Workers from the shop floor and middle management gather around a large conference table at Dayeon Bi Jou, a jewelry factory about 1.5 hours south of Hanoi by car. It is time for the collaboration committee’s monthly meeting.
Dayeon Bi Jou manufactures and sells jewelry to H&M and other brands. The factory has just over 100 employees, and most are women. The collaboration committee was established as a platform for dialogue between managers and employees and consists of 13 members, one worker from each production line and mid-level managers representing different functions.
Quang Trinh, from the sales department, sees the collaboration committee as an effective tool to drive improvements in the factory.
“This is a totally new way of working for us. Through the committee, we get valuable input from all departments. It is also a good way to anchor and spread information within the factory.”
One of the first challenges the committee tackled was the high turnover rate among new workers. The committee members raised the issue with their colleagues on the factory floor and through dialogue it was discovered that the way older staff treated new hires was the root cause for the high turnover rate. As a result, the collaboration committee developed guidelines for introducing new employees which top-level management approved.
“We have already seen a decrease in the number of new workers leaving the factory since we started with the new guidelines,” says Quang Trinh from the sales department.
Proud to be able to contribute
This is the seventh meeting. At first, the workers appear a bit reserved, and it is mostly the managers who speak up. However, as time passes, the workers become more engaged and actively participate in the discussions. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed, and a range of concerns raised by the workers are addressed, including how to manage hazardous waste, improving staff planning, and that the scissors in the production are not user-friendly.
One of the worker representatives in the committee, Tran Thi Thuy, from the warehouse department, shares that she feels proud to represent her colleagues.
“If we discuss a problem in my department, I can bring it up in the committee where we often find a solution. It feels good to be able to contribute,” she says.
In addition to addressing ongoing concerns, committee members have carried out structured needs assessment discussions with their colleagues in their respective departments to gather ideas on areas that need to be improved.
Trust and respect
Committee members have received training in soft skills to increase confidence and create a culture where they truly listen to each other.
Chu Thi Khanh, who works in the gliding department, shares that her role as a worker representative on the committee has contributed to her personal growth.
“At first, I was too nervous to speak during the meetings and I didn’t know what to say. Even though I am still shy, I am starting to feel more comfortable speaking,” she says.
The collaboration committee was established through a partnership between Dayeon Bi Jou and the Swedish Workplace Programme. The programme is financed by Sweden and supports companies to create a structure for dialogue between managers and employees as well as a culture where everyone can make their voice heard.
“In Vietnam, we have a hierarchical business culture. In many workplaces it is common that employees simply do what is required and no more, even though it is often the employees who know best how to solve the problems in the areas they are working in,” says Nguyen Thu Hien, regional coordinator for the Swedish Workplace Programme in Vietnam.
“However, the most important factor is to create a culture of safety within the committee, permeated by trust and respect where everyone, not only managers, feels confident to speak up and feels listened to,” she says.
Challenging in the beginning
Nguyen Thu Hien’s role is to coach the chair and the vice chair of the committee on how to run a committee. This includes, for example, coaching on the importance of having a set and clear meeting agenda, that everyone is given the opportunity to speak, and that meeting minutes are shared with all employees. Furthermore, to institutionalise the new structure, she has supported the committee with developing a terms of reference, including roles and responsibilities, that now has been signed off by top management.
Quang Trinh admits that it was challenging to form the committee and that they did not really understand the committee’s purpose in the beginning. However, they have learned, and he now finds it rewarding to see the results of the committee’s work.
“I think that we all feel that what we are doing is valuable, both for ourselves and for the factory as a whole,” he says.
After 1,5 hours and with several new items on the to do list this months’ committee meeting is over and the members return to their respective departments to continue their workday.
Evalena Persson, Programme Manager SWP Asia