United Parcel Service

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The Challenge: Engaging and retaining the young, mostly-part-time workers

that load, unload, and sort packages in the company’s 270,000 square-

foot Buffalo, New York distribution center. In 1998, the turnover rate was

50 percent, creating customer service disruptions and proving to be costly

in several ways.

Strategic Actions: The new district manager, Jennifer Shroeger, created a

five-part strategic plan, as follows:

1. Meet the expectations of applicants. Instead of hiring anybody that

walked in the door, which it had been doing, UPS started asking

applicants if they were hoping for full-time jobs. If the answer was

‘‘yes,’’ then they were probably going to be disappointed at some

point, because full-time jobs rarely open up. It usually takes six years

to work up to a full-time driver’s job. ‘‘I can’t hire workers who

want full-time work if there aren’t any full-time jobs,’’ Shroeger

said. Instead, the company sold part-time work for what it was—

short, flexible shifts that could fit the schedules of students from the

many colleges in the area.

2. Communicate differently to different groups of workers. To better understand

the needs of her entire workforce, Shroeger analyzed information

that broke down the worker population into five distinctive

groups, closely paralleling their age and the stage of their careers.

She realized that those older than 35 valued different motivators

than their younger coworkers. Understanding these differences, the

company tailored its recruiting and re-recruiting messages accordingly.

3. Take better care of the new hires. To make the warehouse environment

less intimidating to new hires, UPS improved the lighting, upgraded

the break rooms, and installed more personal computers on the

floor, which provided access to training materials and human resource

information on the company’s intranet. The best part-time

supervisors became trainers, spending a week shadowing new

workers. Shroeger initiated an employee-retention committee,

composed of both managers and hourly workers, to track new hires

through their first few weeks on the job and fix small problems

before they become bigger ones. The committee also plans fun social

activities, such as after-hours baseball games and floor-wide

‘‘super-loader’’ contests.

4. Give supervisors the freedom and training to manage people their own way.

The company lets managers figure out their own best way of motivating

different workers. Supervisors also complete training in how

to handle difficult situations and respond to different career questions.

They also learn how to have more flexibility with students

and moms, who have frequent changes in their schedules, and are

challenged to find out and remember something about the personal

lives of workers.

5. Let them move on with new skills and good will. Shroeger realizes that

young, part-time workers are going to move on with their lives.

But, having given them the opportunity to build their skills via

tuition-reimbursement, Saturday computer classes, and career planning

discussions, she hopes they will leave with good feelings about

UPS and perhaps become customers someday, as many have.

The Results: By the first quarter of 2002, part-time turnover had

dropped to 6 percent, which equates to 600 workers staying who

otherwise would have left four years earlier. Annual savings due to

lowered hiring costs totaled $1 million. Lost work-days due to

work-related injuries had dropped by 20 percent, and the percentage

of packages delivered on the wrong day or at the wrong time

dropped from 4 percent to 1 percent.3