Frontline Workers: 4 Research-Backed Practices that Drive Retention

healthcare worker smiling

The following guest blog post comes from Ben Eubanks, Chief Research Officer at Lighthouse Research & Advisory. In this role, he works with HR, talent and learning leaders across the globe to solve their most pressing business challenges with a research-based perspective tempered by practical, hands-on experience.


Have you ever used one of those air needles to blow up a basketball or soccer ball?

I used to make those.

When I was a teenager, I worked for a machine shop that did custom work, and one of our customers needed a commercial version of those needles to support one of its chemical processes.

I share that story because it gave me a small glimpse into the difficult, detail-specific, and often thankless work frontline workers do every day, work that is critical to organizations.  Yet for many reasons, including the ongoing shortage of frontline workers, these workers have been and continue to be overburdened and stressed.

When you consider the net results of that, it’s easy to see why our Great Reprioritization research shows that about half of frontline workers are thinking about quitting their jobs.

What does the data say about what’s causing them to leave?

Individuals that work in industries like manufacturing, healthcare, and others with onsite positions have fundamentally different requirements than those who work in offices. However, much of the research that exists looks only at office or corporate types of work, leaving these workers out of the equation.

For instance, someone in a frontline role quits a job due to stress and burnout 19% more often than the average worker in a non-frontline role.

But it’s not a lost cause.

Key data points can help provide a better understanding of what your frontline workers care most about.

The Data: 4 Things That Engage and Disengage Frontline Workers

In a study of thousands of individuals, we trimmed the data down to just frontline workers to understand some key lever points for them.

The number one predictor of turnover for frontline workers is stress/burnout

According to the data, these workers quit jobs due to stress and burnout twice as often as they quit for another position with higher pay or better benefits, in spite of the fact that many managers believe people only leave for the money.

Serving them with stronger relationships and flexible benefits can help to minimize the stress they face, maximize their options for support, and create a more engaged workforce at the same time.

Strong support for work/life balance and family needs matter most to frontline workers in their current role/company

Nearly 6 in 10 workers told us that being able to fit their work into their life (versus squeezing life in around work) was a top priority. One piece of advice for employers: this isn’t just a policy decision at a macro level. Work/life balance as a retention strategy is won or lost at the relationship level.

If the manager supports, encourages, and guides their staff in conjunction with a good policy, that’s a winning proposition. However, managers who intentionally or unintentionally sabotage these work/life balance efforts typically see higher employee turnover.

Only 49% of frontline workers feel supported by their direct manager.

The critical nature of that manager relationship was outlined in the previous section, but here’s a data point that clearly illustrates the urgency of this: workers that say they don’t feel supported by their manager are 2x more likely to leave in the next 30 days.

As the old saying goes, love is spelled T-I-M-E. Spending some time with each individual to answer questions, discuss career opportunities, or even to commiserate over the challenges people are facing are all viable options for building more supportive managerial relationships.

The right combination of benefits and pay is key to getting frontline workers to stay.

71% of those surveyed said that the number one thing that would make them more likely to stay in a job is better pay and benefits. Employers everywhere are struggling 

One possible way to help mitigate that is by exploring benefits that appeal to a range of people and give more control to your workforce over their time, money, and resources.

Obviously, if any of these were easy, everyone would already be doing them consistently. However, all of us know it requires hard work to deliver results in the area of engagement and retention for frontline staff. The challenge to you as an employer is to pick one of these areas to begin making strides in a positive direction.

As a takeaway, consider this: if you’re able to improve in some of these key areas, you can not only use that to support your ongoing retention efforts, but also to appeal to and attract new candidates to your organization as well. People want to work for companies that care for, invest in, and support them, even if the roles themselves are demanding and challenging.

healthcare worker smiling

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