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Logistics company Kenco is using flexible shift technology to cater to hourly workers

Swapping shifts with colleagues affords workers more opportunities to devote time to their personal lives, says Group VP of HR Rebecca Wilson.
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Illustration: Anna Kim, Photo: Getty Images

4 min read

Kenco, a third-party logistics company based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, did “very well” during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Rebecca Wilson, group VP of HR.

Spurred by supply-chain challenges and demand for items such as toilet paper, Kenco’s business grew, as did the size of its workforce, which increased over 19% from March 2020 to December 2021. But this business boom also brought to light the chasm between working arrangements afforded to corporate and hourly employees. While salaried Kenco employees were able to work from home, Wilson and her team realized the company’s hourly workers desired flexibility, as well.

“For those with hourly shift workers, I’m sure you know how hard it is to give flexibility in that space,” Wilson said, while presenting at a panel at the Best Place for Working Parents national summit in Nashville on May 10. These employees make up the majority of Kenco’s 7,000-person workforce, with about 5,500 working hourly shifts.

To afford hourly workers more flexibility, Kenco invested in technology that allows them to swap shifts with colleagues, as well as log their absences more easily, Wilson said. She described how the technologies have allowed shift workers to take time off during work days to spend time with their families.

Shifting the mindset on shift work. Kenco partnered with HapiGig, a warehouse-focused flexible labor technology started by a Kenco alum, to introduce “Shift Swap” in 2022. If an employee wants to take time away from work, they can put up their shift “for bid” at least two days beforehand, Wilson said. A colleague who is available and qualified can then take the job for their hourly rate, or whatever differential applies to the shift.

When workers are able to swap their shifts, they’re “no longer on the hook for that shift and they’re able to go and do whatever they need to do in their personal life,” Wilson said. This might look like going to a school awards ceremony or a football game, “just things on the weekend that maybe they wanted to attend that they weren’t able to attend for their children,” she said in a follow-up conversation with HR Brew.

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From an HR perspective, the shift-swap option has reduced the perception of “favoritism,” as employees are empowered to volunteer for shifts they desire through a bidding system, and make additional money for working those shifts, Wilson said.

To better manage attendance tracking, Kenco is also piloting a technology called TeamSense. Prior to this investment, Kenco primarily relied on employees to leave phone messages notifying their company of an absence, which were fielded by the HR team and passed onto supervisors. With this system, supervisors were sometimes unaware of absences on their team before arriving at work. TeamSense allows them to see absences in real-time, move around labor, and put up shifts for bid if necessary, Wilson said.

Zoom out. Kenco has 116 distribution facilities in North America, but managers primarily use Shift Swap at its larger locations, Wilson said. She spoke about high usage rates at the facilities that have implemented the technology, and noted Kenco has seen a 27% reduction in its annualized turnover rate since they started using Shift Swap. She also said Kenco has seen higher engagement scores and lower overtime costs, as supervisors are able to move labor around more easily.

Throughout this journey, Wilson said she’s tried to home in on the needs of frontline workers, given they represent the bulk of Kenco’s employee population. “I always tell people if it’s not going to work for them, then we shouldn’t be implementing it,” she said.

The healthcare industry has also experimented with technology to give workers more flexibility than they’ve traditionally been offered in their jobs, HR Brew previously reported. Cincinnati-based Mercy Health has a mobile app that allows nurses to pick up on-demand work, while Northwell Health, headquartered in New York, uses a tool called FlexStaff to allow current and former employees to take on gig-work.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.