A produce warehouse can be crazy at times, especially during the summer months. Customers routinely show up between the hours of 3 and 6 a.m.; all are in a hurry to have their purchases loaded. Temperatures rise quickly during the summer, so customers without refrigerated trucks must transport their produce before the temperature becomes dangerous to produce. During this three-hour time frame customers significantly outnumber workers. Customers impatience combined with understaffed conditions does nothing for employee motivation. Managers are constantly faced with motivating over-worked employees and finding ways to increasing production in the order process.
In this particular company, the order process starts when a salesman creates an invoice for a customer. The invoice is printed along with a pick ticket. That ticket is then put in line with existing tickets and will be pulled in order regarding what time it was printed. Some customers believe they are more important and do not want to take turns; offering a cash reward to the order pullers to take them out of line and to the front. With customers offering cash rewards, a manager must make his or her appearance visible in an attempt to dissuade employees from such unethical practices. After the order is pulled, it is checked for accuracy and loaded onto the customer’s vehicle. The sizes of individual orders vary; therefore, managers assign orders of more than 200 packages to their best employees.
In the past no one was assigned a certain job or task to perform. The company’s strategy was to “get them in and get them out.” Recently managers have adopted a motivational theory to improve the workings of the day. The goal setting theory has proved a success for most. The Goal setting theory (2003) states that people perform better when presented with demanding and precise goals. A manager using the goal setting theory will begin the day with precise goals and instructions for each employee. Equipping employees with specific knowledge of tasks assigned to them will leave little room for any misunderstanding. Doing this, employees will know which one of them will be pulling the larger orders for the day. This keeps employees from vying for the big customers and their cash rewards. Assigning the best employee to pull and load large orders cuts down on mistakes made during the pulling operation. Inexperienced employees pulling large orders frequently result in tearing the order down to start over. With employees aware of order assignment, they strive to increase their accuracy and timeliness of pulling and loading orders. This increases an employee’s chance to pull the bigger orders and receive a customer’s reward. Managers have achieved process improvement using the goal setting theory but not all employees are happy with the strategy.
Some employees rally against order assignment because they think it lessens their potential take home pay. These employees typically show their dissatisfaction for unfavorable assignments by slowing their pace throughout the day. In turn, the slow pace does not increase the likelihood of an assignment to large orders. Such reactions make it evident that rewards influence the company’s employee motivation.
Upper management, and owners, of the company are fully aware of the effect customer rewards have on employees. The higher-ups encounter the positive effect of reward motivation daily, but refrain for offering even the slightest reward themselves. The company’s view on reward incentives is “a pay check at the end of the week is reward enough.” Employee turnover does not seem to bother upper management. This thinking comes from the worry of cutting into the owner’s personal wealth. In their thinking upper management has failed to see the value of offering rewards to employees, leaving lower level managers to dip into their own pockets to reward employees for hard work.
At the end of a long exhausting day managers occasionally reward employees by buying lunch. The simple act of feeding the crew for the hard work done makes the employees feel valuable; it conveys that their supervisor is aware of their needs and the effort they put out. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (n.d.) people find motivation in unfulfilled needs. Maslow identified five levels of need and emphasizes fulfilling the lesser needs before addressing any higher level need. According to this theory, once a need is fulfilled it no longer motivates an individual. If the company where to implement this theory, employees would have a better disposition and become loyal to the company. At present the company is only meeting the lowest level of Maslow’s needs; physiological needs. The basic need of food and shelter are met by providing a paycheck. Offering affordable health benefits would satisfy the second level of need, safety. The social needs of employees could be met by taking employees out to eat on Saturdays after closing. This would encourage workers to work the weekends as well. Showing appreciation to employees by giving raises to irreplaceable employees, saying “thank you,” or “good job” would meet Maslow’s fourth level of need esteem. The last level of need is self-actualization and can be met by giving promotions or additional responsibilities that cause the employee to draw on previous learning. Implementing these practices will result in more contented employees and an improved company structure. All of these rewards will come at a cost, and as mentioned before, the owners and upper management are not interested in investing in their employees.
So without going to too much expense, produce warehouse managers must come up with a way to motivate employees. The positive affect theory is possibly the most cost-effective theory to put into practice. Isen, Daubman, and Nowicki (1987) proposed that exposure to enjoyable stimuli caused performance improvement in people. A light hearted and enjoyable atmosphere benefits everyone. Putting employees in a good mood will make their work less stressful and increase an employee’s concentration. This environment can be achieved by sharing jokes and personal stories among employees. Sharing funny, amusing antidotes can facilitate a sense of belonging for employees and ease stress levels. This is helpful before and after that three hour time frame when customers are so demanding. A company photo album brings employees closer as they share their favorite snapshots of one another. Virtually everyone has a camera phone these days, which makes it easy for workers to snap photos during working hours. The photo project must include a rule regarding appropriate photo taking. The album reminds employees of the history they share. Both the album and stories cost incredibly little and produce immense benefits to company and employee.
The goal setting theory has improved the order process in the produce warehouse, but companies should include the hierarchy of needs and positive affect theories as well. Whereas the hierarchy of needs theory would be costly, the benefits are immense to company and employee. In the case of low-cost motivation the positive affects theory can promote a sense of community for employees while improving their performance.
Goal-setting theory. (2003). In the New Penguin Business Dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.credoreference.com/entry/penguinbus/goal_setting_theory
Isen, A. M., Daubman, K. A., & Nowicki, G. P. (1987). Positive affect facilitates creative problem solving. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 52 (6), 1122-1131. Retrieved from http://view.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3598858
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. (n.d.). Father of modern management & leadership by employee motivation. Retrieved from