The UK warehouse and logistics sector has undergone a major shift in recent years, with the pandemic causing an ecommerce boom that has transformed the nature of work. Online demand and home delivery is a huge challenge, especially when considering that one retailer or manufacturer can have tens or hundreds of thousands of different products that need to be handled, picked, packed and delivered quickly and efficiently. And, with many businesses offering next and even same day delivery options to remain competitive, operatives are under more time pressure than ever before.
This, along with Brexit, has led to a growing problem with the availability of driver and warehouse operatives. Research by the CILT found 86% of companies had experienced warehouse operative shortages in the past two years, while 60% suffered driver shortages. Not only can high order volumes and targets put strain on an under-resourced business, but it also takes its toll on employees both physically and mentally. This stress is often coupled with unsociable hours, physical and often repetitive work – or for drivers, long periods sitting still – and safety risks. Employers in the warehouse and logistics sectors need to place a greater focus on employee safety and wellbeing in the workplace, not just in the interests of recruitment and retention, but to show they genuinely value and care about their people.
Organisations should encourage physical movement at regular intervals, such as walking or stretching away from the work station or outside of the vehicle to break up long periods of sitting or repetitive motions. Irregular schedules and long distances can make it difficult for drivers to maintain a healthy work-life balance, but offering more flexibility with shorter shifts and more frequent breaks can make the job more attractive and help to reduce stress and boost overall wellbeing.
Opportunities to rotate employees across different warehouse roles in order to create more variation should be explored. Where possible, employees should also be provided with ergonomic equipment that can be adjusted to fit each individual to reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries. Similarly, for drivers that spend long hours on the road, a comfortable and properly equipped vehicle is vital. Open dialogue is also vital to underpin this and ensure that employees have everything they need to do their job and feel comfortable to request additional aids or equipment as needed.
It’s also crucial that mental health is treated with the same importance as physical health. Organisations need to provide access to support and resources to help employees manage stress and other mental health issues that may arise from the job. Individuals and employees want to feel valued and actions to promote this are vital to counter the temptation in a cost of living crisis to move to another employer offering slightly higher pay. Wincanton is just one organisation that takes a holistic approach to employee wellbeing, with its programme incorporating awareness campaigns, support groups, and access to personalised wellbeing content.
It can also be worth considering how automation can help support employee safety and wellbeing. Our recent research highlighted how automation has enabled one global safety lead to increase safety in busy MHE operating areas, while another shared how automation has meant they’re less exposed to staff absence, ensuring continuity and consistency of operations when operative numbers are reduced. Additionally, automation can help improve the nature of the job, handling more of the repetitive monotonous tasks and freeing up employees to manage more fulfilling and engaging tasks and take on supervisory roles.
Creating a safer, healthier working culture for employees provides numerous benefits for businesses, with greater job satisfaction, retention and productivity being just a handful of them. Showing real care towards improving warehouse operative and driver health, safety and wellbeing can be a huge competitive differentiator in the battle for talent and will make warehouse and logistics careers a more attractive and fulfilling prospect in the first place.