By Jake Rheude, Vice President of Marketing at Red Stag Fulfillment
One big reason HR managers and management professionals have started to think more about fulfillment center staff is the negative press warehouses received in 2019. There were numerous articles and concerns raised, especially about some of the most massive warehouses in the land.
In the U.S., Last Week Tonight ran an expose on Amazon’s warehouses and highlighted its working conditions that were far less than ideal. The response from Amazon leadership led to many employees discussing issues and harsh requirements publicly.
What we, and you, should stress is that Amazon is not an industry standard-bearer, and in many cases, they are not the industry average or norm. A warehouse or fulfillment center can quickly become a place that rewards employees, treats them with dignity, and makes them excited to show up for work every day.
Let’s discuss some of the things that your fulfillment center can do to keep employees happy, based on industry best practices and what we at Red Stag Fulfillment do at our locations.
Clear requirements and structure
The first key to employee success is giving them a clear understanding of what’s required during their shift. How many orders they need to average, what times they need to meet, and how demanding the job can be. Fulfillment is a physically demanding job, and that means it is not suited to everyone. Being upfront about requirements can reduce your turnover and help employees know how they can succeed.
The other part of this consideration is how your company is structured and communicates. Are you, as the HR/manager/leader communicating these things clearly? Do employees know how to ask questions or make requests? Are your demands reasonable?
Giving your team the chance to provide feedback about your requirements will help them feel heard, feel valued, and do their best.
Benefits, breaks, and bonuses
Every job has its quirks and for fulfillment centers that usually means doing as much as you can, as fast as you can. Being driven by speed can be hard physically and mentally. While it’s a core requirement for baseline operations, it should only be part of the math you use to understand employee performance and benefits.
One key thing that reports alleging employee abuse focus is the inability of staff to use the restroom regularly. Your team is human, and they need to be allowed to access the bathroom as needed, not limited to minutes per shift.
Other breaks are much the same. The physically demanding work requires a break to help your team stay fresh and minimize mistakes. Our employees enjoy their breaks partially because we have a separate room off the floor that allows them to cool down and take a moment to relax. Providing a clean, nice-smelling place with access to food and drinks is a must-have for the modern workforce.
Bonuses and benefits will depend on your region. Benefits, such as health insurance or predictable work hours, should be offered to all full-time staff at least. Don’t add metrics to these.
Bonuses can thrive when they have context. What we’ve found to work well is telling employees how their bonuses relate specifically to our mission. We guarantee order accuracy, so our staff benefit when they achieve order accuracy, instead of hours worked or speed in the warehouse. By listening to employees, we’ve found a bonus structure and amount that encourages them while being affordable for our company.
When their performance is linked back to the team and company, and when they’re rewarded for the value they bring, employees are happier and more willing to do their best, plus a little extra to help keep things clean and pleasant for everyone.
Recognize that the work is hard
Your fulfillment center employees work hard. Yes, we’ve said that already. We’re repeating it because it’s worth always thinking about. There’s no day or hour where your fulfillment center team is getting to relax or finish their tasks without working up a sweat.
Understand that, recognize it, and reward it. You want to take steps to demonstrate the nature of their work and acknowledge it publicly when possible. This might be getting a nice lunch for everyone once a month or announcing when employees have reached specific performance metrics at the end of a month.
Say “thank you” in visible ways.
You can demonstrate this value directly, too, with your warehouse decisions. If you have money to invest, consider asking your team what equipment would help them most. You might spend on mobile devices that scan and track orders, new carts that make it easy to pick, or even forklifts that can reduce how much your team walks each day.
Including them and their thoughts in your growth and purchase decisions shows your fulfillment team that you value them and the work they do. Your gratitude will make your employees happier.
Long-term success comes from within
The last thing to consider is what happens with one employee can impact others, for better or worse. Turnover, especially from trusted or well-liked staff, can lead to higher turnover for your center in general. When the employees that everyone likes or looks up to head out the door, their friends are likely to follow.
Beyond what we’ve already talked about, there is another way to help reduce your turnover rate: providing a path for advancement. Promoting people from within when you have a new warehouse and fulfillment center leadership positions builds comradery and gives staff a reason to stay with our company for the long haul.
When most people in your company start out on the warehouse floor, your leadership has a better understanding of those jobs. Managers will be more likely to provide benefits and advice that teams can use, and you don’t lose institutional knowledge as people transition.
Promoting from within is a straightforward way to keep valuable people around and let your fulfillment center staff know that there’s no reason to look for other work.