Modern Training

7 key insights to help you understand why your frontline workers are leaving

Posted on: October 14, 2021Updated on: November 29, 2023By: Carol Leaman, CEO

This year in our annual State of the Frontline Work Experience report, we posed one crucial question: how’s the frontline doing? 18 months into the pandemic and in the midst of a disruptive frontline labor shortage, the answers we heard speak volumes.

45% of frontline employees told us they’ve already decided to leave their jobs. More than a red flag, the research shows—loud and clear—that organizations need to rethink the frontline work experience. Unfortunately, few people are talking about how to help frontline workers feel safe, supported and well taken care of right now. It’s time to change that.

7 key insights from the research

Here are the top seven findings from our 2021 study, conducted in partnership with Arlington Research. Keep reading to learn what’s driving frontline employees to leave their jobs and what you can do to attract the best people and encourage them to stay.

1. Frontline workers are burned out

The Great Resignation is hitting a frontline workforce that was already struggling with low engagement, performance and retention to begin with. It’s fueling labor shortages in retail, grocery, sales and beyond. And our findings reveal it’s not just a short-term problem. Nearly half of frontline employees say they already have one foot out the door. The number-one reason they’re resigning in record numbers? They’ve had enough of feeling burned out.

2. Compensation isn’t everything

While many organizations are dealing with the frontline labor shortage by offering higher wages and hiring bonuses, that’s not going to cut it. Frontline employees definitely want better compensation, but you can’t pay people to stop feeling overworked and exhausted. Employers also need to improve scheduling, build relationships and show their appreciation to get frontline workers to stay.

3. Equity is a problem

The employee experience varies greatly based on three key factors: gender, work location and job status. Case in point: people who work in stores and branches have received much less effective support during the pandemic compared to those who work in offices or from home. Employers need to work on addressing disparities in compensation, training, career growth opportunities and more to give everyone an equally supportive and rewarding work experience.

4. Managers make or break the experience

Manager influence is powerful on the frontlines and plays a significant role in employee turnover. One in two employees have quit a job to get away from a manager at some point in their career. Our research shows that managers can promote higher engagement and performance by taking better care of frontline workers’ time and prioritizing long-term wellness over short-term productivity.

5. Digital supports them better

Employees make the right decisions and do their best work when training content, resources and communication are consistent and easy to access. So it’s no surprise that 82.3% of frontline workers prefer digital training and communication over traditional methods. That preference spans across generations, from boomers to Gen Z.

6. Skill development is lacking

As it becomes harder to recruit right-fit talent, internal skill development can help companies overcome future challenges. Even so, frontline training often takes a backseat to day-to-day operational priorities. Our research shows that 35.8% of employees only receive training during big job changes, while 20.3% rarely or never receive it. That limits an organization’s ability to deal with disruption. And it also misses the mark when it comes to employee job satisfaction. More frontline workers say they want to take skill development beyond the basics.

7. They’re tired but confident

Frontline workers have some of the toughest jobs out there. They work long, sometimes unpredictable hours, take care of demanding customers and always try to do their best while supporting themselves and their families. Despite all the challenges they face, 87.1% of frontline workers agree or strongly agree that they’re confident in their ability to do a good job.

What levers can you pull to attract and retain frontline talent?

Frontline workers have played an essential role in keeping the lights on and our economies running during a long pandemic. It’s time to take a hard look at the day-to-day frontline experience and make meaningful changes that will help people feel safe and supported.

Many organizations have already acted quickly in their attempts to remedy frontline engagement, performance and turnover. They’ve increased wages, offered bonuses, provided tuition reimbursements and automated tasks to reduce or reposition headcount. These are important and necessary steps but, as our key insights show, they’re still not enough. 

To overcome the frontline labor shortage and become employers of choice, organizations need to reshape frontline work itself. Based on the research, our report on the State of the Frontline Work Experience in 2021 identifies the next five levers you can pull to improve frontline productivity, capability, resilience and satisfaction.

Carol Leaman, CEO

Carol isn’t your typical leader. She’s driving a revolutionary approach to employee knowledge, but she’s also a doors-open, come-see-me-anytime kind of executive. Carol doesn’t just talk the talk—she definitely walks the walk. You can read more from her on Training Industry Magazine, ATD, CLO and as a regular contributor for Fortune.