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Half of Frontline Workers Feel Expendable

A report from O.C. Tanner finds that employees who spend little to no time behind a desk often feel underappreciated, despite being essential to a company’s success. 

By Maggie Mancini

O.C. Tanner’s 2024 Global Culture Report finds that 80% of workers lack access to tools, technology, and opportunities necessary to connect with their organizations.  

Gary Beckstrand, author and vice president at O.C. Tanner, says that the findings uncover two major discrepancies in the experience of the 80% of workers who spend little to any time behind a desk compared to their corporate counterparts. Beckstrand says that rectifying these issues would significantly improve their sense of belonging.  

“The first is access, or the availability of systems, resources, benefits, and people to do a job, do it well, and be taken care of at work,” Beckstrand says. “The second is enablement, or the degree to which employees have autonomy, influence, and a voice at work.”  

When looking at the widening gap between the employee experience of the 80% and their corporate counterparts, workers in the 80% are nearly twice as likely to feel they have no options when accepting a job. Only 35% feel they have the freedom to take time away from work for personal errands, and half feel expendable at work.  

Two of every five workers in the 80% say they are viewed as inferior by employees in the office. As many (35%) report senior leaders minimize or dismiss their ideas, and 39% say their work is not valued as highly as office work. 

“The good news is that when the 80% have high access and enablement, they report a more than 208% increase in the desire to stay for more than three years. And when they feel seen and valued, they report a 592% increase in the odds of doing great work,” Beckstrand says. “The key is to find ways to improve both access and enablement and to continually recognize the 80% for now only the work they do, but how they uniquely contribute to success.”    

The research shows that people-centric solutions are the ones that win and endure, every employee wants to feel seen and valued, and resilience must exceed surviving the next challenge.  

Key findings from the report are below.  

  • Only 27% of leaders feel strongly prepared to help their people navigate change. 
  • Employees who perceive their leaders to have the tools to help them manage change are five times more likely to feel a sense of community, six times more likely to thrive at work, 10 times more likely to feel a strong sense of trust, and 76% less likely to experience burnout.  
  • When leaders have the tools to help employees manage change, their own risk of burnout decreases by 73%.  

As companies across the globe look to balance employee expectations around remote work with the importance of face-to-face interaction, most frontline workers are not afforded opportunities for flexible work. Beckstrand says that there are still ways for companies to provide some form of flexibility for workers who must work in-person.  

“Frontline workers fully understand that you can’t stock shelves, manufacture products, or drive a truck from home,” Beckstrand says. “They are not looking for the same level of flexibility as their corporate counterparts. They are just asking for reasonable flexibility based on their roles, responsibilities, and personal preferences to take care of important personal needs outside of work.”   

The solution, Beckstrand says, is not equally flexibility. Rather, it’s equitable flexibility, which acknowledges that flexibility will look differently throughout the organization based on roles and responsibilities.  

This is achievable when an organization prioritizes it and establishes guidelines, but also allows leader autonomy to determine how to best address flexibility based on their department and team needs.   

“Leaders who involve their employees in addressing what flexibility looks like in their environments empower their people with more governance over when, where, and how they do their work that strengthens connection, belonging, and fulfillment.”   

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