Frontline workers have had a difficult time over the last couple of years, to say the least. Many haven’t had the option to explore hybrid or remote work options due to the on-site nature of their roles. They have had to work in concerning situations, interacting with the public during the global pandemic. This caused many to quit their jobs in high numbers, never looking back.
In order for organizations to retain talent, they need to recognize the unique struggle of frontline employees. They need to make a targeted effort to change the state of frontline work as we know it. By doing things like increasing communication efforts, prioritizing learning and development opportunities, and decreasing stress and burnout, businesses can make the frontline work experience more rewarding–and increase the chances that employees will be happy and stick around.
Our Guest: JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect at Axonify
On the latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with JD Dillon, an author and speaker with two decades of experience in frontline training and enablement. JD has worked in operations and talent development with dynamic organizations ranging from Disney to Kaplan to AMC. In his role as Axonify’s Chief Learning Architect, JD applies his passion for helping frontline employees around the world do their best work every day.
According to a 2021 report by Axonify, 50 percent of employees said they’re ready to leave their frontline jobs. As the Great Resignation and Great Reprioritization continue to affect the working world, I wanted to get JD’s take on how to specifically hire and retain frontline workers. What are the main reasons they want to leave their jobs?
“The biggest reason frontline workers are leaving is they’re burned out,” JD says. “The second motivator is lack of appreciation, especially from management. Number three is lack of interest in daily work. The number four reason is compensation. And five is being overloaded–particularly with the stresses of the past year with the pandemic.”
While much of the coverage around work focuses on hybrid work situations, the fact is that frontline workers never had the chance to work from home. So that conversation isn’t relevant to them. JD explains that there needs to be more focus on the nature of frontline work and how to make the experience of those employees more equitable.
“People are leaving because of the nature of the work itself. Frontline workers have been out there every day clocking in because they need to keep the shelves stocked, execute deliveries, work with people, etc.,” JD explains. “Unfortunately, there’s just not a lot of focus put on the larger picture of what it means to work in a frontline role.”
Making the Frontline Work Experience More Equitable
To make the frontline work experience more equitable, JD says, organizations need to start by focusing on communication. They need to get to know what their employees need and make sure they don’t feel isolated or unheard. This will not only help with creating stronger bonds between employees and management but can let leaders know what career development opportunities employees are interested in. Communication can also help mitigate the number one issue of burnout–a problem that must be remedied from the top.
“Burnout isn’t a personal problem. It’s an organizational issue. And it comes down to that kind of prolonged job stress that really pushes people to disconnect based on a level of exhaustion,” JD says. “It occurs when the job experience isn’t well-crafted and people aren’t taken care of.”
A significant way to create a well-crafted job experience is to focus on learning and development. According to JD, organizations should embed the learning experience into work, introducing reskilling and upskilling to the frontline work experience. This helps engage employees’ minds and adds meaning to their roles–two things that people are seeking (and often demanding).
“If you want to be able to compete and become a standout workplace culture, you have to understand that people aren’t settling for a mediocre work experience anymore. They’re not looking for a job that offers ‘just enough,’ whether they’re a corporate employee or frontline worker,” JD says. “Leaders need to be asking: How many people are building skills that are also going to build strength within the organization? How many employees are excelling and growing?”