The 2021 peak season for operations has come and gone, and the hard truth is it was a taxing time and in some ways disappointing. Yet smart leaders could see a turnaround in 2022. Worker shortages, supply chain delays, and increased consumer demands, remain serious issues, but none are insurmountable this year.
TrueBlue conducted a post-peak survey to track key factors during what should have been the industry’s biggest season. With peak season 2022 just two months away. it’s time to evaluate the challenges employers experienced in 2021 and make this year’s rush a success.
Many factors led to an underwhelming peak season in 2021. First and foremost, the COVID-19 pandemic continued to take its toll on operations, all while companies had to manage serious supply chain issues and a hiring shortage. While some employers faced trouble finding qualified employees, others lost out to more competitive firms. We are more prepared in 2022 than 2021, but must still account for absences and raw materials scarcities.
Peak season in 2022 should hopefully be less challenging than in 2021. The hiring shortage especially hit operations hard, as 66% of employers reported not having enough workers during the busiest days of the season. A majority of companies managed to reach their production goals, but at a high cost.
Nearly half of transportation workers reported suffering high stress and reduced productivity while turnover and overtime hours were both up, creating extra costs for employers. With conditions in the trucking industry under increased media and political scrutiny, those companies that make changing the conditions of truck drivers for the better a priority will reap serious benefits in performance and hiring.
In fact, hiring was the most difficult part of the last peak season, which led to existing workers suffering elevated stress levels due to a lack of people to cover higher workloads. This was exacerbated by problem absences, many due to COVID and the ill-timed Omicron surge around the holiday season. Issues caused by the supply chain crisis have also led to an inability to keep up with demand in a way that supports reasonable work-life balance.
Although four in five businesses reported feeling more prepared for the peak season in 2021 than 2020, only 65% met their production or fulfillment goals, down from 80% in 2020. Reversing this trend in 2022 will take keen attention to both staffing and supply needs.
Anticipating Supply Chain Issues
The effect of the supply chain crisis on shipping operations during the peak season cannot be overstated. Backups and delays at ports around the world meant companies struggled to obtain raw materials and equipment, to the point that many had to seek out alternate suppliers or otherwise improvise. This forced companies to play catchup and strain their workforce to keep up with demand.
Nearly half of employers reported a negative change this past peak season due to supply chain issues. Major drawbacks included delayed products, higher workloads, shipment unpredictability, and the inability to replace parts on broken equipment. Workers took an estimated 25% increase in overtime hours, but 41% could not keep up with demand and 40% reported increased stress from the rush.
The supply chain has yet to fully stabilize, but forewarned is forearmed. Business leaders should move into the 2022 peak season with plans in place to compensate for supply issues. Seeking out alternate suppliers, ordering well in advance, and even making redundant orders could help guard against slipping goals during the holidays.
In a difficult season, technology proved to be a serious boon for employers and employees alike, as automated processes managed some of the increased workload. Communications and screening software helped weather the hiring crisis by making it easier to track applicants, perform interviews, onboard new staff, as well as handle employee documents, timekeeping, and scheduling. On the fulfillment floor, automated systems helped immensely with picking, packing, sourcing, inspection, and manufacturing operations.
43% of employers automated some aspect of their processes in 2021, with 46% planning to increase their use of automation in seasons to come. 2022 should see a dramatic uptick in automation during the peak season, but companies should have a clear and actionable plan for integrating new devices and techniques to keep from missing milestones as staff adjusts..
The Shape of Peaks to Come
These statistics offer plenty of lessons we can apply to the fast-approaching peak season of 2022. Employers assert that they are working harder year-over-year to plan for each peak season, with 83% saying they planned far in advance. As even this amount of planning did not prevent a difficult period, even more advanced thinking and structure is necessary in 2022. No amount of planning can fully overcome conditions that grow more adverse throughout the year, but foresight and contingency plans can help hit deliverables on time regardless.
When asked what they will do differently in the peak season of 2022, leaders plan to have a more robust training and cross-training regimen in place, and to hire year-round for the peak season. Increasing pay rates, offering sign-on bonuses, and otherwise incentivizing attendance to prevent turnover will help with staffing issues. Employers should also partner with staffing providers and increase reliance on automation to boost efficiency.
Looking over our data, we can distill our best and most useful advice for companies preparing for the 2022 peak season, or the 1 in 3 companies who reported that they consider their peak season to be year-round.
The 2022 peak season will present its share of emergency situations. Companies that must absolutely make their deadlines in a crisis can always go to staffing organizations to hire help. Some agencies even provide elite teams of experienced workers specifically trained in resolving issues under the wire, and bringing in these sorts of contractors could help keep clients and business partners happy in the face of disaster.
Planning for the unexpected is paramount, and should begin as early as possible — and earlier than leaders think. Companies should find trusted partners for both staffing and alternative supply methods, and should continue to increase productivity through technologies such as automation. The world is not promising to calm down in the near future, so we may need to be ready for a run of difficult peak seasons, and must get better at confronting this adversity as time goes on.