As robots and other automation technology is rolled out in warehouses, many have assumed the 1.5 million warehouse and storage employees ultimately will be replaced. But according to a new survey from Lucas Systems, most workers are embracing the use of technology in fulfillment and other warehouse applications.
“If workers equate tech investments with the company’s willingness to help them, it shows us that tech for on-floor warehouse workers plays a vital role in attracting and retaining employees in addition to its role in improving warehouse operations and performance,” said Ken Ramoutar, chief marketing officer for Lucas Systems.
Lucas manufactures voice and artificial intelligence optimized solutions for warehouse and distribution centers.
Lucas’ Voice of the Warehouse Worker survey found that 74% of warehouse on-floor workers said they would consider taking a pay cut to work at a company that utilized technology to help them in their job. Workers (38%) also indicated they spend more than one-third of their day walking and would be open to technology such as robots that could reduce this amount.
Wakefield Research polled 500 on-floor U.S. warehouse workers in May on behalf of Lucas. It represents the first time Lucas has sought opinions on technology from warehouse workers.
According to GXO Logistics (NYSE: GXO), only about 5% of current warehouses are automated, but CIO Mark Manduca previously told Modern Shipper that will soon change.
“There is still mammoth growth ahead,” Manduca said. “This industry could easily be 50% to 60% automated in the next 10 years, and we’re barely 5% now.”
In the Lucas survey, workers indicated a desire to find the right fit. Three-quarters of respondents said physical strain from carrying, lifting and walking takes a larger toll on them than the mental strain. Their top concerns for mental strain were meeting performance or incentive goals and objectives, as well as safely maneuvering around the warehouse.
More on automation
More than 2 in 5 workers believe robots will reduce physical stress (46%) or help them achieve better speed (44%) or accuracy (40%) in item picking, the survey found. In addition, 90% said they believe technology is a critical driver in employee attraction and retention.
Tech entices worker loyalty
According to a recent global survey conducted by Sapio Research, 35% of employers initiated automation projects to help with employee burnout, with 20% of companies answering they felt pressure from employees to implement technology. In the Lucas survey, 74% of respondents said they planned to stay in their jobs for at least three years, with 35% expecting to remain longer than five years. The results suggest that if warehouses can implement technology to assist workers with their jobs, they may be rewarded with loyalty.
Without the tech installed, however, employees will jump. Of the 74% who said they would accept a pay cut, 52% said they were extremely or very likely to do so, while 81% of Generation Z workers were at least somewhat likely to change jobs.
“This is certainly a signal to DC operators and leaders that workers are after quality measures in addition to quantity measures, like pay, when it comes to their jobs,” the survey noted. “And it seems employers, at least to some degree, are listening.”
Investing in the workforce
The survey found that 88% of employees believe warehouse operators that invest in technology are investing in their workforce itself.
“These results indicate that investment in tech to help workers do their jobs better and easier may give companies a crucial advantage during this era of labor shortage and help them prepare for the future as younger workers and new prospects enter the workforce,” the survey said.
For workers, the types of investments matter as well. Ranked in order of importance, technology that increased the ability to meet performance goals topped the list:
- Improve accuracy and minimize mistakes
- Make the job less physically demanding
- Increase personal safety
- Make the job more exciting and high-tech
- Demonstrate the company cares about its workers
- Help learn a new skill set.
Data-capture and scanning tools were the types of devices most requested by workers (63%), with 48% interested in conveyor systems and 46% in voice-directed tools. AR/VR glasses were noted by 36% and robots by 32%.
Reduced strain, more productivity
While many companies tout their advances in technology, 66% of workers in the survey said they are still using paper and pencil for picking, packing and other common warehouse processes. Still, there remains concern about adding technology, mainly centered around increasing production demands or quotas.
That said, 46% of workers believe robots will reduce physical stress at work, 44% envision them improving speed in item picking, and 40% see them improving picking accuracy.
“Workers value robots as colleagues, mainly because of their ability to help reduce physical stress, and achieve better performance in picking and accuracy,” the survey said.
Workers also cited the ability of robots to improve work satisfaction (38%), improve safety (37%) and reduce mental stress (32%).
Be wary of the robots, though
Robots are not without their critics. As the robot market is expected to explode to $23 billion by 2027, 47% of workers are fearful of being replaced by automation. Another 34% are concerned about increased oversight from management, and 31% worry about controlling the robot.
Some workers (26%) have concerns about the robots adding to the mental strain they are already feeling.
“It’s clear that on-floor warehouse workers are declaring technology tools to be essential to their well-being and retention,” Lucas Systems said in its conclusion. “In fact, workers want technology so much that they would switch jobs and take a pay cut to take advantage of the benefits tech could provide.”
The company also noted that to succeed in the implementation of technology, businesses must provide adequate training and set realistic expectations.