I’ve been to a lot of supply chain conferences over the years. So much so that I know the general rhythm and flow that they take. They always begin the same way: Some hyped-up rock anthem ushers a swaggering speaker onto the stage to tell an inspirational story or paint a grand, sparkling vision of the future of supply chain management. It’s the grown-up equivalent of a pep rally before the big football game, only with business suits and PowerPoint presentations instead of pom-poms and a marching band.
But the opening keynote presentation for the recent Gartner Supply Chain Symposium and Expo felt different. For one thing, Gartner analysts Simon Bailey and Dana Stiffler confronted a hard truth head on: We are all tired.
The pandemic has been a drain and a strain for all of us, but some professions have been hit particularly hard. And while vaccines and the economy and schools opening up have offered glimmers of relief to many, for supply chain professionals work has just gotten tougher. Supply shortages, transportation constraints, and continuing unexpected disruptions mean that stress levels just keep ratcheting up.
“Talent is scarce, fatigued, and questioning their choices,” summarized Stiffler during the keynote presentation.
According to Gartner’s research:
Even before the pandemic, companies were struggling to find people to fill supply chain and logistics jobs. The fact that the people we do have are feeling burned out should be a top concern for companies, especially as we continue to face ever bigger supply chain challenges.
So, what do we do to recover? I believe that authentically acknowledging our fatigue is an important step. Sometimes, there is relief in not sugarcoating things, in recognizing that work is hard right now. It’s a bit of a relief to know that we are not alone in feeling worn out and in questioning whether it’s all worth it.
Also, it might seem impossible in times of disruption and stress when we are scrambling to get goods to market, but we need to let our people rest. We’ve learned a lot about the value of supply chain resiliency over the past 20 months. The same lessons should be extended to our people. In order for us to be resilient, we need to be encouraged to take time off, look after our health, and make connections to others in our community. A healthy and resilient company must spend time looking after the health and resiliency of its employees.
Gartner also argues that a vital way to re-energize the workforce is to provide a sense of purpose for employees. It says that research shows there is a 20% improvement in workers’ health when work is seen as personally relevant to an employee, and a 50% improvement in employee engagement when a company takes on social issues. It urges supply chain leaders to take the time to show employees how their hard work connects to company objectives and how those objectives tie into larger societal aims.Ultimately, there are no easy answers. But one thing is clear: As companies head into the new year, their eyes need to be not just on profits and alleviating supply chain risks and constraints, but also on how they can support their employees. And how they can do it in a way that goes beyond cheerleading and lip service, so that it feels authentic and substantial.