Creating a comprehensive employee engagement strategy that includes corporate and warehouse/manufacturing staff can be challenging. Traditionally, higher turnover rates among warehouse employees can make it difficult to make the case for focusing on engagement. Even if you are able to invest in engagement efforts, it can be hard to find the time to take workers off the line to focus on employee feedback initiatives.
Engaging warehouse and manufacturing employees does matter, and it can affect discretionary effort and absenteeism. Here, we’ll show you how and why to engage warehouse and manufacturing employees, along with expert advice from our friends at Method.
Making your warehouse and manufacturing workers feel valued
As lower-paid employees who are less likely to pursue higher levels of education, manufacturing and warehouse workers can often feel disrespected and dismissed by their leaders. That's why it's critical to make sure these employees feel valued, part of the team, and not disposable. Doing so will help with engagement and increase discretionary effort.
Leaders can forget how vulnerable these employees are to disruption in finances. For example, people in these positions may experience car troubles that they can't afford to get fixed. Compensation becomes more important for employees lower on the economic ladder because they are more likely to focus on survival-level choices rather than luxury choices.
Financial vulnerability can set off a spiral of issues that result in higher absenteeism. Leaders who don't strive to understand these employees' experiences may mistakenly assume that these workers are irresponsible. Empathy for people’s hardships and challenges can go a long way in making all employees feel valued.
Two key metrics to measure: discretionary effort and absenteeism
According to a 2007 study out of Bowling Green University, “The larger the warehouse, the higher the employee turnover. That is to say, a lack of personal attention paid to warehouse employees may have an adverse impact on their retention. More experienced warehouse workers are less inclined to give up on their current jobs than less experienced warehouse workers, probably because the former is more accustomed to warehouse working environments than the latter.”
That said, turnover is probably not a key metric you should look at when examining warehouse employee engagement because the pay rates make for a strong incentive to follow the dollars. Hourly workers generally have more reason to leave when given a higher-paying option.
People working in warehouse and manufacturing roles often spend the majority of their time doing repetitive tasks. This is part of why discretionary effort and absenteeism are key indicators of engagement for warehouse and manufacturing employees. To measure these factors, consider including the following survey questions in your next employee engagement survey:
- [Company] motivates me to go beyond what I would in a similar role elsewhere
- The leaders at [Company] demonstrate that people are important to the company's success
- My manager keeps me informed about what is happening
- I am happy with my current role relative to what was described to me
- I believe my total compensation (base salary+any bonuses+benefits+equity) is fair, relative to similar roles at other companies
- [Company] is a great place for me to make a contribution to my development
These questions will allow you to get a pulse on how your warehouse and manufacturing employees are feeling.
Quick Case Study: People Against Dirty Manufacturing
Kristin Perales, the People & Environment Director at People Against Dirty, shares how they approach engaging a manufacturing employee base of over 100 people and how they appeal to job seekers.
"Culture is everything for our organization both in recruiting and retaining our employees, regardless of where they sit within the company. We want to show prospective and current operations and warehouse employees that this isn’t a typical factory job," explains Kristin. "They can have a great employee experience and contribute to our culture and organization outside of their day-to-day responsibilities. We are committed to fostering a workplace that reflects our values and supports our team to do their best both in their time at work and as they head home to be with their families."
Engaging the next generation of warehouse employees
In a 2014 research report on labor-management strategies in the warehouse, 62% of survey respondents said the toughest challenge they face is finding and keeping qualified, skilled, dependable workers. There is a general concern about a lack of younger people willing and able to fill the roles of an aging warehouse workforce.
This is why understanding what engages and motivates people at work is so important. You can use that knowledge during recruitment, and throughout people’s tenure. You don’t want to ever overhear a manufacturing employee say, “Why do all the people at HQ get all the fun/support/benefits?” Prevent discontent and increase engagement by making sure all employees at your company have a voice.