Article: Friday, 5 February 2016

Looking beyond automated processes can make logistics safer and more efficient, even though automation dominates the logistics sector. Understanding what motivates logistics managers and employees can lead to safer workplaces and greater productivity, according to PhD researcher Jelle de Vries from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). He will defend his thesis on 18 February.

Improving safety and productivity in logistics? Know people's motivations!

In one of his studies de Vries found that warehouses led by managers with a safety-oriented style of leadership had fewer occupational accidents. These managers typically share the same motivation, or ‘regulatory focus’, when making leadership decisions. They are often driven by the desire to avoid negative outcomes – such as accidents – de Vries’ results show. Because of this focus on prevention, the emphasis is on employee duties and the responsibility to make safety a priority in the logistical process. Interestingly, de Vries’ results indicate improvements in safety do not hamper warehouse productivity.

De Vries’ results show that productivity can be increased by matching the employee’s regulatory focus with the right order picking system and incentive structure, without negatively affecting quality.

Order picking

In another study de Vries demonstrates how knowing the regulatory focus of a warehouse’s order pickers can be helpful in choosing the right method of order picking and incentives. In a laboratory experiment, De Vries found that order pickers with a prevention focus are more productive in picking methods that are based on co-operation. They also respond better to incentives that reward collective efforts. 

Promotion focus

In contrast, order pickers with a ’promotion focus’ value individual tasks more highly, so these workers are best placed using methods that are based on individual actions. And because they are more competitive, their productivity is also more likely to increase when they are rewarded with incentives based on individual work instead of team achievement. De Vries’ results show that productivity can be increased by matching the employee’s regulatory focus with the right order picking system and incentive structure, without negatively affecting quality. He expects that a better fit between employee and the picking system will also benefit employee well-being.

Speed violations

When studying truck drivers de Vries found that drivers with a high level of conscientiousness, or willingness to stick to the rules, were more likely to commit speed violations during their trips. Most likely this can be explained, de Vries adds, because these drivers feel more strongly committed to meeting management’s expectations and production targets. On the other hand, a higher awareness of safety did not come at the cost of production. In fact drivers who were more conscious of safety were also more productive.

Dr. Jelle de Vries

Associate Professor

Rotterdam School of Management (RSM)

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