By Nick Bartolo, Business Development Executive, Lucas Systems

baptist health south florida warehouse workersThe retention of front-line warehouse workers is a critical challenge faced by operators. High turnover rates not only incur substantial costs for recruitment and training but also disrupt operational efficiency. But according to the Work Institute, 75% of the reasons employees leave are preventable.

Over the past several years at Lucas Systems, we’ve done a significant amount of research examining what workers think about their jobs, and the types of things that would bring more satisfaction, engagement and ultimately make them want to stay at their jobs. Through that research, we’ve uncovered several effective strategies for retaining warehouse workers, emphasizing the importance of employee engagement, job satisfaction, and a positive work environment. By understanding the factors that contribute to turnover, showing understanding and empathy, and implementing targeted interventions, organizations can create a more stable and productive workforce.

What drives engagement for warehouse workers?

As I’ve walked the floors of warehouses across the country, interacting with workers and managers, some common challenges I’ve encountered include:

They need to feel a true sense of satisfaction

Warehouse work, especially warehouse picking, is often labor intensive, involves irregular hours, and repetitive routines, contributing to employee dissatisfaction. In fact, one veteran worker told us, “Sometimes, my co-workers and I, we hurt so much we don’t know where the pain is coming from. I haven’t had any permanent injuries, but everything hurts.”

Something I’ve seen firsthand, and supported by recent research, is that workers want to stay at their jobs but need improvements to make their jobs easier and less stressful. How do you do that? Creating an environment that wins the worker is a good start. Things like, are the facilities clean? Is it too hot or too cold? Adding features such as natural light, fitness centers and outdoor work areas to make sites more inviting are also features more and more operators are adding.

Technology is a critical factor. Nearly 3 in 4 (74%) of warehouse workers are at least somewhat likely to take a pay cut to work at another company with more technology tools to help them do their job. Workers also have specific ideas of tools their companies need to implement, beginning with data capture and scanning tools, conveyor systems and voice-directed tools with headsets.

Employee recognition is also a powerful motivator. In another recent study on gamification in the warehouse, more than 91% of respondents would definitely or probably participate in workplace competitions for company recognition. More than just pizza parties, a large number of workers just want to be recognized in some capacity for the positive contributions they are making to the organization. Employee of the Week, Month, or Quarter recognitions that are announced at team meetings can be a great motivator. Some can involve gift cards and leader-donated incentives, but just recognition shared in front of peers for contributions to the success of the organization goes a long way.

Regular feedback and the opportunity for improvement can contribute to a positive work culture and employee satisfaction. For instance, the Lucas management console provides managers and supervisors with unique operational tools that allow them to track associates’ productivity, send messages, and shift them to different tasks as needed to support collaboration and a team environment. More than productivity feedback, using systems to send a message or a “kudos” to someone else for their hard work, or taking a job nobody else wanted, is a simple, effective example of social gamification. The ability for employees to receive messages on their devices from supervisors is an excellent opportunity for managers to share thanks, acknowledgement, motivation and appreciation.

Training that empowers workers for the younger generations

A lack of proper training can result in reduced job satisfaction and performance, making employees more likely to leave. One consistently cited factor in our Competing for the warehouse workforce of the future insights, was the adaptability of training scenarios, and not a “one size fits all approach.” User-defined training is a wave of the future that workers are embracing. This means tech that empowers workers and devices that can help train you, and vice versa. For warehouse and DC operators, this means making sure your technology has features like Easy/Standard/Advanced workflow modes, adjustable verification steps, shortcut keys, and New/Veteran user group settings, which can have a dramatic impact on engagement and help improve efficiency for workers, within a relatively short time frame. For example, the Lucas voice-picking system allows workers to control voice playback speeds to their own preference and comfort level.

Workers, especially younger ones, stressed the importance of learning different tasks and having variety and flexibility in the day, valuing the pace of the warehouse and the ability to grow their skill sets.

Money still matters

While much of what helps build an engaged workforce is about so much more than money, competitive compensation, along with attractive benefits packages, remain a critical tool for retaining skilled warehouse workers. Incentive-based pay systems, such as performance bonuses or piece-rate pay, provide employees with a direct link between their effort and their earnings. In my experience, I’ve seen that workers knowing that their effort directly influences their income can motivate employees to be more productive and efficient in their tasks.

In any incentive or competitive structure, it’s also important that warehouse associates have a belief in what’s being measured. You’ve got to be following the same rules and scoring things in the same way, or it can be failure or cause tension between workers themselves and against management.

Incentive structures often involve regular performance reviews and goal-setting, leading to continuous improvement. Employees who see a direct correlation between their efforts and financial rewards may be more likely to stay with the company. Incentive-based pay can contribute to higher levels of job satisfaction, reducing turnover and retaining experienced staff.

Addressing the challenge of retaining front-line warehouse workers is not just a financial imperative but a strategic necessity for distributors aiming to thrive in a competitive landscape. As highlighted by the Work Institute’s findings, a significant portion of employee turnover is within our control, providing a valuable opportunity for organizations to enhance their retention strategies. Through extensive research at Lucas Systems, we’ve uncovered key insights into what resonates with warehouse workers, shedding light on effective approaches to bolster satisfaction, engagement, and overall job contentment.

By prioritizing employee engagement, fostering job satisfaction through resources including feedback, gamification and technology, and cultivating a positive work environment, organizations can proactively reduce turnover rates and build a more resilient workforce. The implementation of targeted interventions based on a deep understanding of the factors influencing turnover will not only mitigate operational disruptions but also contribute to the creation of a workplace where employees feel valued and committed. In doing so, companies can not only retain their front-line talent but also set the stage for sustained success in the dynamic world of distribution.

Finally organizations would do well to heed the words of one Gen Z warehouse worker we spoke with. It’s a very basic, but often overlooked aspect of engagement – empathy. “I feel like showing more compassion to workers, in every industry, not just the warehouse, is important. I don’t feel like it would lower productivity. It would actually make it a lot more efficient. You have to realize these workers are still people.”

Nick Bartolo is a Business Development Executive with Lucas Systems, bringing a proven track record of success in fostering partnerships and driving customer success and satisfaction within the robotics, software and automation industry.

Prior to joining Lucas, Nick worked with Locus Robotics in driving customer initiatives and cultivating strategic partnerships, leveraging the company’s AMR solutions to optimize warehouse operations. Similarly, Nick collaborated closely with customers at 3M to deliver robotic solutions tailored to the unique challenges of industrial manufacturing applications, harnessing the power of automation to streamline processes and drive efficiency.

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