As a pioneer in warehouse technology and the development of solutions that empower warehouse workers, Lucas Systems recently commissioned a research study and developed the first Voice of the Warehouse Worker Insights. The goal was to capture the warehouse workers voice in terms of what they currently see, what they feel and believe, what they fear, and finally what they hope for. The most impactful findings included:
- On-floor workers are willing to trade pay for better tech to do their jobs
- Workers want to stay at their jobs but need improvements to make their jobs easier and less stressful
- Tech to help them do their jobs is a critical driver in employee attraction and retention
- Contrary to some storylines, robots are friends, not foes
In this article, we’ll explore each of these topics and deliver strategies employers can implement to build these learnings into actions to attract, retain and engage on-floor warehouse workers.
On-floor workers are willing to trade pay for better tech to do their jobs
Our survey found nearly 3 in 4 (74%) warehouse workers are at least somewhat likely to take a pay cut to work at another company with more technology tools to help them do their job, including more than half (52%), who are extremely or very likely. This is driven by younger workers, with 81% of workers in the Gen Z group being at least somewhat likely to trade pay for tech.
This is certainly a signal to DC operators and leaders that workers are after quality measures in addition to quantity measures, like pay, when it comes to their jobs. Supporting this finding, in my experience interacting with and working with our customers, it’s common to see some initial resistance to tech implementations, but I’m continually amazed at the engagement and productivity gains tech drives once workers see its full benefits.
Workers want to stay at their jobs but need improvements to make their jobs easier and less stressful
While the news is dominated by talk of the great resignation, we discovered that on-floor workers do not want to bounce around. Our survey found that warehouse workers anticipate staying at their current place of employment for at least three years (74%), with 35% anticipating a tenure longer than five years.
An overwhelming majority (90%) of our study respondents believe investment in new technology will help in attracting and retaining onfloor workers. Workers also resoundingly feel that investing in tech is investing in the company’s workforce (88%). These results indicate that investment in tech to help workers do their jobs better and easier may give companies a crucial advantage during this era of labor shortage and help them prepare for the future as younger workers and new prospects enter the workforce.
Workers speak out on the tech they want
Workers are eager to utilize technology because they see it helping them do their jobs. The top ranked tech benefits by warehouse workers include solutions that:
- Help accuracy / minimize mistakes
- Increase ability to meet performance goals
- Increase personal safety
- Make their job more exciting and high-tech
- Make the job less physically demanding
- Demonstrate the company cares about its workers
- Help them learn a new skill
Workers also have specific ideas of tools their companies need to implement, beginning with data capture and scanning tools (63%), conveyor systems (48%), and voice-directed tools with headsets (46%).
Physical strain and in-warehouse travel take their toll
On-floor workers are seeking relief from the physical and mental strains of working in the warehouse. Three in four warehouse workers say that the physical strain in their job takes a larger toll than the mental strain, with overexertion listed as a common concern. This includes the energy and time spent walking throughout the warehouse to complete tasks. On average, warehouse workers spend more than a third (38%) of their day walking to different places between tasks and assignments.
And while a high percentage of companies have said that investing in technology is important to their future plans, more than 66% of our respondents said that picking, packing and other warehouse processes are still done via paper and pencil. There is certainly a need and necessity for improvement.
Robots are friends not foes according to warehouse workers
Robotic automation in the warehouse has exploded over the past decade and shows no signs of slowing down. Based on research from ARC Advisory Group, the mobile warehouse robotics market was estimated at $724 million in 2021 and is expected to grow to $2.7 billion in 2026, representing 30 percent growth per year.
Workers value robots as colleagues, mainly because of their ability to help reduce physical stress, and achieve better performance in picking and accuracy. In fact, 3 out of 4 warehouse workers said that they trust robots as a partner to help them do their jobs better. The ways workers think robots may help them in their jobs?
- Reduce physical stress
- Help achieve better speed in item picking
- Help achieve better accuracy in item picking
- Assure safety by taking over more dangerous tasks
- Reduce mental stress
- Frees workers to do more satisfying work
But introducing robots doesn’t come without worker fears. According to our study, concerns about worker replacement, increased management oversight, and the ability to control the robots are among the most prevalent worker reservations. Specific concerns include:
- Adds mental strain
- Jeopardizes safety
- Increases oversight
- Replaces them as a worker
- Controlling the robot
Strategic conclusions and recommendations for warehouse operators
Based on the findings of the study, we developed several suggestions to help guide plans for warehouse and DC operators considering tech implementations.
Invest in automation that benefits the on-floor worker
It’s clear that on-floor warehouse workers are declaring technology tools to be essential to their well-being and retention. In fact, workers want technology so much that they would switch jobs and take a pay cut to take advantage of the benefits tech could provide. Give your operation a competitive advantage in the war for talent by investing in tech that helps the on-floor worker do their jobs.
Make tech training a core part of the operation
Most of the on-floor worker concerns relate to having adequate training programs in place and increased expectations when new technology is implemented. However, workers also express that they want help in meeting their performance goals, to be more accurate, and to reduce physical stress. A strong tech training program is essential to helping onfloor workers understand the benefits, reduce the tech implementation stress, and help workers achieve greater job satisfaction.
Introduce robots carefully into the workforce
A surprisingly high percentage of on-floor workers (75%) feel robots would be good partners to help them do their jobs better, but fears about job replacement and increased quotas remain a potential show stopper. Introduce robots carefully into your on-floor worker ecosystem by doing robot – worker pilots. Prove success across the processes that reduce worker travel and lifting strain. This approach will help gain acceptance from the workforce that robots are good for them.
More market study insights can be found here.
Ken Ramoutar is CMO at Lucas Systems. In his 25 years of customer centric roles in supply chain software and consulting, Ken has navigated companies through uncertainty and volatility as a thought leader and change agent. Prior to Lucas, he was SVP and Global Head of Customer Experience for Avanade (a $3B Accenture and Microsoft owned company), and held leadership roles at IBM, Sterling Commerce, and SAP/Ariba.