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Deskless Workers May Need Different Communications About Benefits

Two grocery store clerks organize products in an aisle

Deskless workers, or people who primarily work outside of a desk-based office setting, account for 70% to 80% of workers globally. But whether they perform cleaning and maintenance, work in transportation or the outdoors, or staff supermarkets and drugstores, the varied nature of their work presents unique challenges for HR.

Deskless workers share some traits with front-line workers. They both usually float between locations and work in shifts, according to VMWare, an infrastructure technology organization in Palo Alto, Calif. However, front-line workers typically interact directly with customers, patients, and others.

Cleaning and maintenance workers (34%) and delivery, logistics, and transportation workers (28%) are the most prevalent categories of deskless workers, according to new research from SHRM and Fidelity Investments.

Lydia Aulisi, Fidelity Brokerage Services
Lydia Aulisi, Fidelity Brokerage Services

Because deskless workers make up a large share of the U.S. workforce, SHRM and Fidelity Investments looked into the challenges HR professionals face when communicating with them.

There is also evidence that deskless workers are on the brink of being disengaged or burned out and quitting their jobs. A 2022 Boston Consulting Group survey found that 43% of deskless workers are at risk of quitting, especially those with the shortest tenures. Younger deskless workers are also more likely to leave their employer.

A session at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo (SHRM24) on June 24 offered attendees a sneak peek into the findings from a survey conducted in March of 1,046 HR professionals in the U.S. Researchers looked at the challenges of managing a deskless workforce and what strategies can help address them.

Maryann Kwakwa, SHRM senior researcher, and Lydia Aulisi, director, workplace consulting research and insights at Fidelity Brokerage Services, discussed some of the findings in a panel moderated by Ragan Decker, manager, Executive Network/ Enterprise Solutions research at SHRM.

Ragan Decker, SHRM
Ragan Decker, SHRM


A few key barriers make it especially challenging for HR to communicate benefits-related information to deskless workers, according to the research from SHRM and Fidelity. Limited computer access during the workday (62%), irregular schedules/hours (56%), and lack of face-to-face communication (55%) all make communication difficult. In fact, irregular schedules are more of a barrier for HR professionals trying to reach deskless workers in the service industry compared to those in physical industries (65% versus 47%).

Deskless workers who are part-time or nonexempt hourly workers and those ages 18-34 are the most difficult for HR professionals to reach when communicating about benefits, although the reasons why are unclear.

Despite the unique challenges deskless workers present, 69% of HR professionals said they don’t change their strategies in reaching out to them. Instead, they continue to rely on traditional approaches, such as presentations at new-hire orientation and printed materials including brochures and newsletters.

SHRM will issue a full executive summary with recommendations for employers later this summer. A few recommendations were mentioned during the concurrent session:

  • Consider your deskless workers’ needs. Surveys, focus groups, and interviews are ways to determine their key benefits needs. Do your benefits align with those needs? For example, a benefit to address student debt may be of better use at organizations with a predominately college-age employee base.
  • Optimize in-person communication strategies. Providing opportunities to learn about benefits in person may increase enrollment and utilization for deskless workers since this research found that new-hire presentations and one-on-one consultations with HR are the most effective engagement strategies.


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