Eliminating Warehouse Productivity Killers: Solutions for Success

Idle time may be taking a toll on your company’s bottom line. A study by the University of Texas found that employers across the U.S. pay $100 billion each year for time workers spend idle on the job. The study included employers across all occupations, and many times anticipation of idle time only served to lower workplace productivity even more.

Various events, small and large, can have a major impact on operations. A late delivery, an equipment breakdown, unexpected maintenance and more can cause work to slow down or even come to a complete stop.

There are some unexpected events that cause slowdowns that can’t be avoided. However, many factors that cause a loss of warehouse productivity can be anticipated and mitigated with the right plan. It’s important for facility supervisors to take a close look at where, when and why lost productivity in their warehouse occurs, then take steps to reduce its impact.

1. Simple maintenance work

There are certain tasks in your warehouse that will have to be done sooner or later: changing a battery, filling a tank, swapping out a light bulb. Employees and supervisors alike know the battery will die eventually, but since such tasks are relatively simple and small, they’re easy to put off until a later date.

Procrastinating on these jobs can come back to haunt you. One day, you may find that at the beginning of productive work your battery dies. You’ll then need to put your operation on hold until it’s changed, or find another piece of equipment to complete the task at hand. This lost productivity can be avoided with a maintenance schedule, Michael Harris, a project manager for West Monroe Partners, pointed out in an article he wrote for Manufacturing Business Technology.

2. Anticipated idle time

The University of Texas study found that anticipated idle time decreased productivity. As expected idle time draws nearer, employees slow down their work. They may be trying to avoid idle time because it doesn’t feel OK to be taskless on the job. Employees therefore take more time than necessary to complete work if they know there’s nothing to do once it’s finished.

There are a few ways facility managers can help prevent slowdown due to anticipated idle time. First, since it’s generally healthy to have break time at work, defining and normalizing these periods of downtime can help. In fact, the study by the University of Texas found that when employees knew that the upcoming idle time included leisure activities, like having permission to surf the internet, they were less likely to take extra time to complete the task.

Other ways to maintain productivity at work are clearly defining expectations and giving employees more autonomy over their workloads, HR Dive suggested.

3. Waiting for the supervisor

There are certain events that require a supervisor’s physical presence and response. However, if the facility manager tends to manage from afar, productivity can be lost simply because he or she needs to be contacted, then make his or her way to the problem that’s holding up operations. Front-line supervisors can address problems more quickly, therefore allowing normal operations to pick up sooner.

Quick notification and problem-solving are especially important when safety concerns arise. Workplace safety is critical, not only for workers’ well-being and productivity but also for the financial security of the company overall.

4. Rushing to catch up

When idle time slows down workplace productivity, the tasks that should have been completed during that period will still need to be accomplished. In cases where deadlines don’t shift according to bottlenecks and setbacks, employees likely feel rushed and stressed to catch up. Racing through tasks is not conducive to quality work, nor does it encourage safety.

PinPointNews.net, a workplace safety news resource created by CopperPoint Mutual Insurance Company, noted that workers are more prone to mistakes when they rush. If they’re walking quickly without fully looking where they’re going, they can run into each other or into equipment. If they’re trying to operate machinery quickly, they could mishandle the device or product. Stress in the workplace is a distraction that can cause people to be careless and put themselves and their co-workers in harm’s way.

Taking steps to avoid idle time can prevent situations where workers feel rushed to meet a deadline or complete a task by a certain hour. However, in situations where downtime could not have been anticipated or avoided, it’s critical to have procedures in place to lower stress and encourage workers to continue working at a safe, regulated pace.

No matter the cause of idle time at your operation, it’s important to address the issue. Doing so can save your company money and contribute to a much safer work environment. Can a repair or replacement improve productivity at your facility? Reach out to Miner for an assessment of your equipment.