Effective HR policies benefit workers and employers in China

UK based ETI member and outdoor sportswear company Regatta has encouraged a Chinese supplier to initiate a worker motivation scheme as part of its commitment to ETI/ILO SCORE Training partnership.

Article | 16 October 2018

Geng Cuiru has just been given a large bottle of detergent by her HR manager. It is a reward for completing the monthly production goal set by her factory.  This is a first for Geng. She never received rewards before, even when she met her monthly or annual production targets.

Now, for the first time, she feels her hard work is being recognized by her managers. “Workers all need encouragement,” Geng says. “Even simple things like detergent can make us happy and want to work harder. It shows the factory cares about us.”

A reward system is a new measure the factory has taken to motivate its workers. Now, a few months after it came into effect, the positive response has proved it was the right decision to take. “We feel happier and more willing to work,” Geng says.

Workforce management for cooperation and business success

Geng’s factory supplies ETI member and outdoor sportswear company, Regatta. Founded in 2001 in Shijiazhuang, in China’s eastern Hebei Province, Regatta’s supplier is one of the biggest private apparel producers in the city, employing more than 300 workers. However, managers began to notice a lack of motivation. “We focused more on production, not on caring for the workers,” says Chen Liqin, the factory’s HR Manager.

When Regatta suggested that the factory join the ETI/ILO SCORE Training in 2017, it was an eye-opening experience for Chen and her colleagues. In particular, Chen learnt from the fourth module, Workforce Management for Cooperation and Business Success, which concentrates on developing better HR systems. The factory came to realize that with nominal investment, they could build a more caring HR system that both motivates workers and improves productivity. That this could be a win-win situation for workers and the factory.

SCORE Training

SCORE (or Sustaining Competitive and Responsible Enterprises) Training is a modular programme that helps SMEs improve productivity and working conditions by providing practical classroom sessions combined with in-factory consulting. Designed by the ILO, this particular series is being run in conjunction with ETI and its member brands, who are offering the training to their Chinese suppliers. The fourth module of the training guides factories on human resource strategies for better recruitment and retention, and how to motivate and develop the right people to make staff a competitive advantage.

In this particular case, factory management concluded that their top priority was to build a motivation scheme which would include bonuses, gifts and verbal recognition.

At the beginning of July, Geng and 27 teammates were rewarded for completing 3,000 ski suits the month before. Besides the detergent, she also received a small amount of money to take her team members to dinner at a local restaurant and for karaoke afterwards. “Our work is repetitive and can be robotic,” she says. “It’s important we get to relax as a team to maintain our high spirits.”

Employee Survey

Encouraged and guided by the project trainer, the factory management has also rolled out a survey to solicit employees’ opinions about the factory.

There are almost 40 questions in the survey covering six main topics: rights and obligations, training, remuneration, regulations and policies, working environment and company culture. The questions include: Are you satisfied with your current job? Are you clear about your responsibilities? Are you clear about your rights at work? Have you received necessary training? Do you want to work in the factory long term? Do you have any advice and suggestions for the sustainable development of the factory?

One third of the employees have now completed the survey.  “We never did this kind of survey before so we need to take time to explain to the workers what it is about. That’s because it‘s a new thing to them and most don’t have high educational levels,” says Chen. When fully completed, she confirms, the survey will be used as a reference by the factory to develop more policies to cater to the workers’ needs.

Production line worker, Geng Liran, is complementary about this approach. “In the past, I felt the factory didn’t care about what we thought. But now I feel we are treated equally and that managers will take our requests into consideration.”

Positive dynamics

Melissa Lloyd, Head of Buying at Regatta’s Dare2B brand confirms that such positive dynamics between the workers and the managers are what Regatta wanted to see.

“We hoped that the project would bring a voice to the workers, to help improve efficiency within the factory and to impact their working lives,” Melissa says. She adds that the fourth module on HR management could introduce the factory to more ideas that will benefit the workers and eventually positively impact productivity too.

Chen agrees, pointing out that higher motivation has already improved productivity and quality. “Product defect rates have substantially reduced and more teams have received productivity bonuses. Chen says, “the factory will soon start collecting statistics to show the improvements.”

More change on the table

More plans to motivate and care for workers are on the table. And they’re big.

“We’re planning to improve and institutionalize the existing productivity reward scheme and introduce full attendance awards and year-end bonuses,” says General Manager, Zhao Fenghua.

Geng Cuiru has her own plans too. “I look forward to a promotion,” she says, and then smiles. “I’m leading one team now. I will be very proud if I can lead three teams.”

Chen smiles back. “You have a definite spot in our talent pool,” she confirms.

The ETI-ILO SCORE project is running from February 2017 to February 2019 with funding from Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) via its develoPPP.de programme. DevelopPPP helps German and European companies conduct business activities in a responsible manner in line with the expectations of the Sustainable Development Goals. In the context of the SCORE initiative, ILO and ETI are cooperating with SEQUA, one of DevlopPPP’s designated partners charged with implementing the programme.

This article has been published from an ETI case study. The original ETI blog post can be found here:

Previous ETI/SCORE blogs include:
Putting ILO SCORE Training into practice: simple tactics solve tricky quality problems (29 August 2018)
“There’s a fly in my water!” Building quality management into workforce practices in China (13 March 2018)
Motivating workplace cooperation in China: what companies should note (1 March 2018)
ETI-ILO successfully partner in China: 2017 SCORE Training highlights (6 Feb 2018)
Using "Kaizen" to encourage manager worker cooperation in China (15 November 2017)
ILO and ETI collaborate to deliver SCORE Training to SMEs in China (31 July 2017)
Supplying international brands? ILO and ETI aid SMEs in China's Guangdong Province (20 March 2017)