HR & management professionals share the most effective ways for managers to retain their best warehouse workers

22 HR & management professionals share the most effective ways for managers to retain their best warehouse workers

John Gomez Last Updated: July 22nd, 2020

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in the warehousing and storage industry grew from 1,133,900 to 1,194,400 from May 2020 to June 2020. In March 2020, before the economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic made a significant impact, employment in the industry was 1,216,600. The biggest impact was seen in April 2020, when employment dropped to 1,121,400. In fact, warehousing accounted for the largest portion of jobs added in the transportation and warehousing sector in June, about 61,000 of 99,000 total jobs. “Despite the employment gain in June, employment in transportation and warehousing is 499,000 lower than in February,” according to the BLS’s Current Employment Statistics Highlights report issued on July 2, 2020.

Economic recovery is still underway, and that means that the warehousing industry is likely to see additional job growth in the coming months as companies aim to get back to some semblance of normal operations. “Right up until mid-March, the logistics labor shortage was being fueled by a historically low national unemployment rate and a lack of both skilled and semi-skilled workers,” explains Bridget McCrea in an article published by Logistics Management. Now, as workers previously employed in other industries remain displaced, companies in warehousing and logistics are providing new opportunities for some of those workers while simultaneously taking advantage of the opportunity to upskill and attract talent that was difficult to find in the previously tight labor market.

While it may be easier to attract the right talent today than it was pre-COVID-19, warehouses are faced with the challenge of retaining their top talent once they have them on board, particularly as other employment sectors recover and provide opportunities for workers to return to their previous roles. Factors such as an optimized warehouse layout that enables associates to work efficiently, a safe work environment, benefits such as health insurance and retirement savings plans, effective training and opportunities for growth and development all play a role in employee satisfaction and retention.

To learn more about how managers can retain their top warehouse talent, we reached out to a panel of human resources and management professionals and asked them to answer this question:

“What’s the most effective way for managers to retain their best warehouse workers?”

Meet Our Panel of HR & Management Professionals:

Read on to learn what our panel had to say about the most effective ways to retain your best warehouse workers.


Joe BaileyJoe Bailey

@MyTradingSkills

Joe is the Business Development Consultant at My Trading Skills.

“Improve their benefits, especially healthcare benefits…”

Offer your warehouse workers better healthcare benefits than the industry norm, and you will find that your best warehouse workers will be set on working for you for as long as possible.

The healthcare market is atrocious in nearly every part of the world. Workers will be more than willing to stay in a company that offers significant health care benefits.

Other benefits you should also consider providing to your workers include a retirement savings plan and shares.

Bottom line: Often, the most effective way to retain the best employees, including the best warehouse workers, is by providing them with meaningful and attractive benefits such as health care benefits, company shares and a robust retirement savings plan.


John CareyJohn Carey

@DAppliances

John Carey is the co-founder of Designer Appliances, a trusted appliance retailer with retail two stores serving NJ and NY.

“One of the best ways we found to retain our warehouse workers was to…”

Make them feel like they were just as important as employees in other departments in our company. We did this by tying metrics to their workload and included those metrics in our weekly all-hands meetings. They are just basic metrics like total shipments per week, shipments per day and item receipts per day, and we compare those numbers vs. previous periods. It helps to put the workload in context, and when the warehouse is busy it helps our other department heads be appreciative of the hard work the warehouse is putting in.


Rachel StonesRachel Stones

@builtforteams

Rachel Stones works as a Business Development Manager for Built for Teams, an innovative HR solution for small and medium-sized businesses.

“Engaged employees are more likely to stick around, so find out what engages your best warehouse workers…”

Do they enjoy opportunities to be a leader? Do they feel appreciated when you solicit their feedback? Or is there an incentive that pushes them to succeed? Answers to these questions can help you develop a plan to retain those star warehouse workers.

It also goes beyond the employee. Do they feel connected to their team? Do they feel connected to your company? When employees feel engaged and connected to their manager, their team and their company, it’s less likely they’ll be looking for another job.


William TaylorWilliam Taylor

@velvetjobs

William Taylor is the Senior Career Advisor at VelvetJobs.

“The best way to retain your best warehouse workers is to offer them a market salary and…”

Attractive incentives such as productivity bonuses, paid time off, game tickets, team-building trips, etc. You should ensure a clean and safe workplace and provide healthcare benefits. Many warehouse workers yearn for access to training and skill upgrading programs. Overall, you should maintain open communication with the workers and appreciate and recognize their good work. Apart from money and other incentives, I believe a well-defined career path is a big reason for employees to stay with a company.

Bottom line: Offer them a market salary and attractive incentives.


John MossJohn Moss

@EnglishBlinds

John Moss is the CEO of English Blinds.

“Honesty, consistency and fairness are the keys to retaining top workers, which is important for warehouse workers in particular…”

Because the warehouse can be such a fluid environment, in terms of the variables involved.

For instance, some of the main causes of staff turnover within the industry as a whole include the need for shift work, the potential for antisocial hours and the vagaries of a fluctuating availability of hours from week to week.

Top-performing workers have already come to grips with the nature of the role itself and potential downsides such as repetition or the physicality of the job. Many workers struggle with these things over time, and so for workers who excel, retaining them is vital.

Being honest with workers about forecasting potential hours and the business requirements as far in advance as possible is key, as is being consistent in terms of scheduling the hours that are there, being fair about evenly splitting the workload and rotating or dividing up less popular tasks.

Communication is important too, as is flexibility. Open dialogue between workers and management to ensure everyone feels heard and respected is important, as well.


Michael AlexcisMichael Alexis

@michaelalexis

Michael Alexis is the CEO of TeamBuilding.

“Have you heard the saying that people don’t leave companies, they leave bosses? This concept is based in a very clear reality…”

Working with bad managers is a major demotivator. However, you most likely haven’t heard the counterpoint: that the best people stay at companies because of friendships with their coworkers. These connections are a powerful way to promote happiness at work, engagement and productivity. One way to encourage these relationships is to include team-building activities in your day to day work schedule. For example, try starting meetings off with a five-minute round of icebreakers, such as asking everyone to share their name, role and what they ate for breakfast. This way, your people start to build connections over shared interests, which leads to friendships and retention.


Ana CasicAna Casic

@TalentLMS

Ana is a Content Marketer at TalentLMS.

“When it comes to retaining your best warehouse workers, keep in mind that…”

  • 94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers.
  • 51% of employees would quit their jobs if their companies didn’t offer training.
  • 76% say they want opportunities for career growth, putting training on the list of the top three non-financial motivators for employees.
  • Even managers long for more training, with 76% wishing for more learning and development opportunities from their companies.

Additionally, one creative tactic companies can use to retain employees is applying gamification in the workplace. Specifically, our annual Gamification at Work survey found that employees feel that gamification makes them more productive (87%), more engaged (84%) and happier (82%) at work.


Joni HoldermanJoni Holderman

@thrive_resumes

As a professional resume writer, Joni Holderman combined her passions for writing and helping others achieve their goals via Thrive! Resumes.

“The most important thing managers can do to retain their best workers is show appreciation…”

Catch your employees doing something right and praise them for it. Literally say, “I appreciate you!” to your best workers and tell them exactly why — whether it’s always being on time or having great accuracy. Spend time interacting casually with top performers. Study after study shows that most managers devote 80% of their time to the 20% of employees who perform worst. When only poor performers merit your attention, that sets everyone up for failure.


Andy MorleyAndy Morley

Andy works with Multy Lift Fortrucks Ltd, a UK-based material handling equipment dealer with over thirty years of experience in the industry.

“To retain your best warehouse workers, you must show that you are an employer who cares about their health and well-being through the following…”

Ergonomics

In 2017, there were over 9,000 forklift-related illnesses and injuries in the US. Musculoskeletal disorders can occur from regular discomfort and strain when operating machinery and can not only cost a business in legal fees, staffing shortages and sick pay but also reduce productivity and potentially permanently impact the employee’s ability to work.

By ensuring warehouse machinery is optimally ergonomic, businesses will avoid these issues and also show their employees that they are concerned for their well-being. Forklift ergonomics include swivel chairs/cabins to avoid strain, noise reduction and vibration dampening measures, easily reachable controls and more.

Correct training and safety measures

Proper training and safety measures will ensure that your staff members are knowledgeable about how to complete their work safely and efficiently. Providing training shows workers that you are not only concerned about their safety, but also about their career progression.

Sufficient break times and holidays

Relating back to ergonomics and operator comfort, sufficient break times are required to allow the worker time to stretch and move out of uncomfortable positions, helping to lessen the chance of health issues. This also shows that as an employer, you understand how repetitive some warehouse tasks can be, and how appropriate rests can rejuvenate the job, leaving employees feeling more ready to work.

Listening to employees

If an employer comes to you with a problem or alerts you of an issue, it’s important that you listen to them and seriously consider solutions to the problem. This will make them feel valued, and as they’re on the frontline, it is likely they know what they’re talking about and so will impact your business for the better.


Jessie NewburnJessie Newburn

@GenerationsWork

Jessie Newburn is the Principal of GenerationsWork.

“Millennials (born between 1982-2004) are going to be more loyal toward employers that…”

  • Invest in their careers
  • Offer career paths within their company (and help/show younger workers how to succeed)
  • Provide mentorships with older adults
  • Actively encourage younger workers to meet with senior management to discuss how to improve the company

Team participation is also very important to Millennials, so:

  • hire them in teams;
  • train them in teams; and
  • compensate them in teams.

GenXers (born 1961-1981) are all about doing more with less. Anything that allows them to be compensated based on the bottom-line motivates them, so:

  • offer incentives for anyone who saves the company money (fewer accidents, improved systems, higher productivity per hour, etc.);
  • meet with Xers (or solicit their input by email) about how to improve the customer experience; and
  • remember that all Xers run by the credo, ‘Do more with less’ and ‘Do a good job, be efficient, go home early.’

Xers also value work-life balance above all generations, especially men (dads). Anything that allows them the flexibility to be involved in their kids’ lives is important to them and will earn loyalty.

You probably don’t have that many Boomers (b 1943-1960), but if you do, they are all about finding meaning and calling. They’re good to have on any committees or teams where big questions about purpose and value need to be answered.


Garrett GrellerGarrett Greller

@UncleBuds_Hemp

Garrett Greller is the Co-Founder of Uncle Bud’s Hemp.

“Warehouse turnover tends to stem from one or more of several well-defined reasons…”

Better wages elsewhere, aging out of older workers without attracting newer, younger workers to replace them, unattractive working hours and/or excessively long shifts and poor training. These are all issues that can be remedied easily. Better salaries and benefits will attract more workers, particularly among career warehouse workers. A difference of just a few dollars can have a tremendous impact.

Along with better pay, consider perks such as productivity bonuses, PTO and instituting new or better benefits. Peripheral incentives like team-building trips or free game tickets can boost morale and quickly get a buzz going that X warehouse is where workers get treated right. Remember that the target age range for warehouse employees at both the worker and leadership level is now firmly based in Millennials, and appealing to their sensibilities will be paramount. Focus on the innovative technology and processes your warehouse uses. Twelve-hour shifts, for instance, are no longer as popular as they once were, so consider varying shifts.


Jeremy OwensJeremy Owens

Jeremy Owens is the CMO of Seriously Smoked.

“Continually improving a business’s warehouse management system is critical in convincing warehouse workers to stay…”

One of the most frustrating parts of working in a warehouse is if the management has terrible workflow procedures that attract accidents and mistakes.

If accidents and mistakes frequently occur, workers get the blame for being the frontline of the entire operation. With frequent scolding and reprimands, warehouse workers are likely to move on to another job.

However, if management continuously improves the system to lessen mistakes, prevent accidents and increase time efficiency, the company’s best warehouse workers would likely stay for good.


Carolyn CairnsCarolyn Cairns

@CreationUAE

Carolyn Carns is the marketing manager for Creation Business Consultants, business setup consultants who help assist entrepreneurs, small to medium enterprises and multinational corporations enter, expand and restructure in the United Arab Emirates and wider-GCC region.

“There are multiple ways managers can retain their best warehouse workers…”

Here are some tips that will help you retain your top warehouse workers:

1. Money alone will not attract and retain workers. These are some of the factors that attract and retain workers:

  • Market salary
  • Attractive incentives such as productivity bonuses, paid time off, game tickets, team-building trips, etc.
  • A clean and safe workplace
  • Healthcare benefits
  • Access to training and skill upgrading programs
  • Open communication
  • Appreciation/recognition for a job well done
  • Constructive feedback through a performance management process
  • A well-defined career path

2. A different approach to a constantly changing workforce. What you need to do is to educate people on how warehousing works. This will ensure that you have future employees who are skilled and fit for the job.

3. Keep working hours that will benefit you and your employees. A more useful model is annualized hours. Annualized hours give you maximum flexibility and advantage. You pay the same amount to the staff every month, but the hours vary according to the amount of work each day.

4. Start the training process with analysis. The following requires analysis before the training process begins:

  • The nature of work
  • The degree of safety needed for the job
  • The physical and mental ability of the warehouse clerk
  • Whether the worker needs cross training because their job is closely aligned with other important processes
  • Language barriers (You could consider language classes or employing bilingual workers.)

Michael HamelburgerMichael Hamelburger

Michael has been working as a financial consultant for small and mid-size businesses since 2010. In 2019, Michael founded The Bottom Line Group, an expense reduction consulting firm helping companies reduce their expenses by thousands of dollars by focusing on areas not typically looked at by the leadership team.

“With the ongoing pandemic and social upheaval brought about by…”

The Black Lives Matter protests, growing compassion in one’s workplace has a strong impact on the organization and can make employees, especially in warehouses, feel better. When your prioritize diversity, individuality and inclusion, significant cultural shifts can take place. As the CEO of a startup, I advocate buying from black-owned enterprises to show our support in their struggle for equality and provide meaning to the lives lost in this struggle.

The restaurant industry has suffered a lot from their closure due to the pandemic and now that protests are happening around the globe to condemn the death of George Floyd and so many other victims, it’s time we raise the morale of the black community by supporting their livelihood.


Jane FlanaganJane Flanagan

@TacunaSystems

Jane Flanagan is the Lead Project Engineer at Tacuna Systems.

“Here are seven ways to keep warehouse workers happy and motivated…”

1. Proper management

Effective communication, seeking the opinion of workers, grievance redressal, team building, giving and requesting feedback, engaging employees and promoting social interactions are crucial to retaining staff.

2. Create healthy work cultures

Great work cultures that emphasize things like punctuality, transparency, integrity, honesty, accountability, etc. help create a good working environment. Align workers with project goals to generate intrinsic motivation.

3. Offer incentives and perks

Perks such as free checkups from an onsite doctor, gift cards, car wash, etc. separate from basic salaries go a long way in motivating workers.

4. Recognize and reward achievements

Set clear realistic goals, challenge workers, recognize and reward achievements and recognize positive behaviors.

5. Commit to workers’ well-being and safety

Invest in employee well-being and safety, and follow all safety regulations. Show workers that their well being is very important.

6. Offer/promote employee development

Provide room for career advancement, give training and workshops, engage workers’ skills and charge employees with responsibilities and leadership roles.

7. Lead by example.


Matt ScottMatt Scott

Matt Scott is the owner of Termite Survey.

“One of the most effective ways to retain your best warehouse workers is to always reward them for their good work…”

Employees work really hard to complete every single task assigned to them. They even go the extra mile just to finish what needs to be done. The least you can do as a manager is to appreciate them. Show them that you are thankful for the work they put in. Show them that you value them and that you can depend on them. Always give credit where it’s due.

Employees depend on managers to communicate the value they bring to the company. Take the time to compliment workers for something they did well, and thank them when they make an extra effort. When your workers feel valued and appreciated by the company, they become incentivized to take their job seriously.


Sandra HurleySandra Hurley

Sandra is the Operations Manager at Hayden Girls.

“In an age where we keep hearing about the horrific conditions in warehouses…”

It really just takes being a decent human being to retain valuable warehouse employees. If your workers are allowed to take bathroom breaks, you’re already head and shoulders above the competition. But that’s not enough. Warehouse workers have gone too long without basic rights and amenities. Be a fair employer, allow people to take breaks, pay a living wage and do not set quotas that are impossible to reach. Some of your best people will eventually burn out and leave, no matter how good they are, because no one can handle rough working conditions forever — especially if they have alternatives. And the best ones always will.

Remember that just because these employees aren’t working in an office doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve the same treatment. It’s hard work, the hours are long and the environment isn’t exactly neat and pleasant, so take that into consideration when setting wages, benefits and working conditions. We’re in online retail, so we fully depend on warehouses and warehouse workers. They’re our essential workers if you will, so we are aware of how incredibly valuable they are. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to stay operational during the pandemic, so we’ve given them major props not only as a pat on the back but in the form of a financial bonus. They deserve it.


Ian KellyIan Kelly

Ian Kelly is the VP of Operations for NuLeaf Naturals. He’s helped launch two major cannabis brands in both Colorado and Massachusetts and has consulted for many various firms across the country.

“The major problem facing managers is the inability to figure out Millennial warehouse workers…”

Millennials are not easy to understand. Their motivations are different compared to those of older generations. Managers need to find creative ways to innovate and keep Millennial workers motivated. Here are some tactics I highly recommend:

1. Make uniforms cool. Fashion and looks are very important for the Millennial workforce. Looks are related to self-esteem and inspiration. Managers should replace generic uniforms and introduce something very new and cool. In the age of social media, this strategy even has a good marketing angle.

2. Convert shift changes to office-Olympics. There’s always some time overlap between shift changes. This is a great time to conduct basketball or table tennis games or something as fun as the ice bucket challenge. Such events can improve team bonding and reduce the desire to leave the company.

3. Use music to set a great ambiance. Music sets in rhythm, and rhythm always makes it easier to work. I’ve heard many warehouse workers say that music makes their work feel like a dance. Managers can introduce the music of their team’s choice and make work as fun as possible. Which workers would want to leave a workplace with an electric atmosphere?

Most warehouse workers do not leave for more money or other aspirations. Most people switch jobs because they’re bored and need a change. The best way to improve retention is to maximize the joy of working in your company.


Matt MarinoMatt Marino

@MatthewCMarino

Matt Marino is the Director of Ergonomics and Human Factors at HeroWear. Matt has been an active member of the ASTM F48 Committee on Exoskeletons since its 2017 inception, and he is a founding partner of the ASTM Exo Technology Center of Excellence.

“Believe it or not, making a warehouse into a place people are happy to be every day begins with good ergonomics…”

Work that is overly or unnecessarily physically strenuous or mentally stressful takes a serious toll on workers’ bodies and minds. Physical and mental stress leads to injuries and burnout — two of the biggest reasons for employee turnover. No workers want to do a job that hurts them. If it hurts, they will either file a worker’s compensation claim or quit. Workers also don’t want to do a job that is super stressful. Eventually, stressed workers will move on to better jobs.

Good ergonomics can help solve both problems. By implementing a comprehensive ergonomics program, managers can tackle both physical strain and mental stress at the same time. On the physical side, good ergonomics seeks to identify, reduce and/or eliminate risk factors that are the major contributors to pain and injury. On the mental side, good ergonomics seeks to redesign work to make it less stressful and more enjoyable for workers. Ergonomic solutions can include engineering, administrative and behavioral controls which decrease exposure to risky or stressful job tasks by reducing forces, awkward postures, repetitive motions and other types of stress on workers. Things like better tools or equipment for the job to reduce strain, adjusting the heights of work to minimize awkward postures, appropriate job rotation schedules to manage risk exposure, training and personal protective equipment (PPE) can all make an impact.

In recent years, ergonomics has taken a leap into the future by embracing wearable technologies like sensors that can help managers identify high-risk jobs, as well as wearable assistive devices like exoskeletons and exosuits to reduce strain, fatigue and risk for injury in unavoidably physically demanding jobs.

Not only does embracing ergonomics provide solutions for physically and mentally stressful jobs, but crews will see that their managers care about them, and the entire culture of the workplace can change for the better, further optimizing hiring advantages and employee retention. Good ergonomics helps to drive a positive culture, a happy workplace environment where people want to come to work every day, and reduces strain and fatigue on workers so they can go home at the end of their shift with the energy to do the things they love.


James JasonJames Jason

@MitradeOfficial

James Jason is an Assistant HR Manager, Financial Analyst and Currency Trader at Mitrade.

“There are several things managers can do to retain their best warehouse workers…”

1. Reward them based on their performance.

For many years, warehouse work has been largely viewed as labor work that does not require incentives and benefits like other types of jobs. This is one of the reasons warehouse employees change jobs more than any other workers.

Employers can take advantage of this shortfall and increase their worker retention by rewarding their warehouse employees based on their performance and not the allocated work. For instance, consider the number of picks that each person manages on every shift. Reward them according to this. Such acts will ensure the hard workers are not punished at the expense of the sloppy ones.

Set targets and if the workers attain it, reward them as a group. This will motivate them to love their co-workers and promote teamwork. A worker who loves his job and feels part of a loving team will not think about leaving such a group. In addition, their teammates would not let them go easily.

2. Give them an office.

Demanding as this suggestion might sound, elevating your warehouse employees by putting together a decent, comfortable, furnished office within the compound will make them feel appreciated. Just like you, they need a break from work in a different setting, which the office would provide.

Your workers can enjoy resting on the padded seats watching the current events on a huge TV during breaks. Add a small refrigerator where they can store some drinks or just water. They can have their lunch or tea breaks inside their office instead of inside their working areas or outside in the yard. Finally, ensure the office has mini lockers where they can keep their personal belongings.

Once they attain the special sense of belonging and actually owning somewhere inside the warehouse, leaving is the last thought they will ever have in mind.


Andrew TaylorAndrew Taylor

@NetLawman

Andrew is the founder and director of Net Lawman, an online-based legal document template platform. He specializes in commercial and company law, having spent a significant amount of time building his own businesses and learning what it is like on the other side of the desk.

“Make sure that you offer more than just pay increases and commodity to keep your workers…”

Offering health insurance, dental plans, opportunities to study, a lively community and a positive work atmosphere all lend to making some of your best workers want to stay and not move on from your company.


Albert LeeAlbert Lee

Albert Lee is the Founder of Home Living Lab.

“One of the most effective ways for managers to improve warehouse labor retention is to show appreciation often…”

Even a simple thank you would go a long way in showing recognition for their hard work and loyalty to the company. However, warehouse managers can do so much more. They can compliment workers in company newsletters and bulletin boards. They can implement an employee of the month award, and they can award training opportunities for workers who perform well. The opportunities to show appreciation are endless.


Equipping your warehouse workers with the tools and technology they need to get more done in less time while maintaining a safe work environment is one of the most effective ways to boost employee satisfaction and retain your most valuable warehouse workers. Read our case study to learn how Office Depot improved safety, reduced the ergonomic issues linked to maneuvering heavy manual carts and energized its warehouse associates with easy-to-use collaborative robots.