HR in Manufacturing

By Kathryn Tyler Aug 1, 2006

HR Magazine, August 2006A Switch from the Manufacturing Plant to the Corporate Office

If you are contemplating a move from manufacturing to corporate HR, you need to be prepared for the differences you'll encounter.

At corporate, "you don't always see the immediate results of your work," says Jackie Brova, vice president of HR at Church & Dwight Co. Inc., a consumer packaging and manufacturing company in Princeton, N.J. "You might be working on a problem that's three years out. You don't get as much immediate satisfaction. Some HR folks can get addicted to solving the day-to-day problems" that you find in manufacturing.

When you move from manufacturing to an office, she says, "everything seems slower. There isn't a line out of your door. You have more control over your time. It's an adjustment in how to manage your day."

Jeff Schroer, the owner and president of HRScience, an HR consultancy in Columbus, Ind., with 25 years of HR experience in automotive supply manufacturing, agrees. "I transitioned from the factory to a corporate office after 10 years. I couldn't get over how quiet it was. I was absolutely amazed there were people working there every day because you couldn't see what was being done. In the factory, you see boxes of parts being made. There's a hum of activity. An office is pretty antiseptic," he says.

Another surprise in office environments: "The kinds of people problems are different," says Brova. "There are more conversations about people's careers. There are more strategic, long-term organizational development issues."

In a plant, she says, workers "want you to solve the problem. In the corporate office, they want you to help them navigate it. They want suggestions, but they're ultimately going to solve their own problem."

Dawn Kubiak, SPHR, HR manager for Midwest Products & Engineering Inc., a custom sheet metal fabricator of medical devices and electronics in Milwaukee, says politics differ between offices and plants. "Politics come into play more in an office than in manufacturing. You're dealing with all professionals and they're more concerned with status, responsibilities and who gets the corner office. In manufacturing, there is less of that."

For some HR professionals, adjusting to a more lenient culture can be hard, too. "When I left manufacturing the first time, I was used to the mind-set that everyone follows the same rules, so entering into a world where managers have discretion and make decisions in the best interest of their area was foreign. It was difficult to wrap my head around not being consistent at all times," says Kubiak.

Kathryn Tyler is a Wixom, Mich.-based freelance writer and former HR generalist and trainer.

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