For True Employee Engagement, Invest in your Supervisors

Our clients frequently approach us for guidance on how to address the current challenges of the qualified labor shortage.

This has been a reoccurring problem throughout the country; companies are struggling to retain current staff and compete for new employees…and this problem is especially exasperating in peak season.

As a result, we are seeing many companies invest millions of dollars in programs and technology to address this challenge.

What is Employee Engagement?

The employee engagement puzzle is made of many pieces. It’s a subjective measure, so a single definition that applies to every company is difficult to come by. In general, it refers to the emotional connection employees have to the company. A truly engaged employee cares about their work and how the company performs. Having greater employee engagement metrics is on every company’s wish list. To achieve it, companies can utilize any number of tactics.

  • Implementing labor management programs that recognize achievement and reward top performers. Labor management programs are also used to proactively coach and support others to achieve success in a positive environment. 
  • Employing incentive plans, both monetary and non-monetary, to provide added motivation above hourly base wages.
  • Putting workforce management systems into practice to optimize shift schedules and provide flexibility for employees.
  • Creating a more enjoyable work environment through facility enhancements and perks, such as gyms, high-end cafeterias and break rooms with team and culture-building games.
  • Utilizing employee engagement programs and digital workplace apps that specialize in employee communication, open shift marketplaces, shift swapping and gamified rewards.

While these initiatives help drive team engagement and create a more enjoyable workplace,  a major factor is absent from the list: investment in the front-line supervisors.

The Massive Impact—and Responsibilities—of Frontline Supervisors

Supervisors can single-handedly create either a positive or negative work environment. They have the most one-on-one interaction with hourly associates. Everyone has heard of the phrase, people don’t quit a job, they quit a boss.

Retaining motivated employees and keeping them engaged is therefore directly related to what tools, training and investments are made in supervisors. Empowering them to become better leaders and coaches will in turn foster a positive work environment.

Frontline supervisors are truly caught between a rock and a hard place. On the employee side, they are asked to manage and motivate a highly diverse workforce in the most competitive job market of our lifetime. On the company side, they are pushed to achieve the ever-increasing productivity and service levels expectations of the digital economy.

As they work to balance the performance of direct reports and the expectation of the leaders they report to, frontline supervisors’ are asked to do a lot. Their job description might look something like this:

  • Understand technology platforms, warehouse control systems, troubleshoot automation, reduce downtime and increase overall utilization. 
  • Identify lean concepts and waste in the system and drive process improvements. 
  • Analyze labor management reports, and business intelligence analytics to identify trends in performance and utilization data and identify the root cause of issues.  
  • Become coaches and motivators and drive performance excellence. 
  • Have tough conversations with their associates about performance and show empathy for personal problems that show up at work. 
  • Take complete ownership of their department and stay within their budget.
  • And moreover, whatever happens, don’t miss a cutoff time or shipment!

Smart Investments in Supervisor Success

As the list above shows, we’re asking supervisors to do everything! Yet, in many cases, they have not had the type of training to be successful.

Many companies don’t even have the right span of control (i.e. number of supervisors to hourly associates) so supervisors are stretched so thin that they can’t possibly be effective. And finally, supervisors’ wage rates and compensation packages are often misaligned for the dynamic skills and countless job requirements they are being asked to have, which drives turnover at a position where companies can least afford it.

Conversations around employee engagement are still very important and should always be top-of-mind—especially in this highly competitive job market—but it’s time to start the conversation on leader engagement for frontline supervisors. Investing in the people in these crucial positions will create positive returns that ripple throughout the company.

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