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How Understanding 5 Key Personas Can Help Attract and Retain Manufacturing Employees

August 04, 2022


Workforce challenges pack a double wallop for manufacturers these days: Employees are quitting at record levels and it’s more difficult to hire new ones. Much attention is being paid to strategies for finding and incenting new applicants, but stanching the record numbers of experienced employees leaving their jobs during “The Great Resignation” is turning out to be a much more complex and consequential undertaking.

New research by global management consultancy McKinsey & Company identified distinct pools of workers with varied workplace priorities. Differences among these groups show that employers must take a multifaceted approach to successfully attract and retain talent.

Drawing on economic and labor statistics as well as surveys of nearly 14,000 employees across the globe in 16 industries, researchers identified five key personas among employees, each one motivated by a distinct value proposition:

1. The Traditionalist

As the name implies, this group is motivated by time-tested recruitment and retention strategies. They are career-oriented people who care about work-life balance but are willing to make trade-offs for the sake of their jobs. They are motivated to work full time in return for a competitive compensation package and perks, a good job title, status at the company, and career advancement. Exiting workers told researchers that relationships in their workplace were sources of tension and that they didn’t feel that their organizations and managers cared about them.

2. The Do-It-Yourselfer

Comprising the largest share of survey participants, this group values workplace flexibility above all else, but meaningful work and compensation level are also top motivators. They tend to be 25 to 45 years old and run the gamut from self-employed to full-time employed in non-traditional roles to gig and part-time workers. Attracting this cohort can be difficult because organizations must show that what they offer is better than what these workers have created for themselves. To be successful, companies need to enable the freedom that these workers crave and a sense of purpose, as well as a compensation package beyond what they can achieve on their own.

3. The Caregiver

A lot of the people in this group either left the workforce or are considering leaving because they need more flexibility and support than traditional employment offers and want to care for children, parents, or themselves. Group members are motivated by compensation but have another constellation of priorities for returning to their jobs: workplace flexibility, support for employee health and well-being, and career development.

4. The Idealist

Members of this persona tend to be younger—aged 18 to 24—and many are students or part-time workers. Mostly unencumbered by dependents, mortgages, and other responsibilities, this group emphasizes flexibility, career development and advancement potential, meaningful work, and a community of reliable and supportive people. This persona ranked belonging to an inclusive and welcoming community more highly than the other personas—squaring with research showing that younger workers value diversity in the workplace.

5. The Relaxer

Career doesn’t come first for members of this cohort. They are a mix of retirees, those not looking for work, and those who might return to traditional work under the right circumstances. So they want more than the traditional value proposition to be enticed back into the workforce—including the promise of meaningful work. They represent the largest segment of the latent workforce but are largely ignored by employers in need of skilled workers.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Going forward, workforce recruitment and management practices will need to be more nuanced. To address the attraction-retention problem for the long term, the McKinsey researchers recommend four actions:

  • Companies can sharpen their traditional employee value proposition, which involves focusing on title, career paths, compensation, benefits, having a good boss, and the overall prestige of the company.
  • They should also cultivate their nontraditional value proposition, which revolves around flexibility, mental- and behavioral-health benefits, a strong company culture, and different forms of career progression. The value proposition itself and the way that companies pursue these prospective employees should be more creative—and more personalized.
  • Companies can broaden their talent-sourcing approach, especially since some non-traditionalists are not actively looking but would come back for the right offer. A better understanding of these five personas can help companies tailor their sourcing strategies toward different types of workers.
  • Finally, organizations can make jobs “sticky” by investing in more meaning, more belonging, and stronger team and other relational ties. Building these organizational attributes will also make it harder for traditionalists to go elsewhere for a bit more pay.

In summary, the researchers note that companies don’t have to reinvent their employee value proposition to meet this moment. In fact, they should double down on what that proposition is—a core representation of their culture, purpose, and values—while also expanding their reach into multiple talent pools.