Optimising warehouse efficiency requires a positive relationship with the workforce

Optimising warehouse efficiency requires a positive relationship with the workforce

William Walker (pictured), Sales Director of Walker Logistics Ltd discusses with ITM how important a positive relationship with the workforce is when promoting efficiency in the warehouse.

Staff matter

The recent media coverage of Sports Direct’s treatment of its workforce has shone a light on that company’s ‘strategy’ for maximising the cost efficiency of its warehouse staff.

In case you missed it, conditions at Sports Direct’s warehouse facility in Derbyshire have been described in the national press as ‘being closer to a Victorian workhouse than a modern High Street retailer.’

Workers, it is alleged, were paid less than the legal minimum wage and, with ambulances reportedly called to attend incidents at the site 76 times in two years, the company’s approach to health and safety rules was, at best, it seems, somewhat ‘cavalier.’

Thankfully, the Sports Direct model is not one that, to my knowledge and experience, is replicated at other logistics centres in the UK.

Putting aside what appears to be the company’s fairly blatant moral and HR shortcomings, Sports Direct’s publicised issues seem to reflect a fundamental misunderstanding by senior management of how to operate a labour-intensive warehouse operation.

Of course, in a large facility such as Sports Direct’s not everything is going to be perfect all the time, but running a distribution centre like a ‘Victorian workhouse’ is neither ethical nor is it likely to lead to a productive environment.

Increasing warehouse productivity is a top priority for logistics and fulfillment solutions providers and, although it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint precise areas that require attention if optimum efficiency is to be achieved, workforce relations should never be overlooked.

Lack of engagement is one of the main reasons why people under-perform in any business, so it is essential that warehouse staff are motivated.

At Walker we encourage members of our warehouse team to think about their role and at regular meetings we review our processes and discuss how our systems might work better.

At these gatherings team members are urged to suggest their ideas for improvement. After all, the people who work in the warehouse are experts in what they do and they are the ones with ‘hands-on’ experience of any operational issues that could be polished up.

Labour tracking technology allows us to monitor the performance of individual warehouse staff and if the data received highlights that, for example, picking targets are not being met, we discuss the challenges and any matters that may be causing the shortfall with staff and management in an open and constructive way.

We strive to ascertain if, for instance, the layout of the store could be reconfigured to allow throughput goals to be reached or consider if a problem with product labeling, data capture hardware or even our materials handling equipment is causing the problem.

In short, we will look at every aspect of our operation and only conclude that an individual worker may be at fault if all other possibilities have been eliminated.

The logistics industry is very good at complaining about the difficulties it faces when it comes to attracting good quality workers, but at Walker Logistics we have always enjoyed good workforce relations and sourcing staff is, generally, not a problem for us.

Not every logistics company can say the same and those firms that find it hard to fill shop-floor vacancies are likely to discover that their task has been made a little harder by Sports Direct.