How to Improve Employee Retention in the Warehouse

October 15, 2019 by Harry Drajpuch

If you had to name the most important people in your organization, would any associates on the fulfillment center floor make the cut? 

If not, consider this week’s blog your wake-up call.

Because of the ongoing supply chain labor shortage, finding and keeping qualified people to do the important work of picking, packing and shipping orders is one of the most critical challenges facing eCommerce businesses today. Improving employee retention is at the heart of this challenge.

At Amware Fulfillment, we‘ve been able to maintain an employee retention rate that’s twice as high as the industry average.  Here’s some friendly advice about how to motivate and manage labor in the fulfillment warehouse more effectively.

Hire better, not faster

When it comes to screening and hiring, there’s a big difference between finding a body to fill an immediate need (which results in a lot of churn) and hiring the right person for the job. In most cases the latter isn’t something you can do without a face-to-face interview.

improve employee retentionThis brief but essential interaction gives you a gut check on each applicant in a way that nothing else can. Just as important, it allows each applicant to get a better read on your company so that both of you can determine whether it’s a good fit.

No matter how many fulfillment positions you have to fill, resist the urge to skip this step.  The extra time you spend will pay huge dividends later in terms of improved employee retention and productivity.

Provide the big-picture perspective

There’s an old story about two bricklayers who were assigned the same task at a church construction site. When a bystander asked them what they were doing, one said he was building a wall, while the other said he was building a cathedral.

What would your fulfillment center personnel say if they were asked a similar question? 

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Don’t underestimate the motivational power of keeping all of your team members in the strategic loop.  Associates always appreciate knowing that they’re part of a broader, more important effort, including understanding how their performance impacts a company’s overall success. It pays to constantly remind associates that what they are doing really matters and explain why. 

Your KPI dashboards, facility updates and all-facility or all-shift meetings all serve to inspire, challenge and inform associates far more than you might imagine. 

Sharpen your management skills, not your stick

Remember when you could manage people without having to incent or inspire them? 

These days, it’s all about the carrot – and making your fulfillment center associates feel like the 14-karat gold assets they are. 

Some of that obviously has to do with the kinds of pay and benefits you offer (sorry, but you WILL have to open your checkbook). However, it’s also dependent on how your facility’s supervisors and managers roll and how they interact with your FTEs and temps on a day-to-day basis. 

If your facility leaders are positive people who enjoy working in a fast-moving logistics environment, that positivity and enthusiasm will be contagious. And if they have a knack for treating your associates like human beings, not robots, it will do far more for morale and efficiency than any formal employee relations program (more on that in a minute). Equally significant, if they’re skilled at passing along unhappy or less-than-positive feedback in a way that doesn’t make people feel intimidated or demoralized, that’s a huge plus. 

So staff these leadership positions ultra-carefully. And once you’ve got the right people in place, encourage these supervisors and managers to be constantly out on the floor interacting positively with warehouse associates – not just when there’s an emergency or it’s crunch time.

Start with simple and sincere, then build from there

Now let’s talk about employee relations programs and how they can help improve employee retention in the warehouse.

As a general rule, companies that have such programs – and execute them well – fare better than companies that don’t. But that doesn’t mean these initiatives have to be over-the-top to be successful.  

In fact, the simplest gestures often have the greatest impact – like treating associates to lunch at their favorite food truck (which you’ll only know is their favorite if you ask). And a few words of praise, delivered in private or during an all-employee meeting, can speak more eloquently about how much you value associates than a corporate slogan or banner. Even something as basic as taking a straw poll on what kinds of treats associates would like to see in the facility’s vending machines (and then actually stocking those treats) can be time and money well spent. 

At the end of the day, it’s far more important that your employee relations efforts be sincere rather than slick – and that they communicate with your associates rather than at them.  

R-e-s-p-e-c-t

Our final note comes from the comic strip Dilbert – a cartoon featuring the classic obtuse boss trying to engage with two employees in that counterproductive ritual called “pretending to care.”

Boss:  How are your wives?

Worker One:  I don’t have one anymore.  My wife left me because you had me working so many hours that she never saw me.

Worker Two:  I don’t have one either.  You’ve undermined my self-esteem so much that I can’t attract a mate.

Boss:  Tell them I said “hi.”

The moral of that strip – and this whole article, really – is simple: people want to be heard and valued.

There are many ways to do this:

  • Host “skip level” meetings between a company’s top leaders and associates who work on the fulfillment center floor – without the presence of the associates’ managers or supervisors
  • Ask for their ideas on how to make things better
  • Invite associates at all levels to be part of Six Sigma, safety or other committees
  • Recognize the efforts of high-achievers with a gift certificate or a simple shout-out at a meeting

To improve employee retention, it ultimately comes down to genuinely caring about, and valuing, the associates who do the work, and not simply pretending to care, like the boss in Dilbert.

People may come for the money, but they stay because they feel valued as individuals. It’s up to you to make them feel valued through your attitude and actions. If you can do this, your HR journey will be much smoother and more successful. If you can’t, then fasten your seatbelt, because it could be a bumpy ride ahead.

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Filed Under: eCommerce Fulfillment, fulfillment operations