“Hero,” “essential,” and “crucial” are all labels that were applied to workers who had to continue showing up in person during the pandemic in spite of the risks associated with interacting with the public. Often working low-paying jobs, these employees had to face the dangers of COVID infection and abuse from the public while enforcing public health mandates, in addition to the everyday challenges of their roles. Now, a report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) predicts that more than one-third of “deskless” workers—those who must be physically present to perform their jobs—are at risk of quitting in the next six months.
The seven-nation survey of more than 7,000 deskless workers has serious implications, given that they make up three-quarters or more of the labor force in most countries and work in industries as diverse and critical as construction, healthcare, manufacturing, and transportation. Employers are already facing a talent crunch, with the June 2022 unemployment level sitting at 3.6%, the lowest since February 2020, and the news that many current employees are preparing to depart will only exacerbate the problem.
Surveyed workers reported a variety of motivations for their impending departures, with 41% of respondents citing a lack of career advancement, 30% citing insufficient pay, 28% seeking greater flexibility in where and when they work, and 22% looking for better work-life balance. Younger workers were found to be more likely to quit deskless jobs than their older colleagues, with 48% of Gen Z employees at risk of leaving within the next six months compared to 35% of Gen Y, 32% of Gen X, and 24% of Baby Boomers.
BCG suggests a variety of steps that business leaders can take to help retain staff, including increasing pay, considering workers’ needs when designing shifts, expanding benefits to meet workers’ unique needs, investing in upskilling and clear career pathways, and supporting frontline workers by listening to and acting on worker concerns and needs.
With so many deskless workers serving in so many critical roles, employers and society at large cannot afford to continue the business practices that have left many front-line employees, once lauded as “essential,” feeling undervalued and disposable.