Whether your warehouse employees are in-house or temporary, you should always create an environment that makes them want to stick around. Having a team of high-performing in-house employees, or a roster of your favorite Instawork Professionals you can call on regularly, reduces the time you need to spend searching for and onboarding new workers — which, in turn, saves money and boosts productivity. But as we all know, retention is easier said than done.
Retaining talented warehouse staff is not a new challenge. But with COVID, it did become trickier — a rise in ecommerce boosted volume, while the Great Resignation saw droves of workers leave their existing jobs.
So what strategies can you apply to keep your warehouse workers for the long haul? Hint: A tired bonus won’t cut it — you need to differentiate yourself. Here are some ideas for doing so.
1. Show your workers that you care
Showing that your company truly cares about its warehouse workers will give you a great advantage over competitors. To do that, you’ll need to create a culture of listening to your staff at all levels. Ask them what they would like to change, take notes on what you hear, and continuously try to implement the good ideas.
Continuous steps, even if they’re small, will improve your company culture. And there are simple ways to measure employee morale to cross-check with staff retention on a daily basis — this way, you can make sure you’re going in the right direction.
2. Check in before onboarding
Is someone new joining your team? Have their future supervisor reach out in advance of their first day, just to say hi. Ask if there are any questions, or something still pending that the company can help with. It could be anything from HR forms to tools to expectations for the role. This shows that your company is truly interested and ready to take action. If you’ve got an online portal or welcome documents you can send, that will help new employees prepare as well.
3. Build flexibility into your shifts
Flexible scheduling has a huge impact on staff satisfaction and retention. Some people prefer traditional day shifts while their kids are in school, while some enjoy working at night. Others may prefer to work shorter hours — say, a four-hour shift instead of an eight-hour one. Offering a variety of shift start times and lengths can help you appeal to a wider pool of candidates.
A flexible staffing solution can also help ensure that you have the support you need when your in-house employees need time off, whether it’s for a doctor’s appointment, a kid’s birthday, or a vacation. Working around workers’ schedules is a great way to improve morale, and a surefire way to stand out from other employers.
4. Encourage role shadowing
We learn from what we see! Get your top-performing employees to show new hires how the work is supposed to be done. This also improves social connections, which improves your company culture. This is even more important if you have new managers — have your most people-oriented managers demonstrate their leadership style.
5. Implement the buddy system
Beyond assigning a professional mentor, assigning a buddy can be a great idea too. Pair each new worker with a buddy to help welcome them — not just from a work perspective, but to ensure they feel like part of the team. After all, we’ve all felt awkward on our first day at work before! You may want to provide a small budget so you can treat them to a cup of coffee, a snack from the vending machine, or even a meal. Remember, when you get along great with your coworkers, you’re a lot less likely to want to leave your job.
6. Hold daily meetings
A shift meeting is a great way to align your team. Take 10-15 minutes or so to give an overview of the progress you've made and highlight the most important objectives. What happened at the last shift? What’s happening today? What do you need to keep in mind? Make sure your employees’ voices are heard too. Stand up the whole time to ensure it stays brief.
7. Offer competitive pay
The high demand for warehouse workers is driving up salaries. Depending on where you’re based, you may need to compare your salaries to what your competitors are offering. According to PayScale, staff who feel they are underpaid are almost 50% more likely to search for a new employer. Managers need to dedicate time to talk with employees about work conditions, and that includes the pay. Openly communicate your compensation strategy, productivity bonuses, etc.
8. Empower your line managers
Line managers can play a powerful role in retaining the people on their team, but they often don’t get to decide pay levels or set the shift schedule themselves. When possible, though, line managers should get as much autonomy as you can give them. Experiment with giving them a budget to do something for their team (it doesn’t have to be big). Ask how they would spend it, and what they imagine the impact would be. And when it comes time to promote new line managers, make sure you’re selecting those who are good at leading, not just those with technical skills or the longest tenure at the company.
9. Examine your safety processes & protocols
Do your people feel safe? Does your staff feel comfortable speaking up to report a “near miss” or is that frowned upon on the floor? Is it the same on extremely busy days? Even if you emphasize the importance of safety, there may be ways to improve your safety culture. Take languages into account — make sure signage and instructions are available in any other languages your staff might primarily speak. Do people fully understand their rights and obligations? Feeling safe at work is key to staff retention.
10. Improve the break/lunch room
Warehouses aren’t the coziest of places, so it’s nice to create a homey room for workers to wind down during their break or while they eat lunch. This doesn’t have to mean a full-blown remodel, though — a fresh coat of paint, some plants, and comfortable chairs/couches can all help liven up a room. To go a step further, reach out to your workers to find out what they’d like to upgrade. It can also be nice to prepare an outside space where staff can get some natural light — harsh fluorescents can bring down your mood.
11. Surprise your workers with rewards
Gifts are all the more exciting when you don’t know they’re coming. A $25 gift card that you don’t expect can feel like more than a $50 gift card you do expect. Or try surprising your team with a free lunch now and then!
12. Provide career development & training opportunities
Promotions in warehouse settings can be limited, which makes providing career development and training opportunities all the more important. Apart from mandatory health and safety courses, ask your people what industry-related training they’re interested in. You might offer a stipend for forklift training, for example, or courses on Lean Six Sigma. Some companies even offer English as a Second Language (ESL) courses for workers who aren’t native speakers.
13. Thank & stay in touch with departing employees
When a longtime worker decides to move on, throw them a small farewell party or send them a card to show your appreciation. Not only will this keep your relationship warm if they ever choose to come back — it’ll show the rest of your team that you care about all your people, not just the ones that are actively on the payroll. And make sure to check in with them from time to time. The grass isn’t always greener, and employees that leave may end up wanting to come back. Do exit interviews with departing employees as well to get an idea of what you need to improve in order for employees to stay longer.
Keep the ripple effect in mind
The competition for warehouse workers is tough right now, and one employee quitting their job can have a ripple effect. But on the flip side, so can one employee deciding to stay. Demonstrate to your workers that you care about them, and you might just create a culture of long tenures.
At the end of the day, your strongest card to improve retention in your warehouse is to treat people the way you would like to be treated. It’s as easy — and as hard — as that.
Rebecca Lundin is the co-founder of Celpax, a company that makes employee engagement measuring devices.