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3 Tips to Boost Deskless Worker Retention in 2023

Any employee turnover hurts but losing your top talent can sometimes feel like a physical blow. That’s how much impact those individuals have on your organisation. They are usually highly engaged, highly motivated and highly influential – other workers respect and look up to them.

Any employee turnover hurts but losing your top talent can sometimes feel like a physical blow. That’s how much impact those individuals have on your organisation. They are usually highly engaged, highly motivated and highly influential – other workers respect and look up to them. 

The saddest thing is, in most cases, turnover is both predictable and preventable. There are usually clues to look out for well before someone quits, especially those high achievers. And if those clues are picked up and action is taken, losing that valued staff member is certainly preventable. An even better scenario is if your organisation has been proactive to the point where the thought of leaving has not entered the orbit of existing employees. 

All employers – but especially employers of shift-based, deskless workers who may be suffering from ongoing skills shortages – need to understand both what is driving people to leave the organisation and what motivates them to stay. Without that knowledge, you’ll be operating blind and possibly wasting time and resources on a ‘spray and pray’ approach to retention.  

At the base level, you’ll need to uncover: 

WHAT is happening with your turnover?
WHO is leaving?
WHY are they leaving?
WHERE are the trouble spots? 

After obtaining that intel, you’ll be able to determine HOW you can address your turnover challenges. 

To get a general sense of what’s driving shift-based employee turnover, market research undertaken by Boston Consulting Group in April 2022 found that 37% of those workers could be out the door in the next six months. The reasons for considering leaving included ‘lack of flexibility or work-life balance’ (50%), ‘lack of career advancement’ (41%) and ‘pay’ (30%). Let’s look at those three. 

1. Flexible work
While the nature of the work undertaken by deskless workers means they must be ‘on-the-ground’ and cannot work remotely, there are other ways to provide flexibility. 

Flexible work isn’t just about the location at which work is undertaken. It’s also about providing more autonomy and choice about the hours worked – and that’s something that can be offered to all workers.  

Flexible work arrangements in all workplaces need to ensure that the needs of employees are balanced with the needs of the organisation. This is especially the case in shift-based workplaces where there might be legal and compliance-related reasons for having the right number of people with the right qualifications rostered at the right time and place. Leaders need to balance staffing requirements to ensure operations run as needed, without the risk and expense of over- or under-staffing, while also ensuring employees get a balance of consistency and flexibility. That flexibility may take any of the following forms: 

  • Flex-work time: Work schedules are staggered to create compressed working weeks or flexible working hours 
  • Flex-time off: A manager may choose to extend leave days, extend time-off, or reduce daily work hours 
  • Flex-work locations: Depending on organisational needs and size, deskless workers have the liberty of choosing where they’re comfortable working – e.g. a retail store closer to home 
  • The ability for employees to bid on preferred shifts and swap shifts with colleagues 

All of these options are assisted by, and in some cases are only possible with the assistance of, technology. Humanforce, for example, has a Shift Bidding feature, which allows eligible employees to bid for open shifts. After reviewing the location, department and times of the available shift, employees are able to bid for it directly. Staff benefit from a more open, transparent process, while managers remain in control of final scheduling. 

2. Lack of career advancement
If employees can’t see a future in your organisation, why would they stay? What sort of reward is a dead-end? For many people, there’s a constant desire to get a better job so they can be paid more, promoted, or land their dream role. If those needs aren’t met with their current employer, they’ll leave as soon as a better opportunity arises elsewhere. 

Research from LinkedIn shows that employees who make an internal move – through either promotion or lateral change – are more likely to stay at their organisation longer than those who stay in the same role. The research revealed: 

  • After two years, an employee who has made an internal move has a 76% chance of staying at their company. In contrast, an employee who has not made an internal move has a 50% chance of staying. 
  • After three years, an employee who has made an internal move has a 65% chance of staying, while an employee who has made no internal moves has a 38% chance of staying. 

These results vary by industry. For example, retail workers had the least likelihood of retention at the 3-year mark, regardless of whether they had moved internally or not. However, on the whole, industries reliant on deskless workers were amongst those that benefitted the most from internal moves. 

A challenge for some employers, especially those where a constant churn of employees is accepted as the norm, is undoing negative perceptions of people switching between roles, departments, and locations. It’s not unusual for employees to get “locked into” their role, resulting in a fear of moving to another role internally in case they aren’t up to the task or aren’t supported. In the meantime, their old role disappears. In some organisations it’s easier for a person to quit and reapply for a role in another department than try to move internally. 

However, the benefits of internal movements flow to both employees and employers. For employers there are huge benefits in terms of longer tenure, higher engagement and an increased ability to fill skills gaps in different areas of the business.  

For employees, career advancement doesn’t just mean more knowledge and new skills. It can also mean taking on more responsibility and opening pathways to better pay. Retail employers, for example, might identify various pathways to help move employees from the shop floor to management positions, supporting them with appropriate learning and development at each stage of their pathway. It’s never too early to start a conversation with employees about their career objectives. 

Steps to consider: 

  • Undertake a skills audit to identify what skills you currently have, what you need, and where they are likely to come from 
  • Launch a communications program to demonstrate the value of internal mobility 
  • Provide a process for employees to follow when they are interested in an internal position 
  • Offer training and mentorship programs to help managers identify and nurture high potential employees

3. Pay
‘Pay’ was the third most-cited reason why deskless workers would consider leaving their current job, according to BCG’s previously mentioned research. Given the rising cost of living, this placement might rise throughout 2023.

Pay and broader rewards packages have long been considered a “hygiene” factor that do not necessarily lead to greater job satisfaction, motivation, or retention. However, they can cause dissatisfaction or disengagement if they aren’t deemed “right” or “fair”.  

Commensurate and equitable pay is one way to make people feel more valued and appreciated, and that’s certainly the case for many underpaid frontline workers. Also keep in mind that increasing pay may be more cost effective than advertising a role, interviewing, hiring and training a replacement. It usually costs less to retain staff with a slight pay bump than replace them. 

However, with remuneration budgets remaining tight, it can never hurt to remind employees of the “total rewards” package they might be receiving. While fixed pay and bonuses form one part of a broader benefits package, other components may include parental leave, study leave and study assistance, and other discounts or lifestyle benefits (car parking, discounted finance, product discounts, etc.). Communicate everything that you, as the employer, can offer. If possible, empower employees to customise their benefits package to suit their personal circumstances. 

Questions employers can ask: 

  • Do we have the right processes in place to review remuneration and rewards frequently? 
  • Is our remuneration market competitive for the type of worker we have or want to attract? 
  • Should we consider greater transparency regarding pay practices or guiding principles? Perhaps remuneration needs to be tied closer to performance – in which case, a review of performance management practices might be required. 
  • Can employees pick and choose the benefits that appeal the most to them?  

Further insights and tips 

Some employee turnover is healthy – but an exodus of valued team members is the last thing you need in the current environment where talent shortages are rife and hiring budgets are under threat. For further tips on retention and to learn more about analysing your employee turnover data, download Humanforce’s latest eBook 

How Humanforce can help 

Humanforce is a leading provider of shift-based workforce management solutions that simplifies onboarding, scheduling, time and attendance, pay, employee engagement, and communication.  

To learn more about how Humanforce can automate and simplify workforce management and payroll processes in your organisation, schedule a demo, or contact us. 

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