As many businesses chose to slow down production during the pandemic, warehouses have had to ramp up.
Despite additional job opportunities, warehouses are experiencing a surplus of open positions. This is attributed to several different COVID-related factors, including a lack of childcare or fears of exposing susceptible loved ones. Public transport has also been disrupted, which is a major complication for those who have no other way to get to work.
According to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, the American manufacturing industry had approximately 408,000 job openings in July. That number is especially worrisome, considering that there were already 500,000 open manufacturing positions as of February 2020. The need for additional employees is escalating, and it doesn’t seem like it will be met anytime soon.
With increased demands, quicker turnarounds and fewer employees to do the work, warehouses are at risk for employee burnout. Employee burnout happens when team members are both physically and mentally exhausted, leading to symptoms like lowered cognitive skills, a lack of motivation, sickness, depression or deadly accidents.
Yes, warehouses must meet the needs of their industry, but it cannot come at the cost of your employees’ wellbeing. So, how can managers lessen the likelihood of a warehouse-wide burnout?
Let’s look at a few actionable steps.
Optimize Warehouse Safety
If you’re an avid reader of our blog, you’ll know that warehouse safety is one of our favorite topics. A warehouse can be a very dangerous place without necessary safety precautions in place. And while you may normally stay up-to-code with a fully staffed facility, it may be more difficult (and less of a priority) when you have fewer team members.
Updating your safety measures doesn’t necessarily mean giving your team members additional tasks. Before delegating more tasks, consider their current responsibilities. Would adding these assignments lead to longer days or potential exhaustion?
Remember, many foundational safety practices can be taken care of by management on a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis, such as:
- Providing ample lighting on the floor
- Mandating consistent employee training on stacking methods and spotting potential hazards
- Updating storage with secure racking options
- Investing in material movers like industrial manipulators
- Providing proper employee protection, including hard hats, helmets and footwear
As we’re still adapting to the COVID pandemic, warehouse safety now also includes increased health regulations. This means you may need to:
- Update your cleaning and sanitation routines
- Offer hand sanitizer stands
- Consider investing in bacteria-resistant materials like stainless steel
- Provide ample PPE for your team
- Potentially instill additional measures like temperature checks and mandatory COVID tests
Adjusting to changing employee numbers requires flexibility, but don’t put the increased demand for safety all on your team’s shoulders. Leadership and management can take on many of these high-level tasks, avoiding too many additional daily responsibilities for team members.
Increase Warehouse Organization
If you’re already working with a smaller crew, a disorganized warehouse is not going to help them get their job done more effectively. Facility managers who are serious about optimizing their warehouse’s productivity should first make sure it’s properly organized for employees to move about efficiently.
There are a few different areas in which you can start revamping your warehouse-wide organizational practices:
If the number of employees you have is in flux, your established picking process may no longer be successful. When choosing a new picking strategy, it’s essential to consider what style is going to be a good fit for your current floor, such as:
- Wave Picking, which is designed so an employee can pick items to fill one order through one trip through the warehouse. Wave pickers also have certain scheduled hours where they can complete these picks, so as not to interrupt other warehouse processes like receiving or shipping.
- Batch Picking, which is designed so an employee can pick items to fill multiple orders (in batches) through one trip around the warehouse.
- Zone Picking, which is designed to assign employees to certain zones, where they are only responsible for picking order items in their zone.
- Discrete Order Picking, which is designed like wave picking, but without any scheduled windows for completion.
Discuss these possibilities with your current team members to see which one would be the most helpful.
As both your employee pool and (most likely) your inventory list changes, your product configuration may need to be updated. Ask yourself these questions:
- How far is your delivery zone from your products? Do your workflows and picking processes follow that path?
- Is your inventory area running into your receiving and delivery zones or docks? Does this leave these two teams fighting for space?
- Are there teams on your floor that need more space?
- Are your team members constantly having to double back to complete orders?
- Once items are picked, is there space for them to be packed?
- Are you not taking advantage of additional space to store inventory?
It’s beneficial to create a scaled floor map of your warehouse to discover the best configuration for your facility.
Add Organizational Tools
Choosing picking paths and inventory placements help at your warehouse at large be more efficient. Additionally, you can implement a few smaller tools into your employees’ daily life to increase productivity. For example:
- Bins are a helpful tool for manufacturers of small parts or items, such as bolts, screws or nails. They can be safely stored here as employees continue to pick other items.
- Light-directed technology can help pickers quickly identify the items they’re looking for and the amount they need. This seems especially helpful for warehouses with smaller products.
- Larger product retailers can provide tote bags for their employees to make transporting products easier.
- Handheld scanners can help your employee ensure they’re picking the right items for their order, reducing the possibility of missing or wrong items for the customer.
By adjusting your warehouse to address these common mistakes, you can create a working environment that’s more successful for your business and fosters a safer, healthier and more productive workplace for your employees.
Invest in Material Handling Machines
Repetitive strain injuries are caused by overuse of specific muscles, and these injuries are some of the most common ones in the manufacturing industry. If your employees are working to take on additional responsibilities on top of their normal tasks due to fewer employees, your team members could be at risk.
Talk to your employees, and ask how difficult it is to move your inventory. You might be surprised to hear that some storage systems place products too high to be accessible, or that pallets or other storage units are too heavy to be moved.
In these circumstances, it’s time to consider material handling tools that can manage these tasks for them like industrial manipulators.
An industrial manipulator is a machine with a rigid steel manipulator arm that allows for complex pneumatic tilts and rotations.
For example, Dalmec industrial manipulators are often used when:
- A product is too heavy for a person to move manually
- A product must be moved to a location that is not easily or quickly accessible for a person to reach (such as a very tall shelf)
- A person will be put at risk for injury if they move a product manually
- A person will quickly fatigue from moving products manually
- A high volume of products must be moved in a timely fashion
An industrial manipulator can help your team work quickly and safely to help offset any jobs lost due to COVID, and save you money in the long-run by reducing the risk of injury, lowering down-time and potentially avoiding costly court cases.
Protect Your Employees
Although warehouses need to come together during times like these and continue to be productive, it should not be at the expense of your employees’ physical and emotional health.
If you think your warehouse would benefit from the help of industrial manipulators, contact us today. We’d be happy to find a unique solution that works for your warehouse.