frontline labor shortage

Four Ways to Overcome the Frontline Labor Shortage

A record 10.9 million jobs went unfilled in July. Meanwhile, 8.4 million people remained unemployed in August. If there are more jobs available in the U.S than people who need them, why is there a frontline labor shortage that’s causing restaurants to close dining rooms, retailers to reduce hours, and delivery operations to run short on drivers? Why didn’t the decision to cut off additional federal unemployment payments get people back to work?

The Great Resignation is hitting the frontline hard as businesses struggle to regain their footing after a year of shutdowns. Unfortunately, there’s no end in sight. New data from Arlington Research and Axonify shows that 45 percent of frontline workers have already decided to leave their jobs. Retailers, grocers, and restaurants that are already struggling to keep up will find themselves even more understaffed and overwhelmed when the holiday season arrives.

Why can’t we retain frontline workers?

Almost 50 percent of frontline employees were furloughed or laid off last year. Essential workers have dealt with non-stop safety concerns, operational changes, and frustrated customers. Frontline jobs have always been physically and mentally exhausting. The pandemic represents a tipping point for this part of the workforce. As executives determine the way forward for their businesses, frontline workers are making decisions about their own futures.

Many employers have improved their compensation packages as a way to attract and retain workers. Amazon hiked its average U.S. starting pay to $18. Target launched a debt-free education assistance program for its 340,000 frontline team members. Disney offered $,1500 hiring bonuses for culinary roles in its theme parks. These are great improvements, but they’re just first steps because they don’t address the main reason people are quitting: the work experience.

Compensation ranks fourth on frontline employees’ list of reasons for leaving. Burnout is number one. You can’t pay people to stop feeling exhausted. And compensation only goes so far, especially as more employers offer competitive wages. Beyond band-aid solutions, organizations must meaningfully improve the day-to-day work experience to attract the best people—and keep them. With that in mind, here are four things you can do to overcome the labor shortage and become a frontline employer of choice.

Show employees that you care.

Burnout is the biggest reason frontline workers are walking away. Number two: lack of appreciation. The pandemic has made us all reflect on how we work and live, and the subsequent economic rebound has opened new opportunities. Staying in a stressful job where you’re not appreciated just isn’t worth it.

Fix this by making “thank you” the two most commonly used words in your workplace. Next, prioritize mental health by making related benefits and training widely available to full-time and part-time staff. Show new and experienced employees you prioritize their wellbeing by reducing common job stressors. This includes offering flexible scheduling and monitoring employee workloads. Foster a sense of community through social events and recognition programs. Even better, leverage employee-led committees to organize these activities.

Foster an inclusive and equitable workplace.

Frontline employees work in stores, branches, and warehouses. Their time is heavily scheduled, often to the minute. They’re unable to work remotely or adjust their schedules to accommodate personal responsibilities. This inflexibility has a direct impact on their job satisfaction, as 64.2 percent of store-based employees expressed happiness with their everyday work as compared to 81.4 percent of office-based workers.

This workplace inequity extends to factors like career development and pandemic support. In every case, employees who work on-location are less happy with their workplace experience as compared to those who work in an office. Furthermore, part-time employees are significantly less satisfied than full-timers when it comes to compensation, communication, technology, and manager support.

Become an employer of choice by demonstrating that everyone–regardless of role, location, or status–gets an equitable opportunity to succeed. Explore flexible working practices, such as adjustable shift times and hybrid roles. Conduct regular equity assessments to identify and close gaps between location and office-based work.

Empower frontline managers to create positive experiences.

One in two employees have quit a job to get away from a manager. Frontline employees who intend to leave are less happy with their direct managers (66 percent) as compared to those who plan to stay (80.9 percent). On the frontline, the manager is the face of the company, and they play the most important role in preventing turnover.

But managers walk a challenging tightrope between short-term performance goals and long-term relationship building. To avoid the frontline labor shortage, provide employees with the support they need to prioritize their teams. Reduce administrative workloads so they have the time to be present in the operation. Make sure new managers receive training and support immediately instead of waiting for the next program to come around. Provide on-demand resources and microlearning to help them prepare for their new roles.

Build your talent pipeline before you need it.

Many of the frontline workers who left were your best people. They were your future supervisors and managers. Hiring challenges make it unlikely that you’ll fill these gaps with external candidates. Instead, you need to build your talent bench internally ASAP. However, 35.8 percent of frontline employees only receive training during big job changes while 20.3 percent rarely or never receive it.

Frontline workers have always been difficult to reach with traditional classroom-based training. Pulling them out of the operation hurts the business, so their development opportunities have been limited. On the flip side, a reimagined training program is one of your best lines of defense in the war for frontline talent.

Apply new talent strategies, such as mobile and microlearning, that make development opportunities more accessible on the frontline. Design reskilling and upskilling activities that can be completed in just three to five minutes per day, thereby not disrupting the operation.

Employee experience can end the exodus.

The frontline labor shortage isn’t just about pay. It’s about the work itself. If you want to attract and retain the right people, give them an experience that helps them be their best, feel included and supported, and develop their careers. For even more insights on how to reimagine your frontline work experience, check out Axonify’s full report on The State of the Frontline Work Experience in 2021.