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Front-Line Workers Are Quitting at High Rates

black worker stressed in grocery store

The Great Resignation may be over, but a new report shows that front-line workers continue to leave their jobs in droves.

Forty-one percent of front-line employees and 38 percent of front-line managers have changed jobs in the last 12 months, according to a global survey of more than 8,000 front-line workers, managers and administrators by Beekeeper, a Switzerland-based company offering digital solutions for front-line industries such as retail, construction and health care.

“The data seems to reinforce what we’re hearing in conversations with prospective customers,” said Cris Grossmann, CEO and co-founder of Beekeeper. “The pandemic lockdowns may be behind us, but the challenges [they] posed for front-line and deskless workers persist.”

Low pay was a significant reason for quitting. With the recent market trend of employers raising pay, both workers and managers largely felt they could find better-paying jobs elsewhere. They also spoke about overdelivering and sacrificing personal time off when key operational problems went unfixed.

Furthermore, 48 percent of employees and 36 percent of managers said their wages were falling behind inflation—the top source of stress among employees and the second most stressful factor among managers. Front-line workers feeling the weight of inflation the most were those in:

  • Construction (33 percent).
  • Logistics (33 percent).
  • Retail (31 percent).
  • Health care (18 percent).

An anonymous front-line worker said in the report, “Better pay equals happier employees, which equals better work, more production and encouragement to move forward within the company.”

Being understaffed was the biggest stressor for front-line managers, the second most stressful job aspect for employees and the main factor limiting job productivity, the report found.

“When teams are understaffed, they are forced to get more done in less time, causing considerable burnout that translates to lower productivity, high attrition rates and, at the most extreme level, revenue-disrupting labor movements and strikes,” Grossman said.

[SHRM Online: What Matters to Hourly Workers]

Workplace Safety a Growing Concern Among Employees

Nearly 1 in 4 front-line workers said they feel unsafe at work, with many experiencing growing aggression from customers, according to the Beekeeper report. Employees’ need for safety and security may be poorly understood by HR and corporate staff, who rank it as a much lower priority than their front-line colleagues do.

The findings align with a 2023 survey of 1,000 front-line workers by San Mateo, Calif.-based security platform company Verkada, which found:

  • About 33 percent of front-line workers felt unsafe at their workplace in the past year.
  • 40 percent reported feeling more worried about their physical safety than they were a year ago.
  • 49 percent of retail workers said theft and vandalism are on the rise.
  • 76 percent of employers had a security incident in the past year. That figure was higher in banking and health care, at 80 percent and 79 percent, respectively.

“Employers need to take a hard look at their current emergency communications tools, systems and processes,” Grossmann explained. He said they should also “prioritize improvements and investments that will meet the safety needs of [their] staff while improving retention and employee satisfaction rates in the process.”

How to Retain Front-Line Talent

Nearly 1 in 3 U.S. front-line workers in the Beekeeper survey viewed professional development opportunities as their top workplace incentive. Managers were also highly motivated by passing on their skills and delivering training to their team, helping employers retain top talent.

According to the survey, “productivity dips when motivators are ignored and operational issues aren’t addressed.”

Robert Daubenspeck, chief business officer at consulting company Curally in Sheboygan, Wis., said companies should consider recruiting older people who can work in part-time roles and mentor younger employees, supporting their professional development. Hiring older individuals has also shown to be good for business.

“There are so many retired professionals that have years of experience to share and are often willing to [work and mentor employees] as long as the schedules are flexible,” he said.

Carlos Huereca, CHRO and COO at HR consulting firm Corporate Relocation International in Flower Mound, Texas, said companies can improve front-line retention simply through regular check-ins and informal conversations to better understand workers’ needs and expectations.

“When employers engage in consistent and meaningful conversations with their team members, it demonstrates a genuine interest in their well-being and professional development,” he said. “This proactive approach helps employees feel supported, heard and valued, leading to increased job satisfaction, loyalty and, ultimately, the retention of talented individuals.”

[SHRM Online: 5 Tips to Help Front-Line Workers of Color Advance in Their Careers]

The Beekeeper report also outlined key ways for HR to support, develop and retain front-line talent:

  • Listen to workers when they share their stresses, motivators and factors that limit their productivity.
  • Help workers and managers establish a healthy work/life balance through clear and reasonable shift allocation and task management.
  • Take burnout and toxicity seriously. Establish clear messaging that gives managers talking points to foster two-way communication and continuous improvement feedback loops.

“Don’t ignore the human need for acknowledgment and encouragement,” Grossman urged. “Front-line staff desire acknowledgment the same as any other employee.”


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