Working with Purpose: Empower and Engage Frontline Workers

Industrial worker technologist working in food factory by production line machine.

By Zack Sosebee, SVP Operations, Redzone

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The average person spends 90,000 hours of their life on the job—that’s more than ten years. After all that time, it’s natural that employees feel their identities are tied up in work. After all, “vocation” is Latin for “calling,” and finding one’s calling is a core task for young people as they discover what kinds of work they might enjoy.

80% of college graduates believe work must give them a sense of purpose—yet only 50% believe their current job helps them fulfill their purpose. 

Helping employees align their values with their jobs starts with a mindset that working with purpose benefits both employee and company. Employers who support their employees see significantly improved morale, increased retention, and boosts in productivity. Here’s how to make it happen.

Evolving workplace culture calls for new perspectives 

Workers didn’t always expect an emotional investment in their jobs. Employee engagement is a relatively modern concept that emerged in management theory in the 1990s. Employers began to measure elements of employee engagement, such as a positive emotional connection, focus, productivity, and loyalty. This mindshift represented a critical development in the way employers have grown to understand workers — notably a growing cultural acknowledgment that workers who do not have a relationship with their work are likely to be disconnected, uninterested, and ultimately, less invested in a job well done. The most unfortunate part is that this was primarily discovered with surveys rather than leaders being involved in the process with open two-way feedback.

Workers feeling disconnected is a primary cause of voluntary separations, costing organizations roughly $406 billion per year.

The rapid adoption of employee engagement has evolved into a highly sought-after requirement for job seekers. With the manufacturing industry being hit hard with labor shortages, employers must be able to give job seekers what they want, and a major part of that is helping them feel more empowered and engaged at work.

Supply and demand: Give your team what they need to succeed

Baby boomers working at the frontlines of manufacturing never expected purpose in their work. They wanted stability and a way to support their families. Many looked back on their parents’ and grandparents’ job experiences and accepted that their own must also include monotonous tasks and hard work rather than fulfillment.

Times have changed. New generations expect to work with purpose and find themselves searching out jobs that offer it. In this new work culture, managers who wish to recruit and retain great talent must recognize the desire for purpose in the workplace and develop strategies to help employees fulfill this need.

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How? Here are some simple solutions to reaping the benefits of a purpose-driven workplace:

Look to develop careers, not just fill roles

Employees develop purpose over time in roles where they feel they can make a difference. That’s not typical of short-term employment. Offer training and feedback to help employees grow with the company.

Improve internal communications

Communication not only builds trust with managers, it builds long-term engagement and loyalty. Develop ways for workers to communicate across roles, about issues as they arise, and with management. Open further lines of direct, two-way communication and feedback between senior leaders and workers.

Equip workers with tools that promote autonomy

Employees who can make a difference are more likely to be engaged and to help motivate their coworkers. Empowerment is the heart of working with purpose since it lets employees find ways to fulfill their own purpose to be useful in the workplace. Define what really matters and give workers user-friendly dashboards and a troubleshooting or escalation path to get started.

Prioritize a culture of belonging

Employees who have a connection to their workplace and coworkers are more engaged, more likely to stay on the job, and more productive while they’re there. Find ways to connect coworkers, foster relationships, work together on issues, and realize the power of the team.

More than a giving-in to a new generation, working with purpose is a value add to organizations. In today’s job-hopping culture, what works to retain and upskill workers is deeper than bonuses or break rooms – it’s the empowering promise of a meaningful career. Organizations that help cultivate their employees’ calling to work purposefully build a culture that can carry their plants into the future.

Benefits of working with purpose

When employees feel empowered and engaged, everyone wins. Here are some significant ways companies see a ROI when their employees work with purpose:

Skills and retention

When workers are happier, they take fewer sick days and participate in more trainings. This prevents bottlenecks from understaffing and leads to higher-skilled workers. Employees who find meaning in their jobs are more likely to postpone retirement, which can help minimize the effects of the current labor crisis. By some estimates, companies with a core commitment to purpose and empowerment can reduce turnover by 59%.

Productivity and quality of work

Not only does productivity get a 17% boost in highly engaged workplaces, but the quality of this work also skyrockets, with 41% fewer manufacturing defects in high engagement groups. This is likely due to both the skills developed from increased trainings and a desire to put more effort into their work when they find value in their career’s purpose. Engaged workers will associate their own personal brand with the quality of the product they are making.


Motivation is contagious. When many in a group work with purpose, others are more likely to get involved and achieve at a higher level — feeding back into productivity results. Effective communication increases motivation in 85% of workers. As line leads, supervisors, and managers, your frontline leaders cultivate this culture and are the stewards of enabling the feeling of true teamwork.

Workplace safety

Highly engaged workplaces see a 64% reduction in workplace accidents. That’s because employees who are engaged in their work typically have a higher degree of focus on the task at hand, resulting in more awareness and fewer accidents. 

Customer satisfaction

Satisfied workers mean satisfied customers. There’s a 10% boost in customer loyalty and engagement when workers themselves are engaged. Chalk this up to lower lead times, happier customer service conversations, and better quality products.

Higher profits

Eventually, it’s all about the bottom line, and the numbers don’t lie: employee satisfaction rates have a strong correlation to rising stock prices in large or public companies. High satisfaction companies outperform their peers by 2.3 to 3.8% per year — compounding to a cumulative effect of 89% to 184%, even when taking into account other variables that impact returns. 

A true win-win for manufacturing teams

Empowering and engaging your frontline workers fosters a thriving ecosystem for the long-haul. Workers become more likely to actively participate in the process, seek out answers, and grow their skills for a long-term career. When they are empowered and feel a sense of teamwork and camaraderie, they also upskill and contribute to the development of newer workers as well. Employers who support employees’ search for purpose are able to build, grow, and retain strong teams — even in the midst of an industry-wide labor shortage.

As SVP Operations at Redzone, a connected workforce software solution provider for manufacturers, Zack is responsible for the entire customer experience, including the coaching, implementation and support — but most importantly, the results. His team has a mission to be people-focused above anything else. For more information about Redzone, visit