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Viewpoint: What warehouse COOs can do to recover from the ‘Great Resignation’

This commentary was written by Gabe Grifoni, co-founder and CEO of Rufus Labs. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Modern Shipper or its affiliates.

The pandemic has spurred myriad global crises, trends, and shifts – one of which being a record-breaking rise in workforce resignations. While “The Great Resignation” is an informal name for the widespread trend of a significant number of workers leaving their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s also been referred to as the “Big Quit.” And, this terminology is so widespread, it’s already made it into the dictionary.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, four million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021. Resignations peaked in April 2021 and remained abnormally high for the last several months, with a record-breaking 10.9 million open jobs at the end of July 2021. Fast forward to 2022 and there has been a slight recovery in the job market, however companies across industry are still reeling from the effects of the Great Resignation.

The Great Resignation is typically discussed in relation to the U.S. workforce, but the phenomenon is international. It is thought to be the result of many different factors, notably workers’ dissatisfaction with current working conditions, personal reassessments of career and lifestyle due to the changes and hardships of the pandemic, and better quality of life. In January, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh commented on both the jobs shortages and workers quitting: “Americans want to work – but it’s not enough to just bring more people into the workforce. We must ensure the jobs that workers access provide more than a paycheck – good benefits, safe workplaces and a pathway to the middle class.”

So, what can chief operating officers and warehouse managers responsible for strategy do to help their companies recover from the “Great Resignation?”

Identify potential problems

When in doubt, consult the data. Do you currently have a labor shortage? Are workers leaving? Are you having trouble hiring? No matter what the job market looks like, it’s always best practice to collect as much information from employees before leaving through an exit interview. You don’t need to wait until an employee has taken another job to mine this data, however. Consider conducting internal surveys among existing employees, offering prizes and bonuses to employees to show appreciation for participating, and anonymizing data so employees feel they can be as transparent as possible. This can help identify sources of employee dissatisfaction before they become an issue.

That said, if you solicit feedback from your team, you need to listen and implement changes accordingly. If employees don’t feel heard, it decreases morale because workers won’t feel valued – and rightfully so. Be transparent about the feedback and the steps you plan to take to make as many changes as possible. If it is going to take time for some of them to be implemented, be honest and open about your timeline.

Prioritize quality of life

Warehouse work is physically demanding. With new clarity and savings from the COVID era, some workers have stepped back from precarious frontline jobs made brutally hard, and occasionally unsafe, in the pandemic. That’s why it’s even more important than ever to show that you care about the minutes and hours they spend in and outside your warehouse. It might be time to reevaluate your health care package, paid time off offerings, and flexibility in scheduling. Not every role can be fully remote, especially in a warehouse, but if there’s any way to implement hybrid schedules into your workforce, take that opportunity as soon as possible.

Also consider other types of flexibility, like letting employees work with you to decide which shifts fit best with their needs and personal lives or adopting different PTO structures.

Get creative with perks

The Great Resignation is motivated mostly by employees looking for better treatment. While putting concrete, meaningful benefits into place that directly impact employee mental and physical health is the priority, that doesn’t mean you can’t also find creative ways to surprise and delight your workforce.

Consider perks that may be unique to your company’s culture – for example, discounts on certain items, tickets to sporting or entertainment events, vouchers for local restaurants and more. This is your opportunity to show employees both that you care about their well-being and that you’re willing to go beyond basics to keep them happy and comfortable.

Invest in technology

Improving your employees’ quality of life doesn’t have to just come from HR; it can also start on the warehouse floor. Investing in better technology can alleviate employee burdens, both physically and mentally. Whether it’s upgrading hardware or software, warehouse automation technology is used across multiple subsectors of industrial real estate to improve speed in order fulfillment and shipping, reduce employee liability and fatigue, eliminate common human errors in manual warehouses, more accurately monitor and maintain operations and inventory, reduce expenses, and improve warehouse efficiency as a whole.

Consider:

● Automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), which can include drones, automated forklifts, robotics, conveyors, or light systems to improve the process of retrieving, packaging, or organizing inventory for storage, order fulfillment, or delivery.

● Application programming interfaces (APIs), which communicate with the software to integrate with the various information systems.

● Cloud computing and data analytics that can provide predictions about inventory supply and demand or cartonization suggestions helping pick the right box size based on the item’s dimensions and weight.

● Radio-frequency identification (RFID) to provide real-time tracking of inventory and warehouse operations, including inventory management.

● Wearable technology that includes devices (connected via Internet) that can be worn on the wrist, head, face, or any other body part, to allow warehouse clerks and managers the same freedom as mobile devices, but with a higher degree of ease.

If you are really committed to preventing The Great Resignation from touching your business, it’s imperative to continuously prove that your warehouse is committed to growing, changing and doing better in every way. And you’ll need to walk the walk. When you’re making visible progress, employees may be more likely to stick around for the long-term. It’s also smart to look to other organizations with strong retention rates, especially competitors. What are they doing right? What can you replicate? What can you do better?

Whether you’re already feeling the pressure of employee resignation, or you’re proactively looking ahead at prevention, keeping an employee-first mentality is always the best way to go.

 About the author

Gabe Grifoni is co-founder and CEO of Rufus Labs. Rufus provides supply chain workforces with technologies, including wearables and tablets, and software through its WorkHero platform.