Recent headlines like “No fuel in UK because of driver shortage” or “blue-collar crisis threatens our way of life” make it very clear that the people at the frontline are a strategic necessity for your business and that we have an urgent issue to solve.
In supply chains, the use of technology and process optimization are important, but we can’t forget about the most important element: labor. After all, frontline workers make up 80 percent of the global workforce, and in labor-intensive industries like logistics, this figure is even higher.
The Issue of Focusing on Our Frontline Workforce Is More Pressing Than Ever – For Three Main Reason:
- First, the competition for recruiting workers is becoming increasingly fierce. According to McKinsey & Company demand for people will increase – such as in the logistics industry, which is currently being driven by the strong growth in the e-commerce sector – while the pool of applicants will decrease.
- Second, working standards are becoming higher. Office workers are demanding more perks, like more flexibility in the job, which is rubbing off on the frontline workers.
- Third, the standards for workers’ skill sets are growing. New technological innovations, for instance working with robots, require more and more affinity toward technology and digitalization.
See Your Frontline Workforce Both as People and as a Strategic Asset
Despite its importance, a holistic management approach to the frontline workforce has been neglected in recent years. Job satisfaction measures have focused on office workers – and the digital transformation on business processes and machinery in order to improve productivity. Few measures have been dedicated to frontline workers, viewing them as an important strategic asset to care for.
We know that measures for these workers are powerful levers and that improvements can have a big (financial) impact. Take the issue of staff turnover in your company. Particularly high turnover means that positions need to be filled multiple times a year. Considering the time and money that goes into restaffing, the cost of one frontline worker quitting is around 4,500 US dollars.
However, even if employers are willing to spend more on their workers – training, increased salary, more perks – they just are not finding enough staff. In the UK alone, Logistic UK’s Performance Tracker for September 2021 showed that 96 percent of UK logistics business are reporting problems finding drivers, and over 13 percent of businesses are having severe difficulty finding warehouse workers.
How To Get Started Focusing On Your Frontline Workers
The first obvious solution to winning and retaining staff is to offer more pay – one would think at least. The traditional way of solving any labor problem has always been to increase wages, believing this will do the trick and make workers happy and satisfied.
However, times have changed. According to EmployBridge’s survey of over 15,000 frontline workers, it is, indeed, true that pay remains the primary factor for accepting a job. Yet, more than two-thirds of the respondents revealed that other factors like job security, enjoyment, or flexibility are mainly important to them.
The survey goes so far as to show that 73 percent of frontline workers would even trade higher pay for other factors such as more flexibility. It also reveals that employee growth and job advancement are top drivers of employee loyalty – and can be satisfied by offering growth opportunities and sufficient trainings.
What’s more, McKinsey & Company confirmed that employees nowadays value relational factors such as a sense of belonging or a caring team more than transactional ones like compensation.
In other words, other factors beyond pay play an important role in recruiting employees and keeping them satisfied as well as productive – also over the long term. In order to find out which factors exactly to focus on in your business and how to implement them in a sustainable way, we suggest following four key paths:
1. Look at Your Frontline Workforce Management in a Holistic Way
Across all life cycle stages, using a systematic approach to frontline management forms a solid foundation for worker retention. The life cycle covers recruiting, onboarding, management, and retainment. With a clear and holistic frontline management approach, daily efficiency increases the attractiveness and satisfaction of the job – ultimately leading to more productivity and longer-lasting employment.
2. (Really) Get To Know Your Frontline Workforce and Their Pain Points
Talk to colleagues on the frontline – personally, through the use of surveys, or within interviews – and, ideally, get some hands-on experience. Find out what they value and what their pain points are. Not only will the workers appreciate your interest but you can also gain valuable first-hand insights into the working climate, the workload, any language barriers, personal training needs, and more.
3. Ideate and Brainstorm Ideas Together With Your Frontline
Once you know the pain points and what they value, start thinking about solutions to turn the pain into gain. You can do this by creating typical personas who represent your various frontline workers. Then, together with focus groups of frontline workers and local management, prioritize the areas and pain points you want to focus on and create ideas that would help solve those.
Another powerful tool that can generate fruitful ideas are local competitions, such as a call directed at your frontline workers to submit their ideas for improvements, changes, or similar.
4. Implement Ideas With Local Buy-in or, Ideally, Ownership
Measures that aim to achieve a change in behavior often require multipliers within the facility – be it local management or direct frontline leaders. When measures are centrally developed, local buy-in is an absolute necessity. Buy-ins are generally easier when measures are locally developed, have shown good results and been scaled to other locations. In any case, always plan enough time to explain reasons for solutions and offer an open ear for feedback.
Quick Summary – Frontline Workforce Management
- Your frontline workforce is essential to your business – both strategically and financially. Treating them well will make the difference in today’s competitive labor landscape.
- A holistic approach across the board enables you to retain employees over the long term – keeping them from taking their know-how to other companies.
- So it pays off to invest in factors that they want the most: flexibility, more perks, and training, to name just a few. Develop operations together with them, understand their needs, and take their ideas seriously. After all, they make the difference for your business.
This is our first article in our series on the frontline workforce. Throughout the series, we will be taking a closer look at each stage of the life cycle for next-level frontline workforce management. Our measures described aim at improving job attractiveness, employee satisfaction and productivity to keep your business at the forefront of the competition.
In the next article, we will share details on recruiting and how organizations can adapt their recruiting processes to win new employees and succeed in the highly demanding, rapidly changing environment.
Do you have any challenges or solutions with your frontline workforce that you would like to share? Feel free to contact us to tell us more – it may just be suitable for a special interview piece on this blog site.
Are there any other topics that interest you? Let us know! Share your ideas and opinions with us, and tell us what topics you would like for us to cover in upcoming articles.
Get in touch with us
Jana Koch – Partner and Future of Work Lead, DHL Consulting
Matthias Vollmert – Partner and Future of Operations Lead, DHL Consulting