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It’s time for the C-suite to prioritize frontline workers–or risk losing nearly half of their workforce

March 29, 2022, 4:49 PM UTC
Workers are worried about being exposed to COVID and the increasing uncertainty around job security.
Karen Ducey—Getty Images

Corporate America has been devastated by the Great Resignation resulting in nearly 11 million job losses.

This year could be even worse, especially for employers with a large frontline workforce. Despite an increased focus from corporate, these core workers continue to feel undervalued and plan to leave their jobs.

In fact, nearly half (45%) of frontline workers are planning on leaving the frontline altogether in the year ahead, according to a recent survey of 8,000+ global frontline workers and C-suite executives from Workplace from Meta.

Their frustrations, many of which existed before COVID but have only been exacerbated since the pandemic began, rest on the shoulders of the C-suite and company leadership who, for too long, have largely ignored the difficulties frontline workers encounter in the field.

Workers have had enough and are now flexing their newly available options by leaving their current roles in droves.

While only 27% of C-suite executives believe frontline workers have traditionally been seen as a priority, today the frontline is a strategic priority at every organization surveyed (100%).

The pandemic has increased visibility into the realities for frontline workers, and it is the C-suite’s responsibility to address frontline (and broader) workers’ issues to end or slow down the Great Resignation.

Acknowledge the stress impacting workers’ mental health

Many frontline workers are facing burnout, and now more than ever, employees are focused on their wellbeing and safety at work. While 71% of C-suite executives believe their organization takes care of mental health on the frontline, 70% of frontline workers have either suffered from burnout or felt at risk of burning out.

Meanwhile, 51% of frontline workers would like to receive better benefits to prevent burnout, such as more paid leave and more time off. Needless to say, there’s necessary and urgent work to be done to address employee concerns and close the gap between these beliefs.

The first step to slowing worker turnover is for C-suite executives to acknowledge the common stressors that lead to burnout among workers and prioritize their physical and mental wellbeing. Workplace from Meta’s research found frontline workers are worried about being exposed to COVID, not having access to the proper tools to be successful at their jobs, and the increasing uncertainty around job security.

Business leaders need to address the mental and physical barriers that prevent employees from being happy. But the C-suite can’t resort to the usual language they use to communicate with office workers.

Empathy and transparency build trust

Worker burnout and mental health stresses aren’t the only areas where HQ and employees are disconnected. Nearly all (99%) of C-suite executives believe their frontline workers trust them, while only one-quarter (26%) of workers completely trust their organization to communicate transparently about company news and updates.

A key contributor to this lack of trust comes from disconnection. Unlike their HQ counterparts, frontline workers do not regularly interact with corporate managers or leadership, and this lack of transparency and dialogue can lead to mistrust. In fact, only 55% of frontline workers feel connected to HQ and 51% believe they are seen as less important than their HQ counterparts.

C-suite executives should increase communication and transparency with all of their workers. Leaders appear to be increasingly focused on this, with 94% saying they plan to prioritize frontline tech to better connect with employees who are not physically in the office.

Offer career growth

Another major issue for frontline workers is inequity in career growth. While HQ workers frequently have access to training and learning opportunities, frontline workers can be overlooked.

Nearly half (43%) of frontline workers believe there is no opportunity for growth in their current role, and 54% will move to another frontline role for more learning opportunities this year.

If businesses don’t want to lose valuable talent, they will need to provide all employees with opportunities to upskill in order to retain them–regardless of whether they’re remote, on the frontline, or in an office.

C-suite executives recognize there is inequity around career growth. Only two-thirds (66%) of executives believe frontline workers have as many opportunities for career advancement as knowledge workers.

It’s time for leaders to take action and invest in the development and growth of their frontline workforce. This is also the expectation among the future workforce: According to LinkedIn’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report, 76% of Gen Z employees believe learning is “key to a successful career.”

It’s clear that if companies want to engage and retain employees they should provide them with opportunities to learn and build skills that will elevate their job performance and future growth.

Companies that fail to recognize and address burnout risks or limit communication and opportunity for career growth will see continued attrition within this critical segment of the employee population. The C-suite must act now.

Christine Trodella is the head of Workplace from Meta + Reality Labs.

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