Helping Employees Avoid Burnout in the High-Stress Warehouse Setting

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Americans are more stressed than ever before, and they’re experiencing work-related burnout in higher numbers as well. That’s largely due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the amplified worries that people have experienced over their work, their families, and their health and well-being.

While burnout occurs in workplaces across nearly all industries, affecting people at every level of business, it’s especially prevalent in settings like warehouses. The warehouse environment offers unique challenges at all times, and those challenges have been magnified in the last two years.

If you’re in a leadership role for a business that operates warehouses, you’re likely intimately familiar with these challenges. But how can you protect your employees from the dangerous effects of burnout? We have a few suggestions.

The Causes of Burnout in Warehouse Workers

Let’s first consider what makes burnout a workplace risk in a warehouse. 

Even at the best of times, when operations are running smoothly, the role of a warehouse worker is rife for stress. There are a number of factors involved, including the nature of shift work, the long hours often associated with shifts, the pressure to avoid mistakes, a demanding pace, and often-unreasonable expectations for production.

The last factor listed may be the biggest driver of pandemic-time burnout. When COVID-19 precautions were lifted beginning in the summer of 2020, people rushed out to make purchases, often resulting in shortages of many items. Those shortages, in turn, led to an intense pressure for manufacturers to restock, which filtered down to the workers themselves. 

Warehouse workers in 2022 are being asked to fulfill demanding quotas to restock shelves and meet demands. That’s a recipe for burnout.

How Companies Can Limit the Risk for Burnout

Increased expectations for output aren’t likely to go away anytime soon, even in the face of inflation. Consumer demand is still high. 

But companies have to find a way to carefully balance the need to produce with the need to ensure the well-being of their warehouse workers. These steps are a good place to begin:

  • Reassess the length of shifts. Being on the job for a long period of time can be stressful in and of itself. When you combine the length of the shift with the enhanced expectations currently present, the risk of intense stress is magnified. Think about reevaluating whether shorter shifts would be more effective, boosting overall productivity while also lowering the risk for burnout. Even if shift length is kept the same, ensure that workers are getting multiple breaks to step away from their work.
  • Do a deep dive into expectation-setting. While there’s an increased demand for product right now, it’s important that expectations remain realistic. Are your workers able to meet their quotas without showing visible signs of exhaustion and strain? Are they regularly missing the target? It may be necessary to hit the reset button on expectations to keep them manageable and avoid losing workers.
  • Review processes and procedures. A messy, disruptive work environment and procedures can lead to a feeling of chaos before the work shift even begins. Ensure that employees are able to step into an organized setting to begin their work, which is not only more productive but also safer.
  • Be supportive. Warehouse workers need to know they’re valued and that their needs are important. A support structure should start at the top with executive leadership and be carried throughout the business. One often-undervalued support mechanism? Effective and consistent communication between leadership and employees.
  • Recognize the signs of burnout. Would you know if your employees were experiencing burnout? Keep an eye out for fatigue, feelings of apathy or dissatisfaction with work, increased irritability, headaches, GI issues, changes to normal routines like diet or sleep, increased mistakes, and an increased number of missed work days or late arrivals, which can all be signs of the overwhelming stress that’s indicative of burnout.
  • Offer employees a way to signal they need help. Warehouse workers need an easily accessible way to let their management team know that they’re overwhelmed or in need of assistance. An anonymous feedback mechanism can help them share their concerns in a way they would not feel comfortable doing with an open-door policy or other techniques.

Why a Feedback Resource Can Help

We mentioned above that effective communication is often overlooked when it comes to providing warehouse workers the resources they need to be successful. 

When it comes to supporting employees, companies often try to think of solutions before seeking the input of employees about what’s actually needed. Those assumptions lead to missteps in many cases.

Offering warehouse workers a feedback program is one way of providing valuable support while also establishing the groundwork for more effective solutions within your business.

“A feedback tool gives workers the ability to speak up and find a trusting outlet to do that,” says Katie Love, Marketing Director at WorkHound. “Offering them a channel and being upfront about having a safe space to air concerns helps workers feel comfortable raising a red flag without feeling they will get into trouble.”

Taking the additional step of ensuring the feedback tool allows for anonymous feedback can be particularly helpful when it comes to worker mental health.

“Sometimes workers will use the feedback tool as a bit of a journal,” Love says. “Going through the effort of writing out how they’re feeling can be really beneficial. It not only empowers the worker to begin addressing their feelings but also enables their employer to offer help and support.”

Want to take further action to help your workers overcome burnout? Download WorkHound’s free Burnout Guide to learn more about relieving burnout at your organization.

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