Has there ever been a better time to be a warehouse worker?
Probably not, based on the 16th annual survey of the supply chain hourly workforce that was published earlier this month by staffing companies EmployBridge and Staffing Leadership Group. Of the nearly 20,000 survey respondents, about three-quarters said they were satisfied to various degrees with their current jobs. Nearly 65% said they were extremely or very optimistic about their financial future.
To understand the reasons behind this high level of confidence, start with the abundance of job openings. Through September, there were, on average, 400,000 weekly postings for hourly warehouse, distribution center and fulfillment center positions, the survey said, citing data from Indeed.com, an employment aggregation platform.
Around this time three years ago, there were about 220,000 open positions, said Brian Devine, president and CEO of Staffing Leadership Group and the report’s co-author.
The number of postings in September declined by 24% from the red-hot pace of fall 2021, according to the survey. Yet even with such a material drop, demand for warehouse labor continues, and will likely continue, to outstrip supply, Devine said.
The supply-demand imbalance has allowed warehouse labor to flex its muscles in different ways. For example, a worker can demand at least $2 more in hourly pay to move from a facility’s “first shift” — generally between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. — to either one of the other eight-hour shifts that are not considered as desirable from a work-life balance perspective, the report found. That is a 35% jump from 2021 levels and well above the historical year-over-year increases dating to 2012, the report found.
Warehouse workers still prefer to work day shifts and prefer five eight-hour shifts to fill their workweeks, according to the survey. Not many respondents prized working night or weekend shifts, the survey found.
An individual’s personal choice notwithstanding, shift and schedule flexibility are among the top three factors in determining workers’ job choices, and whether they remain at the company, according to the survey. In today’s tight market for supply chain labor, the pendulum has swung from applicants selling their skills to employers selling the company’s value proposition to the prospective employees, according to Devine.
Other than increases in pay, “opportunities for advancement” was the most important benefit a company could provide to earn a worker’s loyalty, according to the report. In last year’s edition, “advancement opportunities” came in third behind the employer caring about the employee’s growth, and a company’s culture and values.
Another critical feature, according to the report, is paid time off. In an eye-opening factoid, 82% of respondents said they would rather keep their current hourly wage rate and get five days of PTO than receive a $1-an-hour wage hike with no PTO days, even though choosing the latter might put more money in their pockets.
According to Devine, workers who are already satisfied with their wages would rather have more personal time, or time with their families, than receive an additional $1 an hour.
“They would rather have the time off to go watch their kids’ soccer game,” he said. “Or they may want an extra day or two to recover from what can be a very physical and strenuous job.”
The data point should be a wake-up call to warehouse operators about the value of offering generous PTO, Devine said. According to the survey, providing five additional PTO days to a worker making $17 an hour would cost the employer about $850 per year. A $1-an-hour increase with no additional PTO would cost the employer, per worker, about $2,600 per year, according to the survey.
The nationwide median wage for warehouse labor currently stands at about $17.80 an hour, according to the report. The pace of wage gains is running ahead of increases in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the third straight year, the report found. This comes after many years of warehouse wages lagging gains in the CPI.
Wages for the upcoming peak holiday season are expected to rise starting early next month by $1.50 to $2 an hour through the busy cycle.
The national wage estimates take into account varying pay scales based on a particular region’s cost of living. The data also incorporates the higher wages paid to workers like forklift operators who have an additional layer of skills compared with a general warehouse floor worker.
Not surprisingly, wages are by far the most important consideration for workers looking for a job. Yet the ability to attain a balanced work schedule was the most important reason why a worker chose a particular place of employment. Devine said that other factors became more important to a worker’s job satisfaction once the worker agreed to an acceptable wage.