How to Harness the Power of Gen Y Employees in your DC

Written By: Marvin Logan

Generation Y in the Distribution Center

Generation Y currently makes up the second-largest workforce in U.S. history at 70 million people.

Generation Y, also known as the Millennial Generation (or Millennials), is the demographic cohort that follows Generation X and the Baby Boomers. Although there are no precise dates for when the Gen Y generation starts and ends, cultural researchers generally consider it to be the generation born between 1980 and 2000.

This group currently makes up the second-largest workforce in U.S. history at 70 million people, so it is likely that current and future hires into your distribution center will include many in this generation. Although it is difficult to talk in all-encompassing generalities about a group of employees, understanding Gen Y’s needs and their generational/cultural attitudes toward a work/life balance and engagement can make for an overall better workplace.

The following list of helpful hints is based on Martin and Tulgin’s book, Managing Generation Y: Global Citizens Born in the Late Seventies and Early Eighties. I have taken the liberty of focusing these on the “Gen Yers” in the distribution center.

1. Provide challenging work that really matters.
The Gen Y employee in the DC wants to know how the work that he/she does fits into the big picture. The forklift driver that puts away stock or the picker that fills orders should be told not only how they are contributing to the success of the company, but in how they are benefiting the end customer.

2. Balance clearly delegated assignments with some workplace freedom.
Although I am not advocating a “free for all” DC workplace, a well thought out use of self-directed work teams might suit the Gen Y desire to control more of their own work. They might also tend to respond well to the offer of increased responsibility in managing the area or department workload as a reward for accomplishments.

3. Provide the ability to use technology.
If there is anything that Gen Y’s do better than preceding generations, it is using technology. Distribution employers that embrace technology (WMS and advanced material handling automation are good examples) and engage their employees in its use will win over their Gen Y workforce.

4. Provide ongoing training and learning opportunities.
Because Gen Yers grew up with interactive media that combined education with fun, they expect learning to be part of their daily lives. Cross training them in various DC operations, especially using media in the training, will motivate Gen Y employees and keep them loyal.

5. Allow some flexibility in scheduling.
Even though you have an operation to run, it is possible to use some give and take within reason to accommodate workers unexpected scheduling needs. Flexibility in hours, as well as assignments, projects, and departments goes a long way with Gen Yers.

6. Balance the role of “boss” and “team player”.
Although Gen Y employees want to be led, the very best managers will walk the fine line between being in charge and contributing in the trenches with everyone else. Being out there, throwing cases or building pallets during the busy season will gain their respect and help you to lead them year-round.

Gen Y employees are inherently different from their Gen X and Baby Boomer co-workers. By harnessing the characteristics of their generation and their growing numbers, you will give them a sense of purpose and value, while at the same time improving your distribution center’s success.

Marvin Logan is Director of Consulting Services at Bastian Solutions. He and his team of consultants provide engineering studies, system simulations, slotting analysis, and system layout and design.

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