Best Practices

25 Employee Engagement Tips From a Successful Warehouse Manager


“Labor-intensive”, “long hours”, “high-turnover” are some of the common words used to describe warehouse jobs. And the numbers tend to support these deep-rooted conceptions.

According to a 2014 Gallup survey, while 31.4% of American white-collar workers are engaged in their jobs, only 23% of manufacturing or production employees claim to be.

We hear and read a lot that warehouse, and more generally blue-collar employees, have a hard time engaging with their job. The question is: what exactly is the issue, and how can we fix it?

Determined to find out what companies could do to better engage their warehouse workers, we decided to meet with Manuel, a Warehouse Manager of a small startup company based in Montreal, and his team, composed of Bruno, Sofia, and Alexander.

Related: How to Engage Manufacturing Industry Employees

Here’s what they said.

What Working In a Disengaging Company Feels Like

After years of working as a manager for several companies in the distribution warehousing sector, Manuel knows a thing or two about employee engagement and how it affects people who perform manual labor all day long.

“This is the job, and if you don’t like it, I’ll find someone else to do it” was pretty much the motto of his former employers, Manuel explains.

“We were not given the proper resources or tools, we weren’t recognized for our hard work, and we felt secluded from the rest of the company. It was an oppressive environment, warehouses where you knew you just didn’t matter”.

Manuel’s case is certainly not the exception, it’s sadly the rule.

Alexander, one of Manuel’s young warehouse colleagues, can also remember working for companies where white-collar employees would go out of their way not to speak to the warehouse crew.

And then there’s Bruno, an older, more experienced member of Manuel’s team who mostly worked for companies which had absolutely “zero” employee engagement strategies.

25 Employee Engagement Tips From a Warehouse Manager and His Team

Manuel now works for a company which makes employee engagement one of its top priorities; his team, Bruno, Sofia, and Alexander, well they admit that they’re actually, and finally happy at work.

How is this possible? Well, it’s because they now feel included in their company’s culture, valued by their bosses, and finally recognized for their important contribution to the success of the business.

Encouraging trust and inclusion, fostering team spirit, supporting social activities and collaboration, and welcoming constructive employee feedback… These are the positive and engaging things which tend to get people feeling good about their jobs. 

Manuel understands this and is now himself becoming an expert on the matters of employee engagement.

So if you’re looking to improve employee engagement in your workplace, here’s what you should do:

1. Ensure your team has proper resources

That’s the very first thing Manuel mentioned. Upper management shouldn’t skimp on resources for support and enhance safety, efficiency and productivity. Often in his career, Manuel would ask for additional resources, or tools he believed were important and needed. The answer he’d always get was a “no”. Sadly, that’s what often made his decision to leave the company that much easier.

2. Listen

“That doesn’t just mean you should listen to your coworkers, it’s really about taking what they tell you into consideration and acting upon it”, explains Manuel. As a Warehouse Manager, he encourages his team to voice their concerns and suggestions, which he believes contributes to the positive work environment he’s managed to foster.

3. Be transparent

“What I know, they’re going to know… it’s as simple as that”, says Manuel. According to him, Managers should be transparent with subordinates, take the time to fully explain what’s expected of them and encourage them to adopt leadership practices.

4. Practice Positive Reinforcement

Manuel believes in the benefits of positive reinforcement. Recognizing and reinforcing positive behaviors makes employees more engaged with their work, their colleagues, and ultimately the success of the business itself.  So how does this work in a warehouse?

“Well, say if an employee packs something particularly well, I ‘d recognized the value of their good work and thank them for it. I make it a point to positively reinforce the actions which led to their success… I want that behavior to be the norm, the new standard”, explains Manuel.

5. Recognize the good work

Recognizing your team for the great work they do every day is a no-brainer, according to Manuel. In fact, he never forgets to say “great job” after an employee turned in a difficult shift and practices positive reinforcement on a daily basis.

 “It can be packing and packaging faster that day, finishing a big shipment earlier than expected, or basically anything that shows real dedication to the job and the team”.

Luckily for Manuel and his team, the company where they work uses an Employee Recognition software called Applauz Recognition, which helps them reward the employees through a points and badging system. “When I notice an achievement, I give my teams points and make sure they know I value their hard work”, he explains.

Related: Applauz Helps Keep Team Motivated

6. Use Gamification

Warehouse workers, just like all other employees, like challenges which raise the stakes of the game and make it more fun. As part of his manager-employee engagement tactics, Manuel uses his company’s employee recognition software to organize friendly goal-focused competitions. “I usually recognize and rank my team members for attendance, special achievements, and when the entire team has done a great job. I give the first-place winner 150 points, the second one 100, and so on”, details Manuel. “That turns our work into a game where competition motivates them in a fun way and helps us to accomplish great things!”, he asserts.

7. Reward the winners

In the employee engagement equation, reward is just as important as recognition. For Manuel, it can take shape in the form of points awarded to his staff that can be redeemed on the Applauz Recognition marketplace, or something like “Donut Fridays” where he brings his team freshly baked doughnuts and coffee once a week. 

Related: 5 Reasons Why Employees Prefer Non-Cash Incentives and Rewards

8. Be humble

This applies more specifically to all the Managers out there. According to Manuel, it’s counterproductive to play the big boss ordering people around. As he rightly puts it:

“Be humble. You might be the Warehouse Manager, but at the end of the day, you’re just another human being, and so are your employees. It’s important to show them the respect they deserve.”

9. Foster trust

Warehouse workers handle goods all day, it’s essential they work with people who they can trust. Having confidence in your team and teammates is paramount to building positive and healthy coworker relationships. For Manuel, this means showing his employees he believes in their potential and trusting them enough to let them work freely and independently. “If you want to show your workers you trust them, you got to let them make their own decisions sometimes, it’s empowering”.

10. Encourage warehouse workers to participate in company events

Warehouse workers are generally physically secluded from the rest of the employee population given the nature of their work. The reality of working in this vacuum makes it harder for them to socialize and bond with other company departments. Employee engagement has a lot to do with how company culture affects the people who work in an organization. So encouraging your warehouse workers to participate in company events is a must if you want to keep people engaged and happy.

For instance, the company Manuel and his team work for organizes get-togethers on Fridays at 5 pm. The warehouse team, however, finish their shift at 4:30 but Manuel encourages them to stick around for the event.

11. Spend more time on the floor than in the office

Warehouse Managers are traditionally supposed to work from their office about 70% of the time and spend the remaining 30% on the floor with their employees. “During the interview for my current job, I said I believed it should be the reverse”, explains Manuel.  Even if office duties are a big part of his job, supervising and helping his team complete tasks on the floor remains one of Manuel’s top priorities and Bruno, Sofia and Alexander seem to like it that way.

12. Encourage connections with office workers

As much as participating in company events is important for a positive company culture, building relationships with colleagues from different departments is just as essential. For example, every morning before entering the warehouse, Alexander greets all his co-workers who work in accounting and sales with a big, smiley-faced “good morning everyone”. This may seem trite, but most of Alexander’s office colleagues, if not all, now know his name and chat with him, although he hasn’t been around for long and does not interact with them more during the day.

13. Participate in company-wide team building activities

Include your warehouse staff in office team-building activities. These social/professional company events are designed to strengthen the bonds between individuals. It’s a great opportunity for staff to mingle in a professional setting and foster positive human connections.

14. Stretching break

Physical work can be very demanding, so employees must be twice as careful about workplace wellness within a warehouse setting. As a matter of fact, Manuel encourages his team to participate in all company wellness initiatives. Alexander is more than happy to join in his company’s “stretching” time,  helping him to stay nimble and in good shape as he performs his daily warehouse duties.

15. Train team members for new opportunities

Manuel believes that with the right support, anyone can develop their potential. And for him, that means training his warehouse team for higher positions, including managerial ones. “I don’t feel threatened by that at all, it’s the normal course of things. If one of them comes to replace me one day, it would just mean I have succeeded at my job”, he asserts.

16. Lead by example

“I lead by example. You need to show your workers how that there’s no ego involved when it comes time to take on tasks… If I believe I can do things faster, I show my employees how, so that they can learn from me and do it on their own”, explains Manuel.

17. Delegate management for one day

As part of his training philosophy, Manuel has his team members manage the warehouse for an entire day. “Instead of them telling me how they would like things to be run, I’m giving them the opportunity to try their ideas”, he says. And in the end, it also helps employees understand what managing a team feels like.

18. Give feedback

Open and honest dialogue reinforces bonds, while also increasing productivity and accountability over time. 

19. Empathize

More than once in his life, Manuel was unsatisfied with the work of some of his team members. Spending too much on the phone, taking too many breaks, those are examples of behaviors that made Manuel believe the employee in question was just not a good fit. But then, his empathy kicked in. “I am always thinking: this person has bills, they have a family, I owe it to them to at least give them the opportunity to improve themselves”, he confesses. And most of the time, Manuel got great results. Sometimes, all it takes is a genuine, face-to-face discussion.

20. Align tasks with physical capabilities

“It’s so important to align task with physical capabilities. I try my best to ensure I don’t push people too much physically, and to assign them to tasks where they can be productive at the best of their abilities”, Manuel says.

21. Discuss mistakes meaningfully

“We all make mistakes”, Manuel admits. “Punishing employees is not the solution, but having the team discuss what they think they’ve done wrong helps them learn about the job and its requirements”, he adds.

22. Divide tasks on a daily basis

Dividing tasks, helping each other, helps productivity and employee engagement in general. Manuel team’s explained they were dividing tasks according to preferences, the mood of the day. “It’s good to know we can rely on each other”, admitted Bruno.

23. Work with music

Whenever you hit the gym, you like to listen to your favourite tunes, right? So, if you were to work in a physically demanding environment, you’d probably appreciate being able to listen to music. As Manuel’s team is pretty diverse in terms of age and cultural background, he lets all his warehouse workers choose the music they like.

24. Laugh

Work is nicer when you laugh with your team members. When asked what they liked about going to work, Bruno, Sofia, and Alexander answered: “We laugh a lot’, “we joke around”, “we’re having fun while working”.  And that is a great source of motivation.

25. Care

At the end of the day, employee engagement, whether in a warehouse or an open space, is all about caring. Caring for your employees, their well-being, their happiness at work.

“It’s about finding the invisible value of working for a company you really like, and in the end, it really has little to do with the paycheck you get”, concluded Manuel.