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Career Advancement Tips for Warehouse Employees

April 1, 2006
These basic truths of career advancement will help you land your next job.

Whether you're an operations employee at a large regional electrical distributor or a small one-or-two branch family-owned distributor, from a warehouse standpoint, the orders must be received, put away, picked, packed and shipped. It seems pretty simple, but less than 30 percent of all warehouses are efficient, and they average somewhere between 45 percent to 60 percent annual turnover rates. Labor accounts for 65 percent of the costs associated with distribution.

What does that mean to a warehouse operations employee? It means you are a pretty important part of the process. Keeping that in mind, have you given recent thought to your long-term career goals? Maybe a better question might be, do you have long-term career goals?

Most individuals don't know what they want; therefore, they don't know when they find it. Although most employees want to do a good job, they sometimes must be reminded what a good job is. The following steps will help you along your way toward doing a good job and achieving career goals.

Write down your goals. Ever wonder why the organization you work for puts the sales goals up ever month? They do it so the entire organization will focus on the outcome and not the obstacles. As an individual you are in control of your own organization and you have to post your goals as well. Saying you want a better job is not a goal. Saying you want a lot of money is not a goal. Saying you want to live in a better house is not a goal.

A goal is saying what type of job you want and when. A goal is saying how much money you want to earn and by when. A goal is saying how much you want to put down on your next house and when you will purchase it. You need to know where you are going before you begin the trip.

Goals allow you to see past the orders you are picking, the product you are receiving and the packages you are shipping.

1. Make a written list of your strengths and weaknesses.

You need to know what you do well and what you don't. This way, when a position within the company becomes available, you know whether you are truly qualified for that job and capable of succeeding at it. These are the things that will help you achieve your goals or keep you from them.

2. Ask yourself this question, “Can I see myself doing this job in 20 years?”

I remember watching a news story about a company where several people had been laid off. When the news reporter asked one man what he was going to do, he replied, “I don't know. I've worked here for 20 years, and this is all I know!”

That was the one of the saddest things I've ever heard. If you calculate the time off this person had during the 20 years he worked for the company, it equates to more than 55,000 hours — which is more than six years of straight free time, not including sleep. My mother told me when I was very young, “You earn a living from nine to five, but you earn a fortune from five to nine.” That person who lost his job could have done and learned whatever he wanted.

If you can't see yourself doing your current job 20 years from now, that's OK. The question to ask yourself is, “What am I currently doing with my free time?” You're probably spending some time with your kids, your significant other, driving to and from work everyday and watching that game on the weekend, but what are you doing to get closer to your goals? I'll bet you can carve out some time on the weekends or evenings to acquire the knowledge, know-how and resources needed to help achieve your goals.

3. Don't associate with negative individuals — at work or at home!

This is hard to do because most of us have been conditioned to be negative. “Don't work too hard. Take it easy. I am doing OK.” Those are all canned responses. When you ask a person how they are doing, why don't they reply, “Fantastic!”? Because they have been conditioned to think they are just OK. Television, magazines and the media in general tells us: You need a better job, a better car, a better spouse, and to earn more money. But what we need is to rid ourselves of this nonsense and the people who bring us down. They are pushing you further from your goals.

4. Think, think and think again.

Many folks look for answers from others instead of trying to solve problems themselves. When there is a problem, they ask friends, relatives and co-workers what they should do instead of thinking about the problem and coming up with a solution. Although seeking counsel is often a wise step in the decision-making process, people need to think through problems on their own, too.

Ask your supervisor where he or she sees you in five years. That is a question normally asked of prospective job candidates, but it will tell you what your boss thinks of you and your abilities. If he or she does not see you moving up, what does that mean to you?

Is your current position going to get you closer to achieving your goals? Or is it time to move on? Don't take your boss's response personally. You cannot ask such poignant questions and then be upset with the answers. You are merely on a fact-finding mission. Now that you have the facts, you have to think them through and make some decisions.

You are doing the company and yourself a disservice if you are unhappy and stay only because of the paycheck. Regardless of what your decision may be regarding whether to stay with the organization or move on, you must do the following things to be a good employee wherever you're employed.

5. Work while you are at work.

This is a strange concept for some people, but you are at a job — not a social club. There is nothing wrong with chit-chat — unless it interferes with the job you are being paid to do. It puts more pressure on the 20 percent of the individuals processing 80 percent of the work.

“CNN Money” did a survey and found most workers waste an average of 2.9 hours per day. That means if you are average, including lunch and breaks, you only work for 4.5 hours a day. Remember that when your company has its next layoff. Because that means half of you are not needed anyway.

6. Determine what average is and beat it by 10 percent.

If you are a picker and the average picker picks 100 orders a day, then pick 110 orders. This separates you from the pack and shows that you can do more. If you want to get paid more, you must first prove that you are worth more. If every two weeks your productivity improves 10 percent, imagine what will happen at raise time.

7. If you are a complainer, shut up!

No one wants to be miserable at work. If you feel you have been slighted by the organization, that is your problem. Either do something about it, talk to your supervisor, or leave.

No one wants to know about what happened or did not happen to you. They have their own problems to deal with. Stop complaining and do your job. If you must complain to someone, make it your supervisor.

8. Keep your work area clean.

There's no excuse for a dirty warehouse. If you are a picker or a put-away person, the aisles should be spotless. There shouldn't be shrink-wrap in the aisles; there shouldn't be empty boxes on the floor; and there shouldn't be pop cans or other trash on the shelves.

If you are a packer, it's difficult to be spotless, but at least be clean. A disorganized packing area screams, “Shipping errors occur here!”

If you are a supervisor, clean your desk. There is no excuse for unread magazines, freight bills, paperwork, pick tickets, etc., to be all over your desk. Every time there is a shipping error and your boss comes to talk to you about it, is that what you want him or her to see? Is that the image (confusion) you want them to take back to their office about you and the warehouse? Of course not! Your environment is a reflection of you.

9. Do something that is not your responsibility everyday.

Most people are quick to say, “That's not my responsibility.” Even if they don't vocalize it, many still think it.

Many warehouse employees will walk by a piece of trash on the floor several times a day without picking it up — mainly because it's not their job. You will get noticed for taking responsibility for things both big and little.

10. Stop being concerned with your pay.

This may be easier said than done, but you negotiated your salary; now you're stuck with it. If you did not negotiate it, you did agree to it. If you want more, you must contribute more.

Think of an apothecary scale. In theory, the more you put on the contributions side, the more the compensation side will rise — if not from your current employer, then from another. But you have to stop being concerned with what others are making in order for this to take effect. If you are concerned with the person who makes more than you, then you will do less and always make less.

11. Always take the job (promotion) that pays more money.

The more money you make, the more visual you become, and your next raise will be based on your current salary. If the company gives you a 4 percent increase and you make $12 per hour, that is much better than a 4 percent increase if you were making $8 per hour.

A picker making $15 dollars an hour is much harder to swallow than an inventory control person making $15 an hour.

Managing Today's Work Force: One Size Does Not Fit All!

12. Go to lunch with your boss once a month.

This is not “apple polishing” — it's to find out how you are doing. Most mid-level managers do not make time to adequately evaluate their employees. Therefore, when review and raise time comes around, employees are often surprised that their increase was so low. You need to know on a monthly basis how well you are doing. You need to know what areas need improvement. This way, when raise time comes around, there shouldn't be surprises.

13. Ask your supervisor every quarter for a list of his or her initiatives.

You need to know what is important to your supervisor. Those are the things you need to work on to help your supervisor out. Your boss has too many things to handle and would appreciate all the help he or she can get.

If you know what is on his or her plate, then you know what areas you need to volunteer in. Think about it this way: if the company plans to implement a new warehouse management system (WMS) at the end of the year, would it be best to volunteer to stay after and clean or to recommend to the supervisor that you stay after and measure locations? The only way to distinguish between the two is to know current and upcoming initiatives.

14. Read. Then read some more.

Would you go to a doctor who has not read a medical book since graduating from medical school? Think of the value you provide by being educated about your industry, your job and the position you aspire to have.

It's as simple as reading an industry magazine article twice a week. WMSs, RFID, and voice-directed picking are all coming to warehouses. The more you know about them before they get to you, the more valuable you are once they arrive.

Many warehouse personnel and supervisors are left out of meetings because management feels they cannot add any value to the meeting.

15. Research the job progression within the warehouse.

If you are a picker, what is the next position above that? Document what position you want next. If the next position from picking is receiving, then when a position for inventory control becomes available, and you are a picker, you will know why you may not be considered. Find out what it takes to move to the next position and begin working on it.

16. Learn the names of the company's top 25 customers.

You have to know who patronizes your organization. But you really have to know who spends the most with your organization. I know every small customer has the potential to become a big customer, but as the legendary University of Alabama football coach, Bear Bryant, said, “Potential means you ain't done it yet!”

17. Finish what you start.

When assigned a task, complete it. Then tell your supervisor, who assigned it to you, that it was completed and that they can scratch it off of their list. After they scratch it off, ask, “What's next?”

18. Keep a note pad and take notes.

A lot of warehouse supervisors do not keep accurate notes. They think they can remember everything. Therefore, make it your responsibility to take notes of the tasks you are assigned. This shows your supervisor you are a conscientious employee.

Rene Jones is the founder of Total Logistics Solutions Inc., a warehouse efficiency consulting company headquartered in Burbank, Calif., and the author of “This Place Sucks! What your warehouse employees think about your company and how to change their perceptions.” Jones can be reached at (818) 353-2962 or by e-mail at [email protected]. Visit the firm's Web site at

Managing Today's Work Force: One Size Does Not Fit All!

Every branch of the military teaches its service people how to be good leaders by first being excellent followers. One learns how to take orders, ask the correct questions (when needed), and how to execute. Those in the military learn the importance of execution as a follower. What a weird concept.

But in the private sector, “leaders,” also known as “management, department heads and supervisors,” often forget that the people they are leading sometimes do not want to go where they are taking them.

Many have said a good leader should have the ability to take people where they ought to be instead of where they want to be, but today's work force tends to want to know several things before following:

  • Where you are taking us?
  • Why should we be there?
  • What will happen when we get there?
  • How long will it take to get there?

Today's employee pool wants to know the problem and not just the solution. Some would say these are generational differences. Today's leaders need to realize that a key to good leadership is adaptability. Most executives want employees to adapt to their leadership style instead of their leadership style adapting to the individuals following them.

On the flip side, a key to being a good employee is also adaptability. In the military, one has to adapt to surroundings immediately.

Employees must realize that no boss is going to be perfect. Supervisors are not always going to make decisions in the best interest of their direct reports. Every manager is going to be different. If you don't realize these three fundamental things, you will go from job to job looking for opportunities that may never come.

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