Hiring and training operations employees can be costly — but not as costly or time-consuming as replacing them if they leave the company. To retain good warehouse workers and drivers, distributors need to acknowledge their contributions and reward them for a job well done.

“People value a manager who recognizes their accomplishments and the value of their work,” says Frank Hurtte, founding partner of River Heights Consulting in Davenport, Iowa. “They want to feel as though they have input into the decisions of how their work is done. If you provide these things for people in your business, they’re going to stay, regardless of their position.”

Delivery drivers, for example, are a frontline asset for distributors and should be recognized as such.

“That driver is representing your company at more places a day than your best salesperson,” says Hurtte. “Figure out a way for that truck driver to solve some sales-related issues, and do everything in your power to convince that driver that their job in not just to drive your truck to the customer’s site.”

Hurtte recalls one client who had their truck drivers give can coolers with the company name on them to customers that were particularly helpful.

“Doing that really made a difference in the way the customers thought of the truck drivers — but more importantly in the way the truck drivers thought of themselves,” he says. “People need to feel like they’re involved and making a difference, and that when they do something out of the ordinary, someone’s going to step up and say ‘thank you.’”

Sometimes showing appreciation for employees and boosting their morale can be as simple as remembering their names.

“The guys at the dock will try to remember as many names as possible,” says Gary Bright, vice president and general manager of Mission Janitorial and Abrasive Supplies in San Diego. “It’s like when you walk into a restaurant and they remember your name; it makes you feel good to know you’re not just a number.”

Incentives For Warehouse Workers and Drivers

Some distributors have had success with incentive programs that not only reward employees for good work but also promote loyalty to the company.

Miami-based Dade Paper offers a safety incentive program to both drivers and warehouse workers.

“Drivers make up one team, and then we split the warehouse into two teams — the night crew and the day crew,” says Andy Baltzell, general manager for Dade Paper. “Every quarter an employee works without an accident, he gets a monetary bonus split between himself and his team. That goes up every quarter and can potentially quadruple in amount for both the individual and the team. If there’s an accident on any one of those shifts, the team bonus and the individual bonus go back to zero.”

The night crew is also incentivized for the number of cases they can load during their shift.

“We track the number of pieces they pull and average it out,” explains Baltzell. “The more pieces they can pull, the more they can make per hour.”

Orders must have 98.5 percent or higher accuracy for employees to receive their bonus. To monitor accuracy, the company relies on feedback from drivers to determine whether or not there were any picking errors.

But not all incentives have to be monetary to retain workers. Mission Janitorial holds a luncheon and Halloween contest with prizes for its employees, including warehouse workers, and occasionally buys pizza for its drivers. Drivers also work four-day weeks — another popular incentive, according to Bright.

Baltzell offers warehouse workers and drivers perks such as lunches and season tickets to the Miami Marlins professional baseball team. The company also allows employees to bring their children to work at times when childcare is unavailable.

“We’re a family-owned organization that’s become very large, but we still try to keep that family atmosphere,” says Baltzell.

Training Warehouse Workers Leads To Longevity

In addition to offering incentive programs, distributors have found that proper training from the get-go can help reduce turnover rates down the line. Employees that are well informed of their job duties upfront and receive ongoing training and feedback are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs.

“We encourage organizations to coach people as opposed to just using the once-a-year performance review,” says Howard Coleman, principal, MCA Associates in Derby, Conn. “We have a couple of clients that coach each employee for just 15 minutes a month. Discussions should focus on how they’re doing, what they can be doing better, and then establishing goals that are reviewed the following month. This way you see continuous progress, as opposed to having an employee come in once a year for a performance review and then get punched in the face with all the things he didn’t do.”

According to Hurtte, the first few weeks for a new hire are crucial — and while it may be tempting to sit back and let the newbie “settle in,” now is the time to amp up training and prepare that person for the job ahead.

“When distributors hire someone, I’d like for them to carefully plan out what the first three weeks of that person’s experience with the company’s going to look like,” says Hurtte. “Often, that first three weeks sets the pace for the rest of that person’s career. Investing time in those first weeks makes the employee more effective faster — especially in warehouse situations — and reduces costly errors.”

To help identify areas where training is essential, distributors need to understand the employee’s strengths as well as his or her weaknesses. These can be determined using the assessment tools previously mentioned.

“Retaining workers goes back to understanding who the employee is, not only in terms of knowledge and skills but also their behavioral style,” says Coleman. “Many of these assessment tools provide a lot of detail that allow you to understand the strengths as well as weaknesses of an employee. One of the aspects of retaining people is to try to remedy where in fact they may have some of those weaknesses.”

To avoid constant turnover, distributors are well advised to keep employees happy — beyond a good salary and benefits package. Drivers and warehouse workers want to feel appreciated as much as any other employee. They need to know that their contributions make a difference. Taking the time to acknowledge and reward them for their efforts can lead to a long and fruitful tenure with the company.  

“We try to take care of our associates as best we can and treat everyone the way we want to be treated,” says Baltzell. “We learned a long time ago that it’s easier to keep the people we have than constantly retrain people.”  

For tips on recruiting quality employees, click here.

Kassandra Kania is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C. She is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance.