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Employee engagement has taken a dip over the last year (see Fig. 1), declining in the U.S. for the first time in more than a decade. Companies are being challenged to both retain employees and keep them motivated. While reusable packaging (or any packaging, for that matter) isn’t a likely topic amongst human resources professionals discussing engagement and retention strategies, it can play a surprisingly significant supporting role – and it is yet one more reason why reusables can make your company stronger and more resilient.

Fig. 1: Average US Employee Engagement

What is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement relates to how invested people are in both their daily work and the success of the business as a whole. In addition to higher levels of employee satisfaction, engaged employees have positive emotional connections with the company they work for and feel a sense of purpose in their activities. Gallup’s regularly-conducted studies consistently show high correlation between employee engagement and company performance, regardless of industries, company size, and macro-economic factors:

  • Highly engaged business units realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity.
  • In high-turnover organizations, highly engaged business units achieve 24% less turnover. In low-turnover organizations, the gains are even more dramatic: Highly engaged business units achieve 59% less turnover.
  • Highly engaged business units achieve a 10% increase in customer ratings and a 20% increase in sales.

Engagement Sagged in 2021

Employee engagement has enjoyed a decade-long improvement trend. Even during the pandemic-related disruptions of 2020, the figures around engagement continued to improve. In the first half of 2021, Gallup found that 36% of workers were engaged, matching the 2020 composite result. But the second half of 2021 saw a drop, resulting in the annual figure of 34% engaged workers in 2021. Gallup noted that this result should not have been surprising, given record increases in employee quit rates, vaccine mandates, and planning for various combinations of remote and on-site work.

Gallup cautions that many companies have lost sight of the basics. The survey firm measured the greatest declines regarding clarity of expectations, having the right materials and equipment, and the opportunity for workers to do what they do best. These elements are foundational to employee engagement, it emphasized.

How Reusable Packaging Can Make a Difference

That’s right: reusable packaging can have a positive impact on your company’s employee engagement. Remember what Gallup said about the right materials and equipment impacting engagement? Consider the following advantages of reusable packaging:

Fewer disruptions to workflow. For employees trying to get their work done efficiently, disruptions to processes can be a serious source of frustration. Consider iced fresh produce in corrugated boxes that lean and sometimes fall in the wet cooler, or even worse, on the dock or in the delivery trailer. Then there are poor condition pallets to cope with. Damaged pallets can jam in conveyors, pallet jacks or other equipment, or get stuck in high bay locations requiring them to be manually unstacked.

Reusable packaging can eliminate such headaches. Reusable products are designed and manufactured for strength, durability, and performance for their intended purpose, whether that’s saving time, space, or reducing waste. In addition to material handling advantages, when you use reusables in a closed-loop or in a pool management program, your company is not as vulnerable to supply shortages and volatile market costs as experienced the past two years when availability of single-use boxes and pallet supply were very constrained.

Enhanced safety and better ergonomics. Another direct impact on employees is safety. Reusables can help reduce packaging failure events that could lead to worker injury. Additionally, handheld containers are designed with handholds to facilitate easier handling and stacking to reduce strains and pulls. Good condition reusable pallets are less likely to have concerns regarding splinters, exposed nails or damage. When it comes to workplace safety and engagement, it works both ways. Improvements to safety can boost engagement, and more engaged employees will tend to work more safely.

Enabling automation. Highly precise specifications from packaging, as delivered confidently by reusables, are requirements for a wide range of automated material handling systems. Automation can help reduce stress and fatigue for workers. As Indeed notes, “Warehouse automation can improve both production efficiency and employee satisfaction by reducing employee labor.” Through the introduction of automation, reallocated employees may transition to maintenance or quality control roles, for example.

Supports sustainability aspirations. The evidence is voluminous. Reusable packaging can reduce solid waste generation by up to 86% and CO2 emissions by 60% versus single-use packaging. Reusable packaging also conserves natural resources, reduces energy and water consumption, and lowers shrink from improved product protection. With 71% of employees and employment seekers surveyed saying that environmentally sustainable companies are more attractive employers, companies can adopt environmentally-preferred reusable packaging systems to achieve sustainability objectives and increase employee engagement.

“It’s increasingly clear that being sustainable is something that is demanded by your workforce, by your suppliers, and by your customers,” Adi Gaskell writes in Forbes. “As the importance of sustainability grows, so too do the number of strategies and frameworks for actually achieving it. Hopefully, these will help organizations deliver the kind of changes we all so dearly want to see.”

Reusable packaging is one of those changes. It is designed to work flawlessly in your production and distribution systems, eliminating failure-related frustrations, enhancing worker safety, enabling automation, and helping improve your company’s sustainability story. Reusables can help your company in many ways – and make it a better, more meaningful place to work.

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