Support, stabilize, enable: Our research reveals what the frontline workforce actually wants

Posted on: October 14, 2022Updated on: April 18, 2024By: Maliyah Bernard

Nearly three billion workers worldwide, from retail and grocery associates to financial service advisors, are deskless. They make up an overwhelming 80% of the global workforce but that volume hasn’t translated to being provided with what they need to thrive, especially after a tumultuous two-plus years disrupted nearly every facet of their livelihoods. So what is the state of the frontline workforce today?

We talked to over 260 corporate leaders and 1,000 workers and managers across 5 industries to find out. The Deskless Report is filled with insights and recommendations for how to repair fractured communications, better enable employees and what role technology plays in empowering and unburdening and engaging managers.

Retail employee and manager reviewing information on a tablet

Here’s a look at three key insights from the 65-page findings.

1. Frontline managers are critical but burning out—fast

Managers are expected to be everything to everyone. They link corporate to staff, often relying on outdated or ill-fitting communication systems, lead the implementation of new initiatives with tight timelines and little information and have to quickly fill gaps that erupt on the frontline due to labor shortages—all while just trying to stay afloat amid everyday challenges.

Our new research shows that 49% of frontline managers are feeling burned out on a daily basis. As the single source of truth, they are relaying often key information in-person, via text or other messaging systems that aren’t organized, trackable or optimized. This means there’s no way to ensure messages are getting to the right people at the right time, both from corporate to employees and feedback that’s moving in the other direction. This is, at best, an ineffective way to operate and, at worst, detrimental to any culture that claims to prioritize communication.

Leaders need to unburden managers with the right tools to help them perform their jobs effectively, lead their teams with empathy and message important feedback to corporate, who are often unaware of the day-to-day issues facing staff.

Take a deep dive into The Deskless Report

2. Misalignment is leaving fundamental employee needs unmet

Organizations want employees to understand the “why” behind their work but it’s a two-way street. Frontline workers have a “why” too, and without equitable compensation, steady schedules, adequate support or a dependable way to communicate when things aren’t right—all identified as significant happiness drivers for workers—success and satisfaction will continue to stay out of reach. Employees are craving stability, community and empathetic leadership but what happens when it feels like no one’s listening? The Great Resignation. Quiet Quitting. And whatever the next trend is that puts workers in impossible scenarios that don’t serve them or the business.

Diagram showing the hierarchy of frontline workers needs: livelihood, stability, community, and culture.

3. Tech enablement needs an upgrade

It’s no secret that technology has the power to transform the workplace and, when done right, it can elevate the frontline associate experience by making the job more efficient, engaging and rewarding.

But when done poorly (i.e., putting new devices in employees’ hands without setting usage expectations or baselining knowledge, or offering too many disparate systems rather than consolidating), the result is more frustration, poor company culture and wasted investment dollars.

There also needs to be a shift in perception. Leaders should focus on tech as an employee enablement opportunity that can solve some of the most pressing issues—compensation, community, burnout, etc.—and treat it with the same enthusiasm as customer-facing digital initiatives. Up to this point, the digital transformation of the frontline has favored the consumer— who understandably holds purchase power—but the lessons learned should be leveraged to improve the experience for employees and managers alike.

Bar charts of how corporate leaders and frontline workers are using technology to solve challenges.

Steps to improve the frontline experience

While all three cohorts of the frontline feel somewhat optimistic about the future, it’s no surprise that corporate responders favored a positive outlook to the tune of 74% vs 64% of managers and 54% of workers, who typically have the least amount of control.

So, what’s next?

You can’t solve every problem overnight. But the report offers strategic recommendations intended to help leaders make moves in the right direction. Now that it’s clear what the frontline workforce needs, it’s time to find ways to deliver it and create an experience worthy of the exceptional people you want representing your brand.

The full Deskless Report is available now for download.

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Maliyah Bernard

Maliyah Bernard is an academic writer turned content writer. As a former frontline worker, she loves writing about all the ways organizations can support these essential workers smarter.

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