Short on Frontline Employees? You’ll Have to Rethink These 5 Myths

Frontline worker assisting AI technology

Competition for frontline employees has never been hotter. Yet benefits are still catching up. Maybe that’s because there are still questions about how to craft benefits to help people who work outside of corporate work environments – or why to compete aggressively for them at all. 

The starting point is a better understanding of these increasingly important employees. 

And that requires dispatching the myths about frontline jobs and the people who work in them. 

Such as? 

AI is going to replace them all: The myth is that anything humans can do robots can do better. That’s until you’ve spent a few exasperated minutes shouting “representative” at an automated phone bot (and who hasn’t?). And customers are notoriously unforgiving. The need for human ingenuity will never go away. In fact, in the era of AI, humans as differentiating problem-solvers are likely to become more important than ever. 

You can’t keep them anyway: The 2019 Branch Report does away with the idea that frontline employees themselves see their gigs as temporary. They’re actually twice as likely to want a promotion in their current company than they are to want to switch jobs. That has payoffs for employers since nobody knows customer problems like the people who are fielding them. But you’ll have to show them there’s an achievable path to get there. 

The schedule suits them: Unconventional shifts may seem like a work preference. But another clue to frontline career ambitions is their feelings about hours, and the fact that predictable shifts are at the top of their list. “More than half wanted a stable, predictable schedule,” reads the Branch Report. They also want higher pay. Such perks are more likely with more advanced roles. It means that much like we found in our nursing study, these employees will likely go where the education and career development is. 

Your home-office education programs are enough: The baseline for upward frontline mobility isn’t discreet skills delivered by tuition reimbursement. It’s affordable education programs that can help lots of people achieve degrees. More than 90% of hourly employees responding to the Branch Report had little or no college education. That means successful programs need to start from core requirements and guide to the finish line. Those kinds of education programs are enormous carrots. But they’ll need to be designed expressly for the frontlines to deliver.  

Absenteeism is unsolvable: Another hurdle to career growth: missing work. And as Slate reported, child care arrangements are most likely to fall apart for people working nontraditional hours. That’s because constantly shifting schedules make child care difficult to plan for – a challenge for both employee and employer. There is an answer, but it will require employers to get creative and offer child care that’s affordable and easily available in a pinch. 

Here’s perhaps the biggest myth – that no one’s aggressively competing for these employees. Last year, Target announced it was expanding back-up benefits, offering 20 days to all employees – including part-time team members. Just this month, Home Depot highlighted its education program for hourly workers – including coaches – to appeal to the 80,000 employees they need to hire for spring. “It is consistent with the state of the labor market right now,” Glassdoor’s Daniel Zhao told CNBC. “These new benefits show that employers are feeling the pressure of a tight labor market and are expanding benefits and experimenting with new ways to attract workers.”

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

February 20, 2020

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.