Building an associate experience strategy to combat the frontline labor shortage

Frontline organizations are dealing with a big problem—the labor shortage in the wake of the Great Resignation. Pre-pandemic, the demands on the frontline were already high. Now they’re burned out and at their breaking point. 

At least 3.6 million US workers quit their jobs each month from April to July of 2021. Since then, resignations have remained abnormally high despite a record-breaking number of open job opportunities waiting to be filled. And the trend isn’t showing signs of slowing down: 45% of frontline workers say they’ve already decided to leave their current jobs.

I quit placard in hand with crumpled paper pile

Employers are up against the two-pronged issue of retaining their existing frontline teams while also attracting quality candidates and getting new hires trained and on the floor. As they struggle to fill staffing gaps, they’re coming to one troubling conclusion: higher wages and signing bonuses simply aren’t enough. 

So what have we learned about what associates really want out of their jobs? They want to feel supported, engaged and appreciated. And they’re no longer willing to settle for less. 

Here are a few key steps you can take to build a right-fit associate experience strategy for your frontline.

1. Support their personal needs, professional interests and career goals

Consider what your associate journey looks like. Do employees have room to cross-train and develop new skills or are you limiting them to what they already know? Are you helping them cultivate a career or are they hitting a dead end and checking out?

Frontline employees want development opportunities and room for advancement. You can differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd by offering employees room to grow upfront. This is a hard problem to solve when you’re short staffed, but it’s a critical part of attracting and retaining skilled, highly motivated workers.

Is investing in your people worth it? Carol Henry, Director of HR at Longo’s, says yes. She knows just how important building a multi-skilled and multi-talented frontline workforce has been to the grocery chain’s success:

“We’re looking at cross-training as a big part of our strategy for the upcoming year to make sure we can have a more efficient workforce, we can have a multi-talented workforce that is able to grow and actually deliver on the guest experience. And Axonify is a key part of that.”

Check out the full story to learn how Longo’s cross-trained their 5,000+ frontline employees across 36 locations (and why it’s paying off).

The Great Resignation is hitting frontline organizations hard. We have the tips to help your people succeed—and encourage them to stay longer.  

2. Show them they’re valued and cared for

There are lots of different ways to show your frontline employees that you care, like appreciation bonuses, flexible scheduling and quality coaching and mentoring. But once they’re disengaged, it can be challenging to get them back on track with one offering alone.

Take the time to really get to know why your workers are leaving or learn what they value that would convince them to stay. The best people to consult for feedback are your associates. You’ll likely find that many feel under-appreciated for their work, especially when staffing is tight and they’re expected to take on additional responsibilities and hours. This is a major contributing factor to turnover, as associates seek out more supportive workplaces that help them avoid burnout.

Opening the lines of communication between the frontline and management can also help associates feel more connected to the business. A great example of an organization that’s proving the power of this approach is Kroger:

“Across our organization, we have been focusing on investments to improve our associates’ experiences and ultimately create an environment where everyone continues to thrive and advance,” said Senchal Murphy, Kroger’s Senior Director of Training and Onboarding. “Fresh Start with Axonify helps us deliver a more personalized, digital experience for associates through purposeful, bite-sized training that enables them to learn and grow in a fun and engaging way.”

3. Onboard new hires quickly and effectively

You need new hires on the job ASAP, but your traditional onboarding program requires hours, days or weeks to complete. Skipping training altogether to close staffing gaps isn’t an option, unless you want to add even more risk to your business. 

When people don’t have the tools they need to succeed on the job, it adds unnecessary friction and frustration to their work experience. No one likes feeling unsupported and left to figure things out on their own.

To get new hires on the floor faster, you can cut down your onboarding to just the topics associates need to know. Then, use bite-sized daily training of 3 to 5 minutes per shift to improve their knowledge over time, so they actually remember and apply what they’re learning without getting overwhelmed. 

Using Axonify, the CPO of At Home, Valerie Davisson, was able to train 2,500 associates in 4 weeks with no field support—a process that would have previously taken 6 months. The result was an overall 90% reduction in onboarding time and time-to-capability. Read all about how the powerhouse home decor retailer boosted sales by investing in the right kind of associate training.

Higher wages and better benefits are only one part of the equation when people are deciding if they want to join your team (or leave it). With frontline workers quitting their jobs at record rates, it’s time for organizations to rethink the way they support associates at work, from day one.

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.

Let’s work together to drive frontline performance in all the right ways.