How Red Wing Shoe Company Is Redefining Workplace Flexibility in Manufacturing

"The American labor market is going through a major realignment between workers and businesses," writes Steve Grove, in his August 2021 Minnesota Star Tribune article, “Minn. must be proactive to stem worker shortage.” One Minnesota company flipping the script on what works for workers is Red Wing Shoe Company. 

And employers all across the country (and world) should take note. 

Founded in 1905, Red Wing Shoe Company is no stranger to the ups and downs of global economies. Since its beginnings, the company has weathered many storms including two world wars, the Great Depression, and the Great Recession. Now, it’s uncovering new ways to emerge stronger despite the continued impacts of the COVID-19 recession. 

According to the EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey, “nine in ten employees want flexibility in where and when they work.” In May 2021, I wrote a LinkedIn article called “What Employers Need to Do to Bring Working Mothers Back to Work.” One suggestion was to create flexible work opportunities that fit into real life, “Whether it’s reduced hours, four-day workweeks, or virtual work, attracting and retaining women will take more than simply offering the traditional nine to five work week.” 

Offering flexibility and something more than “traditional” is precisely what Red Wing Shoe Company is doing. 

“How to create truly flexible work schedules within a manufacturing environment has always been a big question for our industry,” shares Carrie Heimer, Chief Human Resources Officer at Red Wing Shoe Company. “Shoe manufacturing requires people to be physically here, building our products. However, with the pandemic ensuing, and the changes in what people want from work and life, we know we need to forge a new path.” 

Headquartered in Red Wing, Minn., Red Wing Shoe Company employs 2,200 people around the world with a majority of employees working in a manufacturing setting. Recently, they introduced an innovative “Hyflex” program. This highly flexible work relationship allows individuals to choose part-time hours in any four-hour block increments during the week, based on their (the employee's) schedules. An example of this may be working 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 4 to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“This is a shift in the manufacturing mindset. By getting creative, we’re hoping to attract people who might not otherwise be able to work a 40-hour per week shift,” says Laurie Groteboer, Director of Talent Acquisition at Red Wing Shoe Company. “By partnering with our manufacturing leaders, we believe these part-time shifts will appeal to more workers, such as working mothers and fathers who want work hours that align with the school day, college students looking for weekend work, or retirees who are looking to stay busy.”

This hyflex program is currently in its pilot phase, but already the company is seeing promising results. “Our goal is to have up to five percent of our manufacturing roles fit into this hyflex model,” adds Heimer. “I’m sure there will be lessons learned along the way, but I’m hopeful this flexibility will become part of the legacy we’re building here at Red Wing Shoe Company.”

Learn more about working at Red Wing Shoe Company* 

*Disclaimer: exaqueo is proud to call Red Wing Shoe Company a client since 2018

Photo courtesy of Red Wing Shoe Co.

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