When every employee has the opportunity to do and be their best, workers are happier and business is better. Organizations rely on people showing up and doing a great job at what they were hired to do. When you make it easier and more rewarding for them to perform well, everybody wins.
But, of course, it’s more complicated than it sounds. Ensuring everyone has right-fit tools and resources to succeed means acknowledging that the playing field isn’t level. It means recognizing that an employee’s race, gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status may mean they are at a disadvantage.
Employers that want to get serious about
maximizing the performance and success of their teams need to take a harder
look at the employee experience to understand where and how systemic barriers
exist. In recent years, organizations have risen to this challenge, turning
their focus to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) in the
workplace. When DEIB is a priority, teams are stronger and more resilient — and
results are better.
The State of DEIB on the Frontlines
Unfortunately, not every company has made progress in the area of DEIB, and frontline organizations in retail, grocery, sales and financial services are among them. A recent survey of over 2,500 frontline employees commissioned by Axonify, in partnership with Arlington Research, found a significant lack of equity in the day-to-day work experience in three key areas: gender, work location and job status.
Those disparities aren’t just creating negative experiences for frontline workers; they’re also driving them to leave. Nearly half (45%) of survey respondents said they’re already planning to quit their frontline jobs, citing burnout, underappreciation and a lack of interest in their work as top reasons. Inequity in the work experience only exacerbates those issues.
In today’s competitive hiring climate, frontline organizations that want to attract and retain the best talent need to take real action to address inequities. And those that don’t will find the ongoing labor shortage even harder to navigate.
Based on Axonify’s findings from “The State of the Frontline Work Experience in 2021,” here are some key areas you can focus on to start building a more equitable frontline employee experience, so you can attract the best people and keep them longer.
Close the Gender Gap
Gender discrimination is an ongoing issue in the workplace and the frontline is no exception. When it comes to critical areas like pay, manager trust, pandemic support and career development, survey data shows that employees who identify as male consistently report higher satisfaction than those who identify as female or non-binary.
One of the most tangible examples of gender inequity in the workplace is the pay gap. According to Pew Research, women earned 84% of what men earned in 2020. Frontline workers report a related gap in pay satisfaction along gender lines. Many employees (70%) who identify as male say they’re satisfied with their compensation compared to 60% who identify as female and 59% who identify as non-binary.
Addressing gender-related and other disparities can be complex, but it starts with two-way communication. Equity assessments, such as pulse surveys, can help you identify where your DEIB efforts are falling short. Ask your people about key elements of the workplace experience, such as compensation, manager relationships, mental health support and overall satisfaction, to identify trends and gaps. This approach gives your frontline a voice and empowers them to be active promoters of equity in the workplace.
Level Out Location-Based Disparities
Frontline workers were some of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. They’ve had to make significant sacrifices, putting themselves and their families at risk, bearing the brunt of labor shortages and dealing with rising levels of burnout. The data reflects that reality, showing a wide gap in satisfaction between corporate and frontline workers. While companies had to develop two different pandemic support strategies for each group, only 67% of store or branch workers were satisfied with the support they received versus 86% of office workers. Likewise, only 54% of those in stores or branches have access to burnout support versus 77% of office workers.
Overall, people who work in offices are almost always happier than people who don’t. A more inclusive frontline work experience closes the gap between office-based, remote and on-location experiences. That’s not to say these experiences should be the same because they’re fundamentally different. But the frontline should have access to the same level of support as office workers.
Ultimately, tools and processes need to be the right fit for every department, function and work experience. For example, online training and support resources that are readily available to office workers may be harder to access for deskless frontline employees. Having a bring your own device (BYOD) policy or making resources available through easily accessible mobile devices on the floor can boost equity and inclusion.
Improve the Part-time Experience
Part-time workers in frontline roles often have similar responsibilities to their full-time counterparts. And in busier periods, they often clock full-time hours too. But data shows satisfaction with the frontline work experience varies greatly depending on job status.
When it comes to pay, the difference is significant. Just 49% of part-time workers are satisfied with their compensation compared to 70% of full-time workers. Satisfaction is much lower for part-time employees in other key areas too, including manager trust, pandemic support, access to information and job-related technology.
Part-time employees are a critical element of many frontline operations and they’re among the millions who are leaving their jobs in search of more rewarding work experiences. Frontline employers need to ask themselves where they may be implicitly undervaluing the contributions of part-time workers or overlooking key elements of their work experience. Workers’ needs vary depending on their job function and status and understanding their expectations — and how they differ — is a great place to start your equity-building efforts.
Reflect the Unique Workforce Experience
The most important thing employers need to keep in mind when it comes to fostering equity in the frontline work experience: frontline workers have unique needs and challenges. The approach you take to support your corporate team isn’t likely to be a good fit for your large, culturally diverse, geographically distributed frontline workforce.
Keeping the equity/equality distinction top of mind is critical. Frontline employers that focus on providing everyone with the right thing (equity) as opposed to the same thing (equality) will see the greatest success. Using equity, instead of equality, as your decision-making lens ensures everyone receives right-fit support and opportunity throughout the organization, including in recruitment, hiring, development, recognition and promotion.
DEIB in the frontline work experience must go beyond policies, paperwork and paying lip service. It’s about making it possible for every employee to do and be their best, so your frontline can perform its best every day
Ultimately, the strength of your frontline workforce will be determined by your ability to address inequities and make sure every employee has what they need to succeed.
About the Author
Carol Leaman is the president and CEO of Axonify.