Frontline Workers in a Changing Landscape

COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill in a flash, forcing people to stay and work from home. But the frontline workers were the lifeline of the economy and society. They kept risking their own lives and saving light on groceries, restaurants, hospitals, and other energy-saving essential services. According to Brookings, these unsung heroes are mostly “low-wage earners estimated at around 7 million people” according to Eonocofact, “ most of the workers are also minorities women, PoC, etc.,” as shown in the figure.1

Fig.1 Composition of Frontline Workers

The U.S. and global organizations transitioned part of their workforce to remote work, but the frontline workers were still working on-site, facing the risks of contracting COVID-19. The world is returning to normalcy, remote workers returning to office/ hybrid work, and the frontline workers who never left are still serving on-site.  As per U.S. Bureau of Statistics, there are “11.5 million open jobs,” and the vast majority are “diskless jobs,” meaning the work can only be performed on-site. To encourage and retain, U.S. employers increased pay between 7% to 10% for these workers during the pandemic. Still, frontline workers keep leaving the organization. As seen in figure 2. below, the graph shows new job, COVID-19 job impact, family health concerns, and lousy boss relationship are among the many reasons for leaving.

The world of work is changing pretty fast; the question is, how do we engage frontline workers in this fast-moving world. I spoke with Erika Sandoval, Partner, Strategic Advisor Group at UKG, presenting a session” Embracing the Frontline Worker in the Ever-Changing Workforce Structure” at SHRM Conference in New Orleans on 06/13/22 and repeated on 06/14/22.

Can you share one or two items that caught your eyes on frontline workers?

Erika S: the frontline workers never left; they are in the same place; most of the frontline workers are from minorities group, so the DE&I aspects come to my mind. Second, the value of technology tools to improve efficiencies and connect better, for example, timeclock and having the ability to punch in and out from their work stations. Especially if the frontline workers have two jobs, we can deploy technology to leverage and create better engagement.

Can you share your thoughts that could help frontline workers feel part of the team?

Erika S: Inclusion strategies that align with business priorities and engage them holistically.

Is any particular industry, retail, or healthcare that your research shows the disparity, or is it an industry-agnostic issue?

Erika S: The disparity is across all industries, but the transportation and healthcare industries are particularly noticeable.

Does your study/findings identify this as an issue in large enterprises or prevalent in small and mid-size companies?

Erika S: Interestingly enough, the trend is everywhere regardless of the firm’s size.

How can technology help bridge the gap in employee engagement? Or how technology can help improve inclusive culture?

Erika S: Technology tools can undoubtedly help connect and engage employees; e.g., Analytics can reveal invaluable lessons. As simple as a scheduling tool can show who is on and out to plan accordingly. The issue of burnout is confirmed; we could help avoid that.


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