Respect. Empathy. Flexibility. If you're in charge of securing and managing workers in warehouses, distribution centers, trucks and delivery vans, it might be a good idea to view these three words as a mantra going forward. Failure to adhere to these principles will likely result in staffing shortages and above-acceptable levels of employee churn.
Cool technology helps to attract and retain workers, as do higher hourly rates of pay. But without an approach that might best be described as emotionally intelligent, managers of supply chain workers are going to find themselves hard-pressed to keep the lights on, especially when it comes to hiring younger people.
This is the clear message from several industry surveys and conferences this year, where presentations on labor issues drew standing-room-only audiences at times.
One important headline: You need to flatten the hierarchy. It seems the days are gone when management can respond to a request for greater appreciation with: You’ll find all the appreciation you’ll get in your paycheck.
“I think performance and workflow and all those things are supposed to be a two-way conversation,” said Karen Warren, senior manager at Joshua Tree Group, a supply chain consulting firm specializing in human resources. “You want to encourage workers to come to a leader and say, ‘I have this obstacle that’s preventing me from doing my job well.’ You’re creating a culture of what it takes to be successful and getting rid of the ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality.”
Warren was a panelist on a session entitled “How Flexible Labor is Changing Warehouse Operations and Solving Staffing Challenges,” at the CSCMP EDGE 2022 conference in Nashville, Tennessee, in September.
The generations now entering and already participating in the workforce have a well-documented propensity to demand to be treated with care and respect. A Gallup poll found that Gen Z and Millennials above all want an employer who cares about their well-being. (This ranked second in importance with Boomers and Gen X, below a need to know that the employer’s leadership is ethical.)
Attempts to unionize are on the rise at Amazon facilities and among truckers serving the Port of Los Angeles. Staffing turnover speeds are reaching breakneck levels for many supply chain roles traditionally considered to be on the lower rungs of the ladder. These trends alone demonstrate a widespread feeling among supply chain workers that they're not getting an acceptable deal from management.
Just getting workers in the door now requires new approaches to staffing. “During COVID, we saw we had to get out of the traditional mindset,” said Nick Orefice, human resources manager for supply chain at Advance Auto Parts at the same session. “The eight-hour day, 40-hour week model is no longer there. It’s gone.”
Most of us have encountered a so-called gig worker when taking an Uber or getting food delivery, but this new way of handling casual labor has spread to many other industries, and is now the fastest growing segment in U.S. labor, according to a recent report by Instawork, which connects businesses with go-to hourly workers. “The State of the Flexible Workforce” found that at least one in six adult Americans has already earned money from the gig economy via apps. Gig workers are typically in the 25-44 age range and are highly motivated by non-monetary factors, such as setting their own schedules, said Mike Bohnett, vice president of sales and partnerships at Instawork. They’re also more highly educated than hourly workers overall, which makes them highly valuable in today’s fast-moving warehouse environment.
It's quite possible the U.S. unemployment rate will stop bumping along below 4%, but a recent report in the Harvard Business Review warns that the “Great Resignation,” during which record numbers of employees voluntarily quit their jobs, was already happening before the COVID-19 pandemic. “What we are living through is not just short-term turbulence provoked by the pandemic. Instead, it’s the continuation of a trend of rising quit rates that began more than a decade ago,” say authors Joseph Fuller and William Kerr. They cite five main factors at play in this trend: retirement, relocation, reconsideration, reshuffling, and reluctance. All of these factors, the authors argue, are here to stay.
“Post-COVID, people are aware they have options,” said Warren. “Life is more and more complex, and people want to explore what options they have.” In this new worldview, there’s no reason to restrict the earning power of a woman who wants to drop her kid off at school at a certain time and then go to work.
Warren said companies can implement labor management tools that open up a whole new world of options. “You still have to get this much work out the door to meet your customers’ needs. Fine. But maybe instead of having 10 people working eight-hour shifts, you have 20 working four-hour shifts. Or you maybe have some workers outside the four walls. Or you pay high-performers for an eight-hour shift for stuff that’s done in six hours,” she said. “We’re getting away from the traditional mindset of this many people for this many hours.”
Even though the demographics tend to skew older among truck drivers, the new attitude needs to apply in dealing with the driver shortage, too. "Organizations that manage drivers have to be more adaptable, and ready and willing to change,” said Greg Steele, executive vice president of less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier Daylight Transport, at another CSCMP EDGE session, “Transportation Labor Issues and Opportunities.”
“There's been an emphasis on a higher level of emotional intelligence among our front-line managers,” Steele said. “There's a saying: People don't leave jobs; they leave bad managers."
And managers who like to wield superiority are increasingly seen as bad managers. Bosses who act in ways associated with emotional intelligence foster happier, more creative employees, according to survey after survey, including a Yale-led study in the Journal of Creative Behavior. That means paying attention to what's going on with your team at all levels, physically and emotionally.
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