Commanding a Zombie Army: Responsible Logistics Management

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February 2, 2014

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Every last one of us has had the pleasure, or horror, of viewing the classic zombie movie. Most of us have placed ourselves in the heroes’ position: outrunning the shambling zombie hordes and saving the girl, perhaps by causing an explosion that we walk away from in slow motion, no judgments.

Almost none of us have, however, pictured commanding a zombie army. Who would want to? They’re slow, do nothing productive throughout the movie and tend to shuffle around in a confused daze; a terrible workforce if ever there was one. Yet today’s supply chain managers will often find themselves in this exact position – supervising an army of sluggish workers with little motivation other than to eat. The cause of such a condition? Sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation has the immediate effect of hampering or disrupting logistics functions through key effects on employees’ mental state. For warehouse managers, dealing with staff operating on limited sleep means drivers will have decreased alertness brought on by weariness. The obvious, and horrifying conclusion to this is a speedy rendezvous with a tree, road barrier or fellow motorist, resulting in employee injury, damage of cargo and in the worst case scenario, loss of life.

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Inadequate sleep also results in decreased concentration, the equivalent of employees working while engrossed in a Lupita Nyong’o film. In a warehouse setting, this could mean cargo is mislabeled, stored in the wrong section or simply misplaced. Aside from delays in deliveries down the line, warehouse managers must also worry about unfocused employees operating forklifts around fragile cargo and even more fragile staff, once again presenting the very real possibility of physical injury and subsequent lawsuits.

Attempting to function on too little sleep means generally employees are working with impaired cognitive function. With “symptoms” ranging from dulled reflexes, inability to think quickly or clearly and deteriorating short term memory capacity, the potential for damage to a logistics firm are almost limitless.

Clerical errors are more likely to occur, costing the company time and money to rectify, with some not manifesting until much later making it harder to trace the initial mistake e.g. stock record errors. Delays in delivery and customer response, schedules plotted incorrectly where a small mistake could send a package to a different country all together and other such incidents of human error weave a tangled web that is cumbersome for a supply chain manager to deal with.

Employees in the habit of working with limited sleep are also more likely to develop long term health complications such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity or even suffer strokes. With the tragedy of human suffering obvious, this also means employees will have to retire early or work plagued with absences or lowered productivity due to medical reasons. Employees will also be prone to immediate conditions such as stress and depression, which lower morale and destroy employee motivation for work.

As supply chain managers, we can do our part to make sure employees are well rested for the sake of their health as well as that for company productivity. Employee shift schedules must be carefully arranged to ensure that each gets a fair rotation, therefore adequate time to sleep. Logistics managers must also be careful to compensate employees fairly, making sure there is no reason for them to seek secondary employment which could eat up their downtime and result in burnt-out workers. In extreme cases, managers can schedule mandatory off days in the week or compel employees to make use of their leave days to ensure they are well rested and refreshed.

With the effects of sleep deprivation so ghastly, and the solution on the part of supply chain managers so simple, we encourage you to be responsible, take control of your personal horror movie and give it the twist ending to top all others: cure all your zombies. See you at the cinemas!


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