Reducing Key Employee Dependency in Warehouse Operations

May 20, 2024 | Blog

Managing warehouse operations efficiently is no small feat, and one of the most common pitfalls for
supply chain businesses is hiring temporary workers to fill workforce gaps.

Understaffed warehouses frequently turn to temporary labor as a quick fix for their immediate staffing needs. The logic behind this decision is straightforward: more hands on deck should mean faster work and improved productivity, right?

Not necessarily. The reality is relying on temporary staff to run a warehouse can create more problems
than it solves. Let’s look into why this approach can hinder long-term success and how you can avoid
falling into the trap of key employee dependency by implementing a robust Warehouse Management
System (WMS).


Why is hiring temporary staff a mistake?

1. Inefficiency Due to a Learning Curve

Temporary workers often lack the in-depth knowledge and training that long-term employees develop over time. While they may possess general warehouse skills, their unfamiliarity with specific workflows and systems means that there is often a steep learning curve. The time required to bring them up to speed can negate the benefits of a quick hiring process.
In a well-optimized warehouse operation, efficient workflows and a thorough understanding of inventory management are essential. A temporary worker’s inability to grasp these quickly can lead to misplaced inventory, inaccurate order fulfillment, and a disruption of existing team cohesion. Even minor errors can cause cascading effects that might result in unhappy customers, costly returns, or even canceled contracts.

2. Lack of Buy-In and Reliability

Temporary staff rarely have the same level of commitment and loyalty to the business as full-time employees. They know they are only there for a limited time, which leads to less engagement and motivation. This lack of buy-in can result in higher rates of absenteeism, tardiness, and turnover, further exacerbating the staffing issue.
Additionally, full-time staff may perceive the introduction of temporary workers as a lack of long-term investment in their roles, potentially demotivating the entire team. This dynamic can create divisions within the workforce, where trust and communication suffer.

3. Band-Aid Solution to Systemic Issues

Relying on temps may mask underlying problems in warehouse operations, such as inefficient workflows or outdated processes. By only addressing the symptom (staffing shortages) rather than the root cause (inefficiencies), businesses risk creating a revolving door of temporary staff without solving the actual problem.
This approach ignores more profound issues in warehouse management, such as inaccurate inventory records, lack of standardization in workflows, or insufficient training programs. Simply replacing staff does not address these systemic flaws and can prevent a business from achieving lasting operational excellence.

What should supply chain businesses do instead?

To reduce dependence on temporary labor and minimize the risk of key employee dependency in your warehouse operations, the solution lies in implementing a comprehensive Warehouse Management System. A WMS offers a strategic and sustainable alternative to address staffing challenges, streamline operations, and improve overall productivity.
A WMS integrates software and hardware systems that automate, optimize, and centralize warehouse functions. From receiving goods to picking and packing, a good WMS system will cover every step with precision and accuracy.


How does investing in a WMS solve staffing issues and boost productivity?

1. Streamlined Workflows

A WMS optimizes warehouse processes, standardizes workflows, and eliminates inefficiencies. It makes it easy to train new employees by providing clear guidelines and intuitive navigation through each task. This reduces onboarding time and allows new staff to integrate quickly and effectively.
A well-defined workflow minimizes the need for workers to “figure it out” themselves, leading to faster onboarding and reducing the risks of incorrect inventory placement, improper order picking, or other costly errors. Workers can focus on execution rather than second-guessing the process.

2. Minimizes Reliance on Key Employees

Instead of relying on specific employees to manage crucial tasks, a WMS provides detailed instructions and real-time inventory visibility to anyone accessing the system. This ensures that the entire team, not just a few individuals, can handle vital tasks like order picking, stock replenishment, and shipment scheduling.
A strong WMS also contains built-in analytics to identify key performance indicators (KPIs). It can identify bottlenecks, allowing managers to allocate resources effectively and predict future trends. This prevents overburdening select staff members, ensuring a more equitable workload distribution.

3. Increased Employee Engagement

A WMS can improve employee satisfaction by providing greater transparency and accountability. Workers can access their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to track their productivity and see how their efforts contribute to the overall success of the operation.
Gamification elements, such as challenges and rewards, can further incentivize productivity and retention.

Instead of feeling micromanaged or invisible, employees can visualize their goals and achievements within the WMS interface. This level of transparency fosters accountability, empowering staff to take ownership of their work. Gamification adds an extra layer of engagement, with leaderboards, “coins,” and badges turning daily tasks into opportunities for rewards and recognition.

4. Scalable and Flexible

Warehouse Management Systems are designed to adapt to business growth. As your company scales, the WMS can be tailored to meet your evolving needs, reducing the need for temporary staff and helping you maintain an efficient workforce.
You can expand or modify the system to fit new products, multiple locations, or different distribution strategies. A WMS is modular, meaning businesses can add features like labor management, dock scheduling, and compliance tracking as needed.

5. Visibility and Analytics

A WMS offers comprehensive data and analytics that provide insights into performance, allowing businesses to identify areas of improvement and refine processes. By using data to drive decisions, companies can proactively address staffing issues rather than relying on stop-gap measures.

The system generates reports that highlight peak hours, problem areas, and underutilized resources.
Managers can use these insights to design shifts, establish realistic goals, and uncover training needs. This proactive approach reduces downtime, minimizes overtime costs, and leads to smarter staffing

Employee Engagement and Retention in Warehouse Operations

A WMS isn’t just about reducing reliance on key employees; it’s also an essential tool for improving employee retention and engagement. Warehouses with high turnover rates spend significant time and money on hiring, onboarding, and training new staff. By giving workers more visibility into their productivity and offering rewards, a WMS can create a more satisfying work environment. When employees see their progress and receive recognition for their achievements, they are more likely to stay with the company and develop valuable skills.

Gamification and Rewards: Engage your team by setting up challenges that reward them with “coins” or points for meeting daily goals. They can exchange these points for prizes or incentives, making work feel like a fun, achievable competition. This is an add on that Supplysoft easily integrates with Körber’s K.Motion Edge WMS.

KPI Visibility: Make KPIs accessible to every worker so they can understand where they stand and how they can improve. When employees feel they are contributing to the warehouse’s success, they become more invested in the business.

Cross-Training Opportunities: A WMS makes it easier to cross-train staff for different roles. Employees can gain new skills while providing the flexibility needed to fill in for absent colleagues, reducing dependence on key individuals.


Building a Future-Proof Warehouse

Körber’s K.Motion Edge WMS is a fully customizable solution designed for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). It offers intuitive modules that address critical warehouse operations, from managing inventory and picking orders to processing returns and improving workflow visibility.
Here are some key points Supplysoft uses as a starting point for improving clients warehouse operations-

1. Inventory Management: Track inventory levels in real-time, ensuring you always have accurate stock counts and avoid overstocking or under-stocking. Implement automated replenishment alerts and cycle counts to reduce inventory discrepancies.

2. Order Fulfillment Optimization: Configure picking methods that best suit your business model, whether single-order, batch, or wave picking. Reduce errors and increase accuracy with barcode scanning and pick-to-light systems.

3. Labor Management: Track employee productivity and identify opportunities for process improvements. Use built-in analytics to balance workloads and reduce bottlenecks during peak seasons.

4. Integrated Returns Processing: Streamline returns processing with seamless reintegration of returned goods back into your active inventory or isolate them for quality inspection. This minimizes delays and reduces the impact of returns on customer satisfaction.

5. Workflow Visibility: Ensure transparency in every process by monitoring KPIs in real-time. Detailed dashboards and reports help managers identify gaps, measure performance, and implement corrective actions promptly.

6. Scalability and Flexibility: Choose from different modules and add-ons to fit your exact requirements. Expand as your business grows, and modify workflows to meet the demands of changing customer preferences or new markets.

Real-Life Example: How Implementing K.Motion Edge with Supplysoft Helped One Business Reduce Staff Turnover

A client of Supplysoft who went live with their WMS solution in 2019, a medium-sized distributor of consumer electronics, struggled with high staff turnover due to low employee morale and inefficient workflows. Their warehouse depended heavily on a few key employees who managed inventory and order fulfillment. Any absence or departure from these key individuals created significant disruptions.

After implementing a WMS through Supplysoft, they transformed their workflows with optimized picking strategies, automated inventory management, and cross-trained staff. They also integrated KPI incentives that rewarded high performers, as warehouse employees are now able to track their own work in real-time.

Within six months, staff turnover was reduced by 40%, productivity increased by 25%, and employee satisfaction scores improved dramatically. The streamlined workflows made onboarding easier, and the KPI incentives created a more positive and motivated team environment.

In Conclusion

Temporary workers may seem like a quick fix for an understaffed warehouse, but this approach often leads to inefficiency, lack of engagement, and a continued reliance on key employees. Instead, implementing a Warehouse Management System is an investment in the business that can help streamline workflows, reduce training times, and foster a more engaged and committed workforce.