Employee Engagement in Transportation and Logistics


The transportation and logistics sector has a relatively low union membership rate but is primed for an increase in union activity in 2023 for several reasons. Like the restaurant and grocery sectors, the pandemic increased public awareness of the importance of employees who keep the economy going during times of disruption, empowering employee activists. Most employees in transportation and logistics are deskless workers, so developing a communication system that strengthens employee engagement is crucial to everything from employee engagement to making unions unnecessary. Mobile communication technology blended with face-to-face leader and employee interactions supports the development of positive employee relations in transportation and logistics.

The transportation and logistics sector moves products and people, which is often taken for granted until there is significant disruption or threat of disruption. If railroad workers had followed through with their strike threat in November 2022, shortages of gasoline, food, and consumer goods would have rapidly developed. When the airlines canceled thousands of flights in December 2022 and January 2022, people depended on airline workers to get them to their destinations on time. Truckers from California to New York have threatened to strike over the past year, which could have led to port closures and crippled food and goods supply chains. There has been a significant increase in labor union activity and employee activism among transportation and logistics association members. Employee engagement in transportation and logistics sectors is as critical as in other industry sectors. Still, there is one major challenge employers must address when developing a strategy for employee engagement in some areas of transportation like warehouses and trucking: approximately 70 percent of the logistics sector doesn't work at a desk, and in some companies, the number is as much as 90 percent.

How Can We Engage Deskless Workers in Transportation and Logistics?

Employee communication is essential to employee engagement in every industry. But when a majority of workers are on the road and rails or in the air most of their work time, new approaches are needed. The employees have heavy workloads, are often away from home for long periods, and get few opportunities to engage coworkers. The process for strengthening employee engagement in transportation needs to embrace all employees because while most workers are deskless or on the move, a cohort of onsite frontline workers must also be engaged, such as warehouse workers and operations workers.

Field workers, like truck drivers, and deskless frontline workers, like roaming warehouse workers, typically have issues like the following.

  • They work different shifts and have flexible work schedules.
  • Have limited access to a computer, if any.
  • Are unable to access organizational information with the same regularity as onsite employees or are left out of the communication loop completely.
  • Are unable to communicate with peers in various locations.
  • Cannot easily access information like company newsletters, bulletin boards, and corporate email notices.
  • Are unable to get enmeshed in the organizational culture due to a lack of information about the brand and corporate values.

Regular quality communication is the essence of employee engagement for workers on the go. Employees need:

  • Company information.
  • Process for completing and submitting hours, vacation requests, required forms, etc.
  • Information on occupational safety, security, regulations in a particular state, port arrivals, warehouse deliveries for pickup, route changes, shipment delays, traffic jams, etc.
  • Access to work-related general information resources
  • To connect with coworkers to socialize
  • To recognize peer achievements.
  • To share helpful information with coworkers.
  • The ability to communicate with organizational leaders
  • To report problems by using a system that generates data for company analysis, like breakdowns, delivery delays, etc.

Employee relations in transportation rely on communication because communication is the primary link between deskless workers and the organization. Your leaders can't stop at a desk to compliment an employee on a project or employ the leader rounding strategy to build relationships with employees like supervisors can do in the healthcare industry. Instead, they need effective communication made possible by using technology tools.

employee engagement in transportation

What Tools Help Connect Companies with Workers in Transportation?

How you structure your internal communications system determines how well you can engage employees. It needs to reach all employees, connect the workforce, and connect employees and management. A digital communications system is the only type of internal communication system that can fulfill all three requirements. One primary tool is proving to be the most efficient – a workforce management app. The workforce management app supports employee engagement and enables efficient leadership support.

Managing a mobile workforce is streamlined today through employee mobile apps. Digital resources like apps offer flexibility because they can be adapted to your organization's particular needs. Some of the ways the app platforms can streamline two-way communication with deskless workers and strengthen employee engagement include their ability to give access to:

  • A virtual bulletin board on which employees can post information and events, like road blockages
  • Notification system which delivers company or other relevant news, safety reminders, company policy reminders, efficiency tips, and positive recognition notes
  • Employee engagement pulse surveys that measure employee engagement
  • Links to the company's HR department, internal policies and procedures documents, and training and education resources
  • Scheduling
  • A recognition program
  • Checklists for completion to indicate review of truck maintenance and equipment before and after hauls

Mobile apps are one primary tool used today, but there are other tools. They include podcasts, videos, closed-circuit TVs, and handheld communication devices. Podcasts and videos can be integrated with apps.

There are three frameworks of employee engagement: needs-satisfaction, job demands-resources, and social exchange. The mobile app can address all three frameworks, leading to positive employee relations and improved organizational performance. Technology tools are also crucial to navigating disruption, which is quite common now. In January 2023, an unanticipated technical issue at the Port of Los Angeles caused hundreds of trucks to back up when unable to enter or leave the port. During times like these, your leaders' ability to communicate with employees involves more than giving instructions. Leadership soft skills are also at play, like showing concern for employee well-being, transparency in decision-making, getting honest feedback concerning possible solutions, and encouraging discussion among the transportation workers. Taking these actions is how a sense of community is developed through the targeted use of technology.

Recognition platforms are essential employee engagement tools. CA Short developed a cloud-based Software as a Service tool called People are Employee Engagement Platform to engage truck drivers through recognition. The recognition platform incorporates formal, informal, and day-to-day recognition. The company's research has found that organizations engaging all employees experience 17 percent higher productivity, 40 percent fewer quality accidents, a 70 percent reduction in safety incidents, and increased retention rates.

Another platform example is WorkHound, which makes the point that drivers aren't always comfortable voicing their concerns out of concern their future with the company is jeopardized. Their disconnection from the company through distance and communication conducted mainly with dispatchers can leave transportation workers feeling disengaged. In some cases, the result is that only a few team members communicate with management, leaving leaders in the dark about the needs of the silent majority. Employee engagement in transportation needs to promote employee voice and engagement among the members of the entire workforce.

Staffbase is an employee communications platform that developed an employee app for communication with remote workers, including non-desk workers. Employees can download the app from an app store, which is customizable to meet the client's needs. The app can offer corporate updates, news of interest, videos, shift plans, contact directory, chat, office calendar, IT service desk link, HR link, employee survey link, texts, and more. Staffbase developed three examples of logistic companies that shared their stories in employee engagement, and all three employed a mobile app with enormous success.

There are different ways to achieve employee engagement in transportation and logistics. Mobile apps act like an information hub, but you can blend technology with face-to-face engagement.

An American regional, inter-regional, and national LTL (less than truckload) company stays in touch with its team members through one-on-one meetings and face-to-face interactions. Managers can communicate in person by walking around the facilities that include warehouses and offices. There are CCTVs located throughout the buildings to keep everyone informed, and the company uses enabled devices to send messages regularly. The Workday HR system is used to develop videos and podcasts and for announcements.

The shipping company constantly communicates via a variety of methods. There are daily meetings in some areas with those employees who don't have computers. However, management and supervisors can communicate throughout the day via handhelds for assignments and other company updates. Monthly in-person meetings regarding business topics are held, and all employees have the chance to hear from senior management bi-monthly through a podcast on various topics. Recently, the company changed its HRIS system to Workday, which enables leaders to instantly let people know there is a message for them to read or listen to. Managers can put announcements on home page screens where employees can also listen to podcasts. Employees who spend very little time in an office or building on a regular basis have given positive feedback and appreciate the conversations this approach sparks.

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Connect Workers from Warehouse to the Road

The greatest number of workers in logistics are in warehousing and road transport, and both are labor-intensive. Katy Fox-Hodess, a sociologist and co-founder of the International Labour and Logistics Research Network, shares historical reasons for the state of the logistics industry. Changes in technology and the rise of containerization led to increases in the size of container vessels. Most truckers can transport one container, so as more containers needed movement from the port, more truckers and warehouse workers were required. She discusses the fact that so many things can go wrong in the logistics systems, but it works nonetheless because of information technology.

The rise of the Internet and instantaneous communication allows logistics firms to adjust quickly and frequently. They are able to minimize as much as possible the potential for things to go wrong. The potential for delays is reduced by rerouting and re-dispatching. And, of course, in road transport, warehousing, and parcel delivery, so many of the technological advances have consisted of new ways to surveil and discipline the workforce.

One of the pitfalls to avoid is letting employees believe the primary purpose of communication technology is to "surveil and discipline." The way the communication technology is used should strengthen employee voice, making employees feel a greater sense of belonging in the organization. It shouldn't make them feel like they are being spied on, a feeling that easily leads to union organizing. Developing leaders skilled in long-distance and deskless employee engagement is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, the transportation and logistics business increases vulnerability to unionization if employees believe management is only interested in control and not well-being and satisfaction.

Chances are your employees in transportation and logistics expect digital communication, but deskless workers have different requirements than desk-based workers. Desk workers can access emails and other communication tools. The employee working the warehouse floor and the truck drivers don't have easy access to programs residing on desktop computers. Mobile apps, texting, and voice messages are communication tools that warehouse workers and truck drivers can use to maintain a connection. The communication tools should work efficiently because poorly working technologies are a source of frustration and lead to workers avoiding communication.

Remember that effective communication is two-way. Employee relations in transportation are positive when your leaders communicate with and listen to and respond to drivers and warehouse workers. Conducting employee engagement surveys remains an excellent way to assess the level of engagement and discover worker perspectives and feelings. In addition, you will gain important insights about employee concerns, problems not apparent to managers who are never on the road, developing issues, indications of potential union activity, and potentially better ways to manage various situations. The feedback has three components, though. You ask for feedback, listen to it, and always respond. Don't just request feedback because employees interpret a lack of response as disinterest or even a management "game." Culture Amp conducted a survey of logistics and transport companies, and employees had much lower favorable scores compared to the average scores in action, equity, and feedback and recognition. Not getting feedback or not responding to feedback is a sure way to promote interest in labor unions.

transportation employee engagement deskless

Build Your Transportation Company's Culture with Strong Employee Relations

Employee engagement in transportation depends on the use of effective communication tools that encourages the expression of company voice. Developing positive employee relations may seem more challenging in the transportation and logistics sector because so many employees are deskless. Fortunately, technology enables communication no matter where employees work.

Having said that, you shouldn't rely only on technology for interacting with employees. Managers should meet with employees face-to-face to add the human element when possible. This is easier to accomplish with warehouse workers, but making an effort to meet with truck drivers when they are at the workplace site is important, and so is giving the warehouse workers and truck drivers opportunities to get together. There is always the risk of drivers feeling isolated, and personal interactions help deskless workers feel connected to the workforce and the organization. Warehouse workers are also vulnerable to unionizing. There were two Teamster Union strikes at Sysco Corp facilities in New York and Massachusetts in October 2022.

The 2022 unionization rate for the transportation and warehouse sector is 14.5 percent per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It's a small decrease from 14.7 percent in 2021. However, the relatively low unionization rate and decrease shouldn't be taken as an indication there is not a risk of increased unionization in the sector and an increase in protests. In 2022, truck drivers became employee activists and halted cargo movement to protest a California state law concerning gig workers and held several protests to object to COVID mandates. They have also gone on strike, as the 300 truck drivers of Teamsters Local 653 at a New England wholesale food distributor did in October 2022. Some truckers have refused to cross picket lines at warehouses. Post-pandemic, industry employees better understand their power to bring change through labor union strikes and independent protests. In 2023, truck drivers will also get a lot of attention because the UPS contract will be renegotiated, and the Teamsters Union is already calling it a" contract fight."

Building strong employee relations now can help your company prevent unionization. High levels of employee engagement reduce the risk that employees would take an interest in what labor unions have to say. Ensuring your deskless workers have an employee voice as strong as the employee voice-enabled among onsite workers is a proactive approach to making unions unnecessary. Though this discussion used truck drivers and warehouse workers as examples, every deskless worker in the transportation and logistics sector and other industries should be engaged, trust leadership, feel a sense of belonging, and believe work is appreciated and valued.

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