The gap between frontline staff is widening. Why?

Think about the most successful companies you know. More likely, they are built on the strength of frontline employees, working together toward shared goals with the support and guidance of their leaders.

For any business to thrive, infrastructure must be adaptable and resilient in the face of ever-changing market needs and business realities. Yet many organizations have recently suffered from a growing disconnect between management and their frontline staff. How can employers solve this? Recent research provides useful answers.

New insights into the frontline workforce

Each year, Beekeeper conducts an in-depth study to understand the motivators and stressors of the frontline workforce, as well as the productivity of employees, managers and business personnel. The research focuses on various details of the lives of frontline workers and sheds light on the key challenges and factors impacting performance.

Year after year, this research helps employers understand the key feelings, needs and trends of their frontline workforce that matter. And the 2024 Frontline Workforce Pulse Report is no different.

We surveyed 5,615 frontline workers, 2,318 managers, and 210 organizational headquarters across multiple industries, including hospitality, manufacturing, logistics, construction, healthcare, and retail.

The results cover a spectrum of issues, including engagement rates, work environment, productivity, work-life balance, fair wages and other issues. And with more than 8,000 participants, this is one of the largest studies of its kind.

Main research results

This year’s data shows, among other things, that there is a growing gap between employees and managers, in terms of their perceptions and expectations. But it doesn’t stop there. The report also offers recommendations to help employers create an environment where all employees feel valued and motivated.

The findings show that managers often fail to address the needs and concerns of frontline workers – and many do not have a clear understanding of those needs. As a result, productivity decreases, employee turnover increases, and profitability suffers within organizations around the world.

However, employers can reverse these conditions by addressing factors that cause employee disengagement. By taking steps to build a healthier, more productive workforce culture on the front lines, employers can more successfully attract, develop and retain critical personnel.

We found three key concerns that leaders want to address. For more information, read on…

3 High priority frontline staff issues

1. Expectations don’t match

The survey asked employees, managers and head office employees about their personal stress, motivation and productivity feelings. Managers and head office employees were also asked what they expect employees to think. This revealed the topics and situations where the gap between frontline workers and leaders is most serious.

One of the most alarming discrepancies is the gap between employee needs and managers’ expectations. These types of disconnects manifest in different forms, such as miscommunication or a lack of shared goals. This in turn threatens the cohesive dynamics that are an essential foundation for any organization.

To bridge this gap between frontline employees, employers must cultivate a shared understanding of company goals, develop mutual commitment to success, and promote open communication in the workplace. This agenda is both a corrective action and a strategic objective. Shared goals, mutual respect and open communication allow organizations to navigate today’s demanding business environment as a cohesive team.

Addressing this problem requires strong commitment from both leadership and employees. Leaders must actively collaborate with their teams and promote open dialogue and understanding. By listening to the concerns, ideas and aspirations of frontline workers, managers can identify and resolve potential tensions. This creates trust, which strengthens the foundation necessary for collaboration and organizational success.

The right technology can help managers address these issues by uncovering critical insights about team productivity and underlying challenges. For example, specialized communications platforms can help unite everyone in an organization. This helps managers stay productive while remaining engaged and responsive to input from their teams. At the same time, these communication channels allow team members to participate by making it easier for them to express their ideas and concerns on a regular basis.

2. Employee retention rates are still declining

Retaining frontline employees presents a new challenge for frontline managers and leadership. The nature of frontline work typically involves demanding, stressful tasks that can lead to fatigue and burnout.

Our research shows that more than 41% of frontline workers have changed jobs in the last 12 months. Why? Many respondents mentioned these factors:

  • They are looking for a better balance between work and private life.
  • They see limited opportunities for career advancement or view their role as transitory.
  • Some believe the compensation and benefits are inadequate
  • Many reported a lack of adequate recognition for their contributions.

To improve employee loyalty and retention, employers must work strategically to provide a more empathetic environment that takes into account the challenges faced by frontline employees. When people feel seen, valued and heard, they tend to be more committed to their work responsibilities, more motivated to succeed and less likely to quit.

Frontline workers looking for new jobs told us they are driven by a desire to improve their work-life balance. This means employers can combat employee turnover by providing a more stable, supportive work environment, along with flexible hours and other scheduling options that help employees balance work and personal priorities. By responding to this need for healthier solutions, organizations can improve employee satisfaction and engagement at work.

Still, it’s important to note that many employees and managers (35-50%) believe they can find better career opportunities and compensation elsewhere. This underlines the need for employers to reassess and improve talent strategies so they can attract top talent and encourage people to stay. Addressing the root causes of employee turnover and implementing measures to improve workplace conditions can help create an environment where both employees and managers can thrive.

3. Managers are not clear about what drives employees

The lack of understanding between frontline managers and team members was most evident when comparing responses to questions about the sources of employee stress. For example, managers are unaware that employees are most concerned about low wages, inadequate staffing, and the need to feel safe at work. Specifically:

  • 48% of workers said low wage growth causes the most stress (their biggest concern), while only 36% of managers expected this to be the case.
  • Workplace safety is the second biggest concern for employees (with 27% choosing this option). Yet managers and head office employees expected it to rank only sixth among the causes of stress.

These misaligned opinions further highlight the challenges facing organizations on the front lines. It’s not just a communication problem. If managers do not recognize that inadequate wages and unsafe working conditions are central problems, how can they expect people to be engaged, motivated and productive? Improvement starts with constructive dialogue, but depends on management’s active role in addressing these issues.

Bridging the frontline workforce gap

An engaged, collaborative workforce is the cornerstone of organizational success. It ensures adaptability and resilience in the face of business challenges. But for many frontline workers around the world, this vision is not a reality.

For a healthier work environment that invites engagement and productivity, employers must bridge serious perception gaps. The solution? First, implement open communication channels. Establish feedback processes that keep managers in touch with employee sentiment and ideas. Then encourage ongoing interaction that can keep you moving in the right direction.

Your frontline staff deserve this. These employees drive global business. They are literally the face of your organization. With hard work, skills and a commitment to excellence, frontline teams provide the fuel that drives business growth and profitability. But their ability to succeed has been in jeopardy for several years.

Repairing the damage isn’t a quick or easy process, but it’s essential for any business that wants to stay competitive. With insights from research like ours, organizations can develop versatile strategies that address the interests of both employees and managers. And by using empathetic leadership and effective communication to create purposeful alignment, you can pave a successful path forward for frontline teams.

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