As the Chief Human Resources and Marketing Officer of a Fortune 1000 technology company, I’m responsible for ensuring we have the right people in the right place at the right time to keep this very complex global operation running flawlessly. If we can’t get orders out the door, then your workers won’t have the technology tools they need to get your customers’ orders out the door. I don’t want people to resign because they feel tired, stressed or not supported – whether they work in an office, from home, or in one of our warehouses or distribution centers.
I believe we – as employers – can do a better job of listening to our employees and acting on their suggestions. If employees are happy and feel supported, they’re going to stick around for a long time, and we could all use stability right now. Plus, happy employees are like magnets for other skilled, talented, passionate professionals.
That’s why I wanted to share some interesting feedback we received recently from hundreds of warehouse associates around the world through Zebra’s Global Warehousing Vision Study. The double-blinded study was conducted by a third party that fully vetted study participants to ensure we would get non-bias responses from people who actually work in warehouses. In fact, you may have been a study respondent or it’s possible that some of the respondents work for you, as we spoke with both associates and decision-makers.
Some of the survey findings provide insights into what you need to know right now from a worker recruitment/retention perspective and overall business planning/budgeting perspective.
Money doesn’t seem to make or break employment decisions among warehouse associates, at least not in the way you think. Eighty-two percent of surveyed associates say they have been positively impacted the past two years – despite what headlines may suggest. And it’s not because they’re being compensated with more money to make up for the heavier lift amid labor shortages. Only 45% of those associates say their employers have increased wages or offered bonuses amid labor constraints. What’s keeping their spirits high and contributing to their positive future outlook despite the pressures being placed on them amid labor and supply shortages, growing customer demands and uncompromising fulfillment timelines? Their employers have improved working conditions and increased spend on technology tools that make their jobs easier and their lives more balanced.
Are you surprised by that? We were too. Then again, we have seen multiple reports during the pandemic indicating that work-life balance, mental and physical health and other non-monetary factors were behind The Great Resignation and The Great Reshuffling. Perhaps this is the latest evidence those other benefits – the non-monetary factors – matter as much to front-line warehouse workers as they do to office workers. Perhaps they mean more. Unlike office-based workers who could have the option to negotiate a remote/work-from-home position, warehouse and distribution center associates must come in every day, rain or shine, including holidays. If they don’t have flexibility in where they work, they at least want flexibility with regards to when and how they work, as well as reduced stress on their bodies which is more than fair.
Robots aren’t so scary anymore. In fact, they’re appreciated by warehouse associates. Well, at least autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are appreciated. Many who responded to our study strongly believe AMRs could make warehouse jobs less stressful, which aligns with the overall sentiment shared by nearly eight in 10 warehouse associates: “walking fewer miles per day would make my job more enjoyable, even if I had to pick or handle more items.”
Plus, the majority of those who work alongside AMRs today had glowing reviews. Over eight in 10 associates (83%) claim AMRs have helped increase their productivity and reduce walking/travel time, three-quarters say AMRs have helped reduce errors, and nearly two-thirds (65%) credit AMRs with career advancement opportunities. Additionally, among all associates surveyed, over three-quarters report they would feel safe working alongside AMRs, even though some have not yet worked directly with them.
Many of your industry partners, peers and competitors are planning to make big changes in the coming months and years to shore up their technology systems and overall operations. In fact, more than six in 10 warehouse decision-makers say they will invest in technologies that increase inventory and asset visibility within their warehouses and overall visibility throughout supply chains over the next five years. Additionally, nine in 10 warehouse operators expect to use sensor-based technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID), computer vision, fixed industrial scanning, and machine vision systems at a growing rate over the next five years. And 90% of warehouse operators expect to deploy AMRs in the same time period. Warehouse operators say they are also going to increase their investments in software that helps automate analytics and decision-making.
That means your competitors will be able to better sense, analyze and act on what’s happening in real time, which could give them an advantage when it comes to winning and retaining customers. The increased technology utilization also means they may have a competitive edge when it comes to hiring and employee retention. As we learned in the study, 83% of warehouse associates are now more likely to work for an employer that gives them modern devices to use for tasks versus an employer that provides older or no devices. Even more associates (92%) believe technology advancements will make the warehouse environment more attractive to workers on some level – and I agree.
No matter how much you automate, people will always play a central role in warehouse, distribution and logistics operations, whether from a creative problem solving, customer service or action-oriented fulfillment perspective. If you want to keep workers happy, on your payroll and even increase headcount in the next year – like 61% of the warehouse operators we surveyed – then talk to your employees. Share the full Warehousing Vision Study report with them. You can download it here for no charge. Or at least pass along the stats highlighted in the press release and ask them for their honest reaction.
Use this study as a conversation starter. Find out what you could do as a warehouse operator or decision-maker to better support them. Confirm which technology tools they’d like to see you prioritize as budget allows. Also ask about changes that could be made to the scheduling process, current workflows or even communications structure with supervisors and decision-makers. Do they simply need more flexibility in their schedules to stick it out with you through thick and thin? You won’t know if you don’t ask.
As I’ve learned through this Warehousing Vision Study and with the Zebra employee climate assessments we’ve recently conducted, our employees are willing to answer questions about how they feel, especially if they have the opportunity to provide anonymous feedback. Don’t be afraid of what you might learn. If anything, the truth might be exactly what you need to make the right decisions for your business, your customers and certainly your employees in these tumultuous times.