The shift to remote and hybrid work models has dominated business conversations in recent years, especially during and after the pandemic. However, a significant portion of the American workforce, about 58%, works fully on-site and cannot perform their jobs remotely.

Many of these employees are frontline workers, integral to customer interactions and product manufacturing. Despite their crucial role, Gallup’s data indicates a disparity in engagement levels between on-site, non-remote-capable employees and their remote or hybrid counterparts.

The Engagement Gap in Frontline Workers

Frontline workers were lauded as “essential” during the pandemic for their role in sustaining the economy and society. Yet, they show far lower engagement levels (29%) compared to fully remote workers (38%), hybrid workers (38%), and even on-site workers who can work remotely (34%).

This gap raises a question: are frontline workers longing for the benefits of remote work, like skipping the daily commute?

Perception of Remote Work Among Frontline Workers

Surprisingly, over half of the on-site, non-remote-capable employees (57%) report being “not at all” bothered by others having the option to work remotely. This sentiment differs significantly from those who are on-site but could work remotely, where over half express some level of resentment towards remote work flexibility not available to them.

Changing Preferences: Time Over Location Flexibility

When it comes to what frontline workers would leave their current job for, remote work ranks lower on their list of priorities. In fact, the desire for remote work options has declined from 38% in 2022 to 33% in 2023.

Instead, frontline workers place higher value on time flexibility over location flexibility. This preference suggests that frontline workers may find more value in fitting their work into their lives rather than working from a different location.

What Type of Flexibility Do Frontline Workers Value?

Gallup’s research categorizes the types of flexibility into four groups based on how much they are valued and offered:

1. More Expected (More Valued, More Offered): Choice of workdays per week.
2. Differentiating (More Valued, Less Offered): Increased PTO/vacation time, four-day workweek.
3. More Common (Less Valued, More Offered): Flexible start/end times, flextime, relaxed dress code.
4. Nice-to-Have (Less Valued, Less Offered): Remote work options, choice of hours per day, three-day workweek, shorter shift lengths, work at any location.

The most appealing options for frontline workers are the ability to choose which days they work, more PTO, and a four-day workweek. Less appealing are flexible hours and the ability to choose start and end times. Interestingly, the interest in hour flexibility is declining.

Bottom Line for the Frontline

Employers often misjudge what perks and benefits their frontline employees value most. While options like a relaxed dress code are offered, they don’t significantly impact attraction or retention. In contrast, increased vacation time and the option of a four-day workweek are highly valued.

To effectively attract, retain, and maximize the performance of frontline workers, leaders must listen more closely to their preferences. The key lies in understanding that flexibility goes beyond remote work options, with time flexibility emerging as a more crucial factor for this segment of the workforce.

Adapting to these insights can lead to more satisfied, engaged, and productive frontline employees. A Gallup Q12 survey is a great way to learn more about your workforce and their preferences.

Contact The Jellison Group today to learn more about what we can do for you as a Gallup-certified organization. 

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