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8 frontline employee engagement trends for 2023

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This article is part of Blink’s “frontline first” series: content created specifically for leaders of deskless or distributed teams. We know that the job of frontline leadership is entirely different from managing ‘desk-based’ teams, so this is for you and your unique set of challenges.

Driving frontline employee engagement has never been easy – but as we head into 2023, it’s never been more important.

In the wake of COVID-19 and in the midst of the ongoing Great Resignation, leaders of deskless organizations now have to contend with the added pressures that a recession may bring. All this means that keeping workforces engaged and stable is critical.

Based on working with hundreds of frontline organizations all over the world, we’ve identified the top trends to watch out for when planning your 2023 engagement strategies.

1. Turnover

Employee turnover continues to be high, and a survey earlier this year indicated that “57% of frontline workers are ready to move into another frontline role with better salary.”

While job trends may change over the coming year, expect abnormal turnover to be the new normal going forward – and all the plays you’ve made to combat it in the last year need to be redoubled. 

2. Technology empowerment

Many frontline workforces are still using the kinds of processes that desk-based workers would have scoffed at ten years ago, let alone today. But that’s all about to change.

There’s been a 300% year-on-year growth in demand for technology services that specifically support frontline workers.

This isn’t a top-down drive: “63% of frontline workers are excited about the job opportunities tech creates, and tech ranks third on the list of factors workers say could help reduce workplace stress.” 

These kinds of technology initiatives won’t be copy-and-paste versions of what desk-based workers are used to – for example, an app version of the employee intranet. The problem with these kinds of solutions is that they’re not designed to be useful to the frontline – they ask for a frontline worker’s precious time, rather than earn it. 

2023 is therefore going to see leadership recognizing that technology solutions need to not only provide a user experience built around (not tweaked for) the mobile, deskless workday that the frontline experiences, but that contain the kind of valuable support that makes it worth their time. 

This is where we’ll see a raft of organizations finally attempt to solve for frontline employee engagement in 2023. In doing so, they’ll reap the rewards of productivity and retention gains that come with it. 

3. Burnout 

Burnout was one of the buzzwords of the pandemic and it’s not going away any time soon. A survey of 2,500 frontline employees conducted by Axonify indicated that “50% of frontline workers are preparing to leave their current jobs, with 58% citing burnout as the top reason.” This burnout is attributed to their experiences at work, such as long work hours, stressful interactions with the public, and lack of management communication. 

In 2023, frontline organizations will need to increase their efforts to provide wellbeing support, remembering that this starts with being able to listen effectively as well as act.  

4. Progression and opportunity

Research from McKinsey earlier this year showed an important gap in what frontline employees want from their jobs versus what their employers think they want. Critical here was the fact that “the opportunity for job growth or promotion is an even higher priority for frontline employees than pay or benefits alone”.

This is where organizations are in line for a wake-up call: Gartner mentioned that “44% of employees believe their employer does not have compelling career paths.” Those who are acting swiftly to promise investment in a long-term career path – such as McDonald’s Archway to Opportunity program – will both attract and retain ambitious, committed workers. 

5. Flexibility 

Frontline workers have witnessed their desk-based counterparts suddenly become able to work from the comfort of their own homes (and pajamas). Unsurprisingly then, the expectations of what employers can deliver have therefore been raised – and some companies are meeting them. For employees who balance work with caring responsibilities, education or second jobs, the ability to deliver flexibility on when and how to work can be as much of a deal-breaker as salary. 

In 2023, expect more companies to find smarter ways to offer this while maintaining reliable productivity – for example, in the use of more efficient shift scheduling software. 

6. Diversity, equity and inclusion

The gap between deskless and desk-based workers is particularly pronounced when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. 

According to Axonify, 86% of office workers are satisfied with their DEI support versus 67% of branch and frontline workers. Its findings also indicate that male workers feel more satisfied with their jobs than female workers based on compensation, how they’re treated by management, and the career development they’re offered. 

Considering that frontline industries show overrepresentation of many minority groups compared to desk-based work (nearly two-thirds are women, and just over 40% are people of color), this is a front-page engagement issue for leadership. 

7. Productivity 

This is the ‘new’ concern that comes with the specter of impending recession. For private sector industries in particular – such as manufacturing, hospitality, retail, and logistics – demand and therefore revenue may be volatile, so margins will not only be squeezed, but the agility needed to adapt to changing circumstances will be make-or-break. 

Employee engagement has a huge role to play in making this possible. In tough times, engaged workers stay; disengaged workers jump ship. Just as engaged workers go above and beyond to be more productive, disengaged workers can drag down a team. 

If in doubt, the numbers talk: the behaviors of highly engaged business units result in a 23% difference in profitability.

It’s at this point that delivering frontline employee engagement will be business-critical. Those that manage to communicate effectively and efficiently will be able to have shifts filled and services delivered on time – those that don’t will find that productivity becomes a debilitating challenge. 

8. People analytics and the evolving role of HR

Over the course of 2022, human resources has taken on an even more important role in organizations – and people analytics (aka collecting HR data and then transforming it into actionable insights) is a big reason for this.

The power of harnessing data is transformative, particularly since it can help impact every single one of the key trends mentioned above – but it’s far from easy, particularly for frontline organizations where ‘data’ can still often mean paper-based forms collected in a filing cabinet. But the successful companies will be the ones who try, and getting started is easier than many think. 

Want to learn more about frontline employee engagement?

This article is an excerpt from Blink’s brand-new guide to frontline employee engagement in 2023, which includes six key strategies to help leaders face the challenges that we’ve set out here. Click here or the image below to download your free copy:

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