Member Spotlight: MicroBenefits Empowers Frontline Workers
Every year, the flow of migrant workers from China’s villages to its industrial hubs facilitates the employment of 43 percent of the country’s working population. This mass migration is the driving force of China’s manufacturing economy, and yet, there is a clear disconnect between the industry’s key players: factory management and workers.
MicroBenefits is a startup redefining the traditional, removed relationship manufacturing workers have with their supervisors. MicroBenefits provides a mobile solution to bridge the gap between the needs of Chinese factory management teams and their frontline employees.
By conducting research through interviews, surveys, and partnerships with factory human resources teams, MicroBenefits delivers a personalized solution to each of its partner brands and manufacturing centers to create a welcoming environment where frontline workers feel connected to their new employers and careers. Director of MicroBenefits Mason Chenn said,
“Our goal is to build up frontline and blue collar workers in partnership with the people employing them to ultimately drive economic empowerment.”
Understanding the Issue
Chinese manufacturers face on average a 15 percent monthly employee turnover rate, largely caused by the lack of loyalty and engagement workers feel within their employing factories.
“I turnover occurs because you’re dealing with a rather inexperienced population of workers,” said Chenn. “They’re in a new environment, probably in their late teens, and trying to figure out where they should be in their careers and how the manufacturing system works.”
With a background in startups and venture capital, Chenn joined MicroBenefits nine months ago. Raised in Hong Kong, Chenn has visited numerous factories and witnessed some of the broad problems affecting Chinese manufacturing facilities. Chenn said,
“There is a spectrum you see in China. Some [factories] are so rudimentary that they could be someone’s garage, and others are so modern that you would put them in the U.S.”
The level of sophistication required among workers varies greatly, which makes it necessary to tailor employee engagement and retention programs according to each individual factory’s ecosystem.
Implementing a worker engagement program is a foreign concept to many of the onsite Chinese factory management teams that supply to the predominantly American and European brands that MicroBenefits partners with. Chenn said,
“One-hundred percent of the factories are kind of skeptical in the beginning.”
By working closely with factory management and addressing their specific concerns, MicroBenefits receives overwhelmingly positive feedback from the brands and factory management teams they work with. Chenn said,
“We’ve had really positive feedback in converting people who are just doing it just for the brands to believers.”
Chenn described ‘believers’ as employers who truly come to understand the impact of making the work environment more engaging for employees and the direct effect on productivity.
Creating a Welcoming Environment for Workers
MicroBenefits makes the transition from a rural Chinese village to the bustling streets of Guangzhou smoother for blue collar workers. On their first days, workers receive customized welcome kits including a welcome letter, career planning guide, introduction to company programs and materials to share with their families back home.
Instead of undergoing traditional, lengthy training courses, they use their smartphones to play Company IQ, an app-based game that makes learning the ropes more enjoyable for workers and more efficient for management.
As the workers assimilate to their new jobs, Company Link, a social media platform, keeps them in constant conversation with each other and their supervisors. The app keeps workers engaged with corporate news, employer rating polls, promotion opportunities and quick access to HR support.
Moving to a new city also means an increased cost of living. Company Link offers a tailored discount network that employees can use for at local businesses for an average of 15-percent markdowns. Around 700,000 workers employed by MicroBenefits’ clients successfully use Company Link.
Emerging Trends in the Manufacturing Industry
As it continues to partner with international brands, MicroBenefits must respond to regions experiencing rapid urbanization. The team is actively working on expanding to other southeast Asian countries and hopes to spread to Latin America in the near future. Chenn said,
“Hopefully we are implementing a platform that we can scale to any country easily, no matter the language or cultural barriers.”
Chenn said that among the many shifts in large scale manufacturing, one of the main areas of focus in the next five to ten years will be on the treatment of workers. There will be increasing pressure for corporations to treat their frontline workers all over the world as true employees, by reworking the quality of benefits they receive as well as their compensation.
Other trends include a shift toward a circular economy, which entails focusing on how to keep resources in the supply chain to reduce waste during production. Increased focus on automation of services will also shape the future of the manufacturing landscape.
MicroBenefits provides Chinese migrant workers with a toolkit to stay informed, engaged and welcomed in their workplaces. It’s only a matter of time until these changes will start taking effect around the globe, and at the forefront of this modern day industrial revolution will be MicroBenefits; already paving the way to a brighter future for migrant workers in China and elsewhere in the world.