How to Work with Millennials in the Warehouse

By now, we’re all aware of some of the stereotypes associated with millennials in the workplace. This generation of 20- and 30-somethings has amassed a number of negative – as well as some positive – labels about work ethic, interaction style and loyalty. While it is of course unfair and inaccurate to assume all millennials embody these common characteristics, the stereotypes pinned to this generation have emerged for a reason. And yet, as millennials become an increasingly larger force among U.S. employees, their presence – and the characteristics that come with it – cannot be ignored.

The retail space is no exception. As e-commerce continues to grow and more and more baby boomers and older workers retire, millennials’ presence in the retail warehouse and throughout the supply chain is becoming increasingly crucial. The challenge now becomes how to manage this important group of employees. The following article looks at how millennials in the workplace differ from previous generations, the steps managers can take to improve relations with this group, and why effective management of this group is so important to get right. 

Understanding the Millennial Employee 

Millennial workers want more than their predecessors. In generations past, engagement in the warehouse was measured based on progress and productivity – employees getting their jobs done well and at a reasonable pace. Those measures are not enough for today’s worker. Millennials want to feel engaged, fulfilled and motivated in the workplace, and chances are that if they don’t, they’ll jump ship. Gallup Research found that millennials who are engaged at work are 64% less likely to consider a job change than those who are disengaged. So in order to make use of today’s younger workforce, reduce churn and improve employee retention, managers must learn how to work with millennials and adapt to the needs of this generation. 

Reaching the Next Generation

In an effort to cater to millennials, warehouse leaders should actively change their management approach. An effective strategy is to focus on enhancing individual employee engagement and boosting satisfaction. This can be achieved in part by aligning individual employee activities with established organizational goals and metrics and by providing employees with frequent feedback about their performance. It’s important for millennials – any employees, really – to understand how their performance contributes to the overall success of the organization. Knowing their contribution makes a difference can instill a sense of satisfaction and help drive motivation.

One way that warehouse managers can actively boost engagement is to emulate consumer applications like Fitbit, the popular fitness wearable that sends its users a weekly email summarizing their physical performance. Warehouse managers can also tap available mobile technology in this way and share regular reports with employees via their smartphones. This approach utilizes popular gamification concepts to engage, motivate and incentivize success, and it reaches millennials in a familiar and non-threatening way. Getting a regular performance snapshot helps employees better understand how their work contributes to overall company progress, as well as how they rank against their peers, which instills a friendly sense of competition.

Adapting Communications 

When it comes to communication with the millennial workforce, most warehouse managers have significant room to improve. Stereotypically, millennials are addicted to their smartphones – they engage with them daily and have been doing so for most of their lives. Warehouse managers should take advantage of this familiarity and use it for workplace communications as well. Creating an intuitive user interface that is familiar and part of employees’ everyday experience and connecting with millennials via a medium they’re comfortable and familiar with can go a long way toward promoting engagement and driving their success. Additionally, finding ways to send quick performance summaries and feedback can help change the often-negative feelings toward “workplace assessments.” Instead, approaching engagement and performance from a more mobile, user friendly “push notification” perspective is more likely to motivate employees.

The Takeaway 

Millennials are a growing percentage of the workforce, and as older generations retire, this group is becoming increasingly important to companies. The numbers suggest that by 2020 millennials will make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce – they’re a group that cannot be ignored. Additionally, it behooves any organization to focus on retaining employees, and millennials are notorious for job hopping. In fact, the Gallup study found that 60 percent of millennials are open to switching jobs and only half say they plan to be at their current job a year down the line. Unengaged millennials are more likely to job hop, which increases recruitment and training costs for new hires.

Focusing on engaging the millennial workforce is in the best interest of warehouse managers. Failing to adapt to the needs of this generation could mean decades of employee churn ahead and millions lost on unnecessary hiring and training costs.

Peter Schnorbach is Senior Director of Product Management for Manhattan Associates

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