A business axiom that has always held true is that what you measure gets done. A corollary to that would be: how you look at things predicts results.
As a society, we tend to classify some people as “disabled,” which leads to a viewpoint that emphasizes the limitation of abilities. Today the preferred term is “differently-abled.” A perfect example of this new way of thinking is when enterprise solutions provider SAP explained that autistic people had abilities that were so well suited to the work they needed done that hiring them was not a matter of inclusion, but in fact a way to improve results.
This viewpoint has found acceptance in the warehouse and distribution sector as well. As far back as 10 years ago, retail pharmacy chain Walgreens designed its Anderson, S.C., distribution center with differently-abled workers in mind.
“We found that people with disabilities are just as productive as the typically-abled,” said Randy Lewis, who oversaw Walgreens’ logistics for 16 years before retiring in 2013. It was his son’s autism that led to the creation of that first DC. (He wrote a book about this: No Greatness Without Goodness—How a Father’s Love Changed a Company and Launched a Movement).
Lewis said that Walgreens, which currently counts this population as 10% of its workforce across its 21 DCs, discovered a host of benefits from this employee population. There were less accidents, reduced workers’ compensation costs, less absenteeism and better employee retention.
Studying the Walgreens model, where 40% of this DC was other-abled, the American Society of Safety Engineers found that turnover was 48% less, medical costs were 67% lower, and time-off expenses were 73% less.
Another company with a long history of employing the differently-abled population in its warehouses is consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble. Earlier in the decade, when the company added a customization (FlexiCenter) center into its 24/7 manufacturing operation in Maine, a discussion arose as to how this center should be staffed, remembers David Bartage, plant finance manager for the facilty. “We quickly concluded that we should reapply a staffing model we saw at Walgreens’ DC, in which 30% to 40% of the employees were people with disabilities.”
Within three years of the FlexiCenter coming online, 40% of its employees were other-abled people, performing the same jobs as people without disabilities, with the same productivity objectives and earning the same pay, Bartage notes. “Some of the benefits of the FlexiCenter, he explains, include: increased productivity, zero safety incidents, zero quality incidents, 90% reduction in turnover, a significant improvement in morale, reduced hiring costs, reduced training costs, and increased “goodwill.”
Employers will continue to hire this population for their abilities and for a looming labor shortage. But I think we need to also focus on the more basic element of humanity toward each other.
Lewis explains it best: We learned the satisfaction of our own success does not compare to the joy of making another person successful. No surprise that most managers now say their number one job is to make every employee successful, disability or not. The program has been embraced by team members and supervisors who say this has led to a work culture of teamwork and purpose. These lessons have extended beyond the workplace back in our everyday lives. Simply put, it has made us better—better co-workers, better managers, better spouses, better parents, better people.
In the logistics sector, we have the opportunity to continue these efforts. Our goal is that one day we have no need to label anyone as another than “my colleague.”