There’s no way around it: Supply chain executives are going to have to flatten the hierarchy if they want to attract and retain the best workers.
Yes, higher pay, flexible hours and cool robots that do the heavy lifting and make picking and packing in a warehouse a bit more fun are all helpful. Getting truck drivers back to their families at night also ameliorates some of the tougher aspects of the job.
But a panel discussion at the recent Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals EDGE 2022 conference in Nashville, Tennessee, “Transportation Labor Issues and Opportunities,” highlighted the need to get creative and, frankly, abandon the top-down attitude of managers toward truck drivers and warehouse workers. The logistics and transportation industries have traditionally lagged technology and social changes. There is now a terrific opportunity to buck that trend and embrace a more emotionally intelligent approach to managing workers.
The social shift is undeniable. 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, even before COVID-19, 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.
And they have the power to insist on a better one. Unemployment is at historic lows, and businesses are now more aware than ever of the importance of keeping their supply chain staffed and running smoothly.
Predictably, much of the panel conversation revolved around the truck driver shortage. "There has always been a driver shortage, but 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. “There's been an emphasis on a higher level of emotional intelligence among our front-line managers,” he 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. Gone are the days when management can respond to a request for greater appreciation with: You’ll find all the appreciation you’ll get in your paycheck.
Daylight, for example, offers drivers three free meals a day and, perhaps more importantly, regular 360-degree performance reviews in which drivers get to give feedback about how they’re managed. The company has also increased the level of transparency about what’s going on at the management level, and brings members of all levels of staff into quarterly strategy meetings. Additionally, it offers workers the opportunity to take 15% of their paid time for professional skill development. Steele said many of his employees choose the skill of “mindfulness.”
Craig Callahan, chief commercial officer at truckload carrier Werner Enterprises, said the company has a number of strategies for attracting and retaining drivers. It bought a training school, Roadmaster Drivers School, back in 2014, and it now has 25 locations across the U.S. Now, two-thirds of the company’s drivers come straight out of the school. Callahan said the company has also “worked really hard to recruit females.” Those now account for 15% of the driver workforce, twice the industry average. “It’s unacceptable,” he lamented. Werner is also military-friendly, having created an apprenticeship program with the U.S. government. “So drivers can get GI dollars and train at the same time.”
Brad Caven, vice president of operations at Pitt Ohio, agreed that higher wages are indeed part of the picture, but he also pointed to the attractions of late-model equipment, including electric trucks, because the enhanced safety features on newer units make drivers feel safer and more valued. He also said he believes it’s important to drivers and warehouse workers that the company offers electric trucks and forklifts that are powered entirely by electricity from renewable sources. Further, Pitt, like all the other companies that have put a bead on retention, offers a dynamic advancement and apprenticeship program that recognizes the human desire for career development. In the last two years, Steele noted, Daylight has promoted 3-4% of its drivers to management.
Ultimately, the benefits of giving workers a better experience of work radiate out all the way to improved end-customer satisfaction. “We’re seeing a better service provided and better customer experience,” said Caven. “We’re sending out safe, reliable equipment with experienced drivers and that’s appreciated. It ultimately means better service.”
“Our customers want on-time, in full. That’s the mission our drivers set out on every day,” said Callahan. “If we train them right, and motivate them right, they achieve that, and it allows us to keep our operating costs down. We can pass that on to the customer.”
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