Christine Hanks

Christine Hanks

  • Wonolo

It’s no secret that warehouse work is repetitive, demanding and labor-intensive. There are workplace hazards to look out for, and physical fitness is a must. For managers, it’s challenging to keep workers engaged and motivated in such an environment.

In a recent report by Kronos on the manufacturing industry, only 7% of companies surveyed said that their employee productivity was very strong. 72% of respondents believed this was due to lack of employee engagement. The results are corroborated on the workforce side as well, with the Gallup survey showing that millennials in particular are among the least engaged workers.

This is a problem when you consider the benefits of engaged workers. According to a Gallup State of the Global Workplace study, companies with engaged workers experience a 22% increase in profitability. But if younger workers are not engaged and lead to a high turnover rate, labor shortage and reduced efficiency become a growing concern.

Source: Manhattan Associates

So how do you attract engaged workers to your warehouse? Below are some strategies worth considering:

Jet.com’s ‘Happy Workers’ Strategy

Like other fast-growing warehouses, Jet.com’s facilities prioritize efficient operations, successful scaling and speedy delivery. Yet what differentiates the company is its mindset when it comes to its workforce. Though perks and benefits are important, so is long-term company culture that keeps warehouse workers happy.

This is reflected in the executives’ weekly meetings, where the company’s leaders spend a lot of time discussing employee happiness. The thought is that trusting the workers will lead to a boost in motivation, responsibility, and the return of trust in management. Jet’s contracts don’t prohibit workers from quitting to go to a competitor, or recruiting their fellow colleagues.

It may seem counterintuitive, but something must be working. In its happiness survey, Jet.com received “an 87 out of 100 as a company the employees would recommend as a great place to work, a 90 for letting people feel their work was important, and 87 for its managers. The results included not just the engineers and executives in Hoboken, but also packers in Jet’s three warehouses and the customer service people in Salt Lake City.”

In Jet’s case, placing priority on a happy workforce, empowering them with trust and a sense of responsibility over their own work is a strategy that distinguishes them from other employers whose primary concern is intense productivity at the risk of burnout.

Reach Out to the Younger Workforce

The nature of warehouse work means that it can often take a toll on its workers. Yet more and more it seems that the younger workforce is unwilling to sign up for jobs that aren’t engaging.

In KANE’s study on Labor Management Studies in the Warehouse, the number one challenge in warehouse labor management came down to “finding and keeping qualified workers.” The 2017 Third-Party Logistics Study also addressed the lack of younger workers to replace an aging workforce in warehousing, and found that 79% of 3PLs saw a constricted labor market as a cause for concern.

Peter Schnorbach, Senior Director of Product Management at the supply chain solutions company, Manhattan Associates, sees this problem in the industry, and also believes the key is in engagement:

“The most successful programs are the ones that are engaging the employees … Companies that want to hire these workers need to promote the cultural aspects of the job … They need to show how they’re going to provide value in these people’s lives.”

One way to accomplish this is through frequent feedback and better communication in terms of how an individual worker’s performance contributes to the overall progress of a company. “Getting a regular performance snapshot helps employees better understand how their work contributes to overall company progress, as well as how they rank against their peers, which instills a friendly sense of competition,” he says.

The takeaway is that no matter how excellent a warehouse’s operational strategy is, if it can’t find workers to carry out the operations, it will suffer. The solution then is to focus more on people, particularly communicating what matters to the younger population, so that they feel valued at their work and don’t turn their backs on the industry.

Check-Ins Between Managers and Workers

One of the most crucial elements of a manager’s duty is providing feedback. Yet when Manhattan Associates sent out a survey to distribution center leaders around the country, it found that only 27% of workers were satisfied with their feedback.

The survey also found that younger workers wanted more feedback – 72% of workers under the age of 30 – compared to others – 60% overall. Without sufficient interaction with management, workers can end up feeling alienated, underappreciated or simply unengaged. If they don’t feel like the work they do matters, they’ll leave as soon as they find a warehouse that offers a better wage.

To prevent this, managers need to “check-in” with their workers, tracking progress and communicating to create a sense of belonging. But conversations without clear goals can end up being a waste of time for both sides. As important as it is to hold these sessions, it’s equally vital to establish what both parties want to get out of this time.

For example, at Adobe, a “check-in” conversation serves a threefold purpose:

  • Setting clear expectations for the workers’ roles and responsibilities
  • Providing ongoing feedback going both ways, meaning managers must also be open to feedback from workers
  • Discussing long-term career goals and skill growth

Not only does this create clear goals, it also engages workers by discussing individual skills, interests and opportunities for the future. More importantly, it gives workers a sense of responsibility and investment by allowing them a chance to provide feedback for the manager and the company itself.

Set Your Priority, Then Select a Strategy

Oftentimes, engagement is a term that gets tossed around as an important factor in management; yet its definition can seem vague. For warehouses invested in recruiting motivated workers on a consistent basis, it’s important to first define what engagement means for them and how they want to improve it.

Since engagement is not a force that can be created out of thin air, a sincere commitment from the top down is necessary to inspire it in a workforce. If an individual company is clear about its values, it will be easier to employ an engagement strategy that works for their particular needs, whether that’s fostering a culture that places people first, adapting to the changing workforce or providing a steady channel for interaction between managers and workers.