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What does a Warehouse Worker do?

By Misty Amber Brighton
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A warehouse worker’s job tends to vary somewhat depending on the specifics of the warehouse and what is stocked or processed there, but this person’s primary tasks usually have to do with selecting, organizing, and processing merchandise. He or she may be responsible for filling orders, for instance, which often requires finding items from bulk storage, sorting them, and then preparing them for shipment or delivery. This person may also be in charge of keeping warehouse merchandise organized. Operating heavy machinery like forklifts is usually part of the job, but understanding computer databases and electronic ordering systems can be just as important in many cases.

Organizing Inventory

Warehouses usually serve as the primary storage facilities for almost any company that has goods to sell. Items are usually shipped straight to the warehouse from the manufacturer or farmer, and from there make their way to stores and customers’ doorsteps. Getting everything organized so that it can be easily found and retrieved when needed is one of most important tasks of the people who work in these settings.

Different warehouses have different organizational schemes, but the job usually involves a lot of sorting and placement tasks. Workers follow maps and charts to learn where certain things should go, and in some cases actually help devise those plans in the first place. Things that are shipped or ordered with some frequency are usually placed where they can easily be retrieved and packaged, for instance, whereas bulkier items or things that don’t sell as often may be stored in far corners or high-up shelves.

Some warehouse workers spend their whole careers in inventory organization. This can be as simple as unloading boxes and determining where different items should go, but it often involves actually placing those items, too. Workers tend to spend a lot of time on their feet moving things around, and often operate machinery like forklifts and pallet-movers for items that are heavy or packaged in bulk.

Shipping and Receiving Functions

Before organization can happen, though, goods need to be processed into the warehouse, and in most cases processed out, too. Shipments usually come in via truck, train, or cargo ship, and are usually unloaded on special receiving docks. Workers wait for the shipments to arrive, catalog exactly what is in them, and then set about determining where they should go or what should happen to them.

Things go out, too. When customers place orders or stores need to be restocked, warehouse staff are usually the ones to pull things off the shelves and package them up for delivery. This usually happens in several steps. First, when the order comes through, whoever is in charge of shipping — usually a manager — will fill out a requisition order that specifies exactly what needs to be gathered up, and verifies that the requested items are actually in stock. Next, he or she will assign one or more people to actually go and collect those items from the stock floor. These are usually delivered to a third team of people who check the order for accuracy, then package it and prepare it for shipment.

Most warehouses have their own shipping facilities that work like small post offices, but the only mail being sorted is inventory going in and out. The people who work in these jobs usually spend most of their time inspecting packages, printing packing slips, and sealing boxes. Loading and unloading delivery trucks may also be part of the job.

Databasing and Record Keeping

Keeping careful track of exactly what goes in and out is really critical to most warehouse operations. Things often move very quickly, with orders being received and processed almost constantly. Managers and operators usually need to keep a close eye on what is selling and shipping and what is being delivered in order to make sure that the right sorts of things are being kept in stock. A lot of this comes down to record keeping. Workers must typically document every time they process something, whether for shipping or receiving. Sometimes they also need to note when a certain item has changed location or moved around on the shipping floor so others don’t assume it’s out of stock when they can’t find it.

Many warehouses use computers and electronic databases to make things more efficient, or at least more readily accessible. As such, staff members often need to understand basic spreadsheet applications and digital tools like bar code scanners to keep track of what they do. Some shipping facilities have programs that send alerts when certain items are running low, and some will actually go so far as to automatically place orders for re-stocks when inventory levels dip. Accurate record keeping is really important to avoid unnecessary ordering.

Clean-Up Tasks

Unloading and receiving goods can generate a lot of waste, particularly where packaging and labeling is concerned. Some employees will necessarily be tasked with cleaning up shipping and receiving floors and organizing trash. Mopping and sanitizing workspace might also come in, particularly if food or other perishable goods are being handled or processed. This job is often rotating so that different people are tasked with it on different days, but larger operations might actually have entire jobs that revolve around cleaning and sanitation.

Required Skills and Education

Most warehouse jobs are considered “entry level,” which means that no particular academic education is usually required. Basic math skills are often useful just in terms of keeping track of shipments and ordering movements, and computer skills are often helpful. Most employers want their workers to have a high school diploma or equivalent, but even this isn’t always essential. The most important job qualifications are usually driven by personality and strength. Staff members need to be able to get along with each other and need to be able to work as a part of a team and take direction from leaders.

Perhaps the most important requirement is strength. Warehouse workers are often called on to move heavy things from one place to another, which requires a certain degree of physical stamina. People are often on their feet for most of the day, even if they aren’t engaging in heavy lifting; even mail teams and packaging specialists spend most of their shift standing. This can be exhausting over time, and workers need to be strong enough to endure the conditions without losing energy.

Common Job Risks

Conditions vary from location to location, but they are typically hot in the summer months and cold in the winter. Some facilities have loading docks that are located outdoors, so people may sometimes have to work in rain or snow. Workers often spend much of their day standing on hard surfaces, and they may need to bend often and lift heavy items above their heads. Over time, these activities can cause physical strain or injury. Operating heavy machinery also carries some risk, and people who run machines have to be very careful to stay clear of moving parts to avoid getting hurt.

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Discussion Comments
By anon342454 — On Jul 20, 2013

I've been working at a warehouse for almost three months now. It's hard work, to say the least. It isn't hard in the thinking aspect; it just gets pretty exhausting throwing boxes out of full semi trucks for 12-14 hours a day. If you are considering getting a warehouse job, then I suggest you work at a place that at least pays you well. I make minimum wage and, honestly, that type of pay is not worth the amount of labor my coworkers and I put in.

By StringBender — On Jun 26, 2011

I have to do a "me too" here. I worked in a warehouse and the best thing about it was that it fed my desire to have everything just "so." In other words, I can be a little obsessed with the old "a place for everything" routine, and that's what that job is. It made my days go fast because it always seem like there wasn't enough time to put things into their place where they should be.

By RussellS — On Jun 25, 2011

I, too, did my time working in a warehouse. I agree, it can be a pretty good job if you like variety. One moment you might be operating semi-heavy equipment and the next you might be putting data into a computer. It can be really fun if you get into one of the warehouse manager jobs. The thing that got me about the job was being up on a second level. On that level I could see straight down to the floor below because we walked on grates. Since I'm afraid of heights, I always had to make sure I didn't look down.

By tigers88 — On Jun 25, 2011

I have worked in a few different warehouses. There is a great variety of activities, but your duties all come down to the basic task of moving things from one place to another. This is the most basic function of warehouses and most of the work revolves around this goal.

That is not so bad though. I always enjoyed the work and found that it never got boring even as it became repetitious. I moved on to a different career but I will never regret the time I spent in the warehouses. I met a lot of great people, I stayed in shape and I had the time and space to let my mind wander around to almost any subject I could think of.

By Bertie68 — On Jun 25, 2011

There are quite a number of retired folks who need some supplementary income. A relative of mine, a woman, 68 years old, and retired, worked in a warehouse for a while. After about six months, she finally had to quit. She began having back trouble and was exhausted every night after work. She did quite a bit of lifting and standing on a hard floor.

I don't know how jobs are set up in warehouses - whether you do a variety of chores or if you do just a few. The recently retired people have worked for years in their careers, they are hard workers and usually get along well with others.

I envision these retired people working with light weight products, inventory, and other paperwork. As an extra benefit, it would give them good exercise without even noticing they are exercising.

By lovealot — On Jun 25, 2011

I really respect the warehouse worker. Americans are such avid consumers and we want our desired items always available in the stores. The warehouse worker's salary should be much higher than it is. And, they should have good health benefits.

They are risking the health of their bodies by doing some of the requirements of the job. For example, with all the lifting, they risk injuring their backs and shoulders. These workers spend their days either standing or walking on a hard cement floor, which is hard on the feet.

I would really like to see these workers earning higher wages with benefits.

By indemnifyme — On Jun 25, 2011

@strawCake - A job in a warehouse doesn't sound too bad. However a lot of warehouse workers are hourly employees with very few benefits. Also the risk of getting hurt while operating a forklift is moderate to high.

I would recommend anyone working in a warehouse to seriously consider disability insurance. Workers comp does pay, but not as much as people think. If you're seriously injured disability insurance can be a life saver.

By strawCake — On Jun 25, 2011

A friend of mine worked in a clothing warehouse right after high school and she really enjoyed it. She liked being active all the time and warehouse work actually pays pretty decently as well.

Eventually my friend became a bartender and was making far more money. However she told me the warehouse environment was much nicer and calmer than the bar environment!

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