeper level, beyond just putting in their time. This is what employee engagement is about. The key to this concept lies in the root of the word ‘engagement’, which is the French word for ‘to pledge yourself.’

When employees are engaged, they pledge themselves to their work and the organisation. are engaged, they pledge themselves to their work and the organisation. They are emotionally invested and this inspires them to work with commitment and enthusiasm.

It is easy to be engaged when your job is in itself stimulating. But when it is monotonous and repetitive and when you have little autonomy and decision-making authority, you tend to put in your time, but not your full effort - just to put food on the table. This is why engaging shopfloor employees is particularly

challenging, and why employees at this level are almost always the lowest-scoring category of workers

in engagement surveys.

Through 29 years of working in more than 1 450 organisations and 36 countries, I have experienced

that there are mainly three keys to engaging shopfloor employees. And that organisations that get this right, tap into a huge amount of hidden potential that others can just dream of. They get discretionary effort from their people.

"When employees are engaged, they pledge themselves to their work and the organisation."


Because of the lack of opportunities most shopfloor employees have encountered in their lives and the harshness of their daily living conditions, their Psychological Capital (PsyCap) is often low. They tend to focus first on what is wrong, instead of what is right, what’s not possible, instead of what is, and on what’s lost, instead of what’s left.

If we want to transform the culture in the organisation from a compliance one to a commitment one, we first need to transform the ‘inner culture’ in our people. We need to strengthen hope, optimism, efficacy, resilience, and ownership through focused learning experiences that deeply touch how they view themselves and the world.


When we help shopfloor employees see how the African proverb ‘If we want to cow to give us milk, we

need to feed it grass” relates to their work, their attitude, and behaviour change almost instantly.

We can achieve this by continuously communicating the 4 P’s:

1. PURPOSE: No one wants to do pointless work. If we spend more of our awake time at work than with our loved ones, we need to know what we are contributing to. Why does this organisation exist? What gap/need are we filling?

2. PICTURE: If we are building a puzzle, we need to know what the picture on the box top looks

like. What are we trying to achieve and why is it important? What does ‘good’ look like?

3. PLAN: How do we plan to achieve success? What are the reasons for changes that are implemented?

4. PART: What is the part we (our team) and I individually play? How can we best contribute?


Leaders shape culture. Frontline Managers and supervisors are critically important in creating a work environment where shopfloor employees feel valued, cared for, and inspired to do and bring their best. Without strong leadership at this level, trying to engage shopfloor employees will be like trying to fill a bucket with holes. Strong frontline leadership lights a fire within people, so it is no longer needed to make a fire beneath them.

Employee Engagement is a two person dance. Leaders ‘lead the dance’. They need to have the desire, skills, and tools to invite their people to dance the dance, help them understand the music and make

sure they know the steps, appreciate the effort, and recognise great performance.

Shopfloor employees need to move away from being passive dancing partners being dragged along the dance floor. They should ‘get’ the dance and take pride in getting their steps right, without shifting blame.

If we can dance like this, we can indeed create organisations that win in the marketplace and the workplace.


bottom of page