The following blog comes to us from Megan Ray Nichols of Schooled by Science.
Warehouses provide the foundation for effective supply management in a number of industries. Far more than storage sites, they provide for timely deliveries and satisfied consumers. In spite of this, the warehouse is often under-served by leaders at the corporate level. As a result, the employee turnover rate is astonishingly high in warehouses across the country.
Before diving into potential answers for answers to the warehouse turnover problem, let's look at some of the underlying causes. What's leading so many warehouse employees to look for the exits?
Much warehouse turnover seems to result from inter-industry competition. One study found that Amazon plays a particularly instrumental role. When the eCommerce giant opened a distribution center in Lexington County, South Carolina, for example, the average annual salary for warehouse workers in the area dropped an astonishing 30 percent. Losing nearly $15,000 a year is enough to drive even the most dedicated warehouse employees out of their locale and industry.
This isn’t the only area where Amazon’s distribution centers have caused a drop in worker pay. Wages in Chesterfield, Virginia have dropped 17 percent since the online giant opened a warehouse there, and wages in Tracy, California have dropped 16 percent.
Warehouses that treat their employees like nameless drones, or don't provide room for growth or advancement will also drive employees away. For many people, working in a warehouse just starts out as another job – the goal, as Holly Courter, HR manager for Romark Logistics, says, is to “be committed to knowing the associate’s individual needs.”
What can managers do to improve employee experiences and reduce warehouse worker turnover?
It might seem like common sense, but offering benefits for both full time and part time warehouse employees is hardly a constant. Often it's a crucial difference between the ways employers manage their white and blue collar employees. The companies who've employed them most effectively include the expected business innovators. Amazon, for example, offers health insurance, retirement plans and shares in the company for its full-time warehouse employees. This makes it easier for their employees to save for retirement and creates a sense of mutual investment.
It is a little bit ironic that Amazon is so good at offering benefits for its employees, when the online giant has been in the news so much recently for their alleged poor treatment of their warehouse workers and delivery drivers.
Healthcare and insurance are fraught subjects and neither landscape is easy to navigate. It's hard to overstate how important it is to provide employees with a helping hand.
Improve Worker Safety
Warehouse injuries are more common than most people realize. Slip and falls, for example - which account for roughly 15 percent of warehouse injuries – result in 95 million lost work days every year. Upwards of 20,000 people are injured in forklift accidents in the same amount of time, with 100 of those accidents resulting in on the fatalities.
Warehouse workers often work in teams, but employees that work alone are in a unique and sometimes dangerous situation. If a lone employee is injured on the job, chances are there won't be anyone available to help them, which can quickly make a bad situation worse. Creating a safe work environment for all of your employees, regardless of whether they are working alone or in a team, can create an workplace that is conducive to employee retention.
A number of jobs, even in a warehouse, might require that an employee work alone so it is essential to ensure that every worker has the proper safety training and the means with which to contact someone if there is an accident. Consider implementing a buddy system - assign solo workers a buddy that they check in with on a regular basis. If they miss a check in, their buddy knows that there's a problem and that they need to check in on them. The move will discourage workplace accidents and foster an atmosphere of collaboration.
On-the-job training doesn't have to stop after your employees are hired. Offering ongoing education for your employees can both improve your existing talent pool and encourage employee retention by providing your employees with the tools that they need to advance in their current position and to advance to new positions in the future.
Training programs and ongoing education aren’t just good for improving your existing talent pool. It an also tie into employee safety and help to prevent on-the-job accidents. Surveys have also suggested that safety training increases employee satisfaction as well – an employee that is satisfied with his or her job is likely to stay with the company rather than seeking alternate employment.
Speaking of advancement...
Promote from Within
Historically, most people don't start a job looking to change it within a few months - they start a job looking for to make a long-term commitment. While millennials are gradually shifting our definition of 'career,' it's still best to plan for the future and view all full-time hires as potential career-long employees. That means providing clear, actionable opportunities for advancement within the company. By offering training and other avenues to grow and advance, you're reminding employees of your investment in them. What's more, you won't need to devote time and resources to locating talent outside of the company.
If given the opportunity to advance, employees tend to be more loyal to their employer which will in turn reduce employee turnover and improve employee retention.
Change With the Times
The Baby Boomer generation is reaching retirement age - the last of them will reach 65 in 2029 - and millennials aren't terribly attracted to careers in warehouse work. Warehouses in general will need to change with the times.
Millennials are famous for breaking from trends and shattering precedents. Whatever changes they promise to bring, the fact remains that they make up the majority of the warehouse workforce. They're also proving particularly difficult to retain. As previously mentioned, millennial professionals have different attitudes toward their career than previous generations. Millennials are all about the work-life balance, so offering things like flexible schedules, 4-day work weeks, and vacation time can entice millennial workers to stay in warehouse jobs and work toward advancement within specific organizations.
One statistic in particular points to the challenge of retaining millennials. According to this year's Deloitte Millennial Survey, more than 43 percent of millennial workers are planning to change jobs in the next two years. Many are switching to the gig economy because it offers more flexibility and better pay than they are able to obtain in traditional workplaces. Clearly, some changes are in order.
The employees are the backbone of the warehouse industry, so it's up to managers to change the way that they work to create an industry that retains warehouse workers and turns the industry into a place where people want to work - and where they want to build their careers.