Deskless workers are quitting because too many executives are living in a fairy tale

July 20, 2022 | 5 minute read
Amber Biela-Weyenberg
Senior Content Marketing Manager, HCM Global Campaigns
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Once upon a time, in a not-so-distant land, the relationship between companies and their people was quite different. Some rulers at corporations, large and small, believed that workers didn’t need much to be happy. In fact, many argued that a steady paycheck should be enough to bring a smile to their faces.

However, some of the people were discontented. Far too many toiled away day after day in jobs that didn’t bring them joy for years, just to avoid the job hopper stigma. These workers resigned themselves to settle.

Now, that time seems like the stuff of fairy tales—familiar yet unrealistic by today’s standards. It took a disruptive worldwide event to shake people from their apathetic fog. As priorities shifted, employees dared to dream of better lives and began to expect more from their employers.

Over only a few years, this radical transformation left many executives out of touch and stuck in the past. They don’t understand what talent wants or how the tide could shift so quickly and dramatically. Deskless workers—historically, the most overlooked group in the workforce—continue to be an afterthought when it comes to the employee experience. It’s no surprise they’re quitting in record numbers.

While more money is appreciated, money alone isn’t the answer. Since the start of the pandemic, US businesses have increased wages for deskless workers by 7 to 10%, but they keep leaving. The question is, as an organization, how do you begin to repair the employee experience for these people? First, your mindset must shift in three critical areas.

Be human

You must put people first. Many issues deskless workers experience stem from the fact that some organizations don’t think of their frontline employees as people with genuine needs and real-world problems. Case in point: Only 13% of the 2.7 billion deskless workers worldwide—who make up 80% of the labor force—have paid sick time. A worker on the front lines might find themselves reporting for duty sick because otherwise, they’d struggle to feed their family. Yet another person who happens to work in the office for the same company would likely get paid time off.

Why? If we’re being blunt, snobbery is part of the problem. Some executives and managers mistakenly believe that deskless workers, who sometimes don’t have a degree, are easily replaceable and less valuable than other employees. Instead of giving them the support they need, these organizations choose to cut costs by denying them paid time off for vacation, benefits, and sufficient breaks during the day—even in physically demanding roles.

However, this belief is flawed. We’ve all seen what happens when frontline employees are removed from the equation—empty shelves, canceled flights, reduced restaurant hours, stores going out of business, and supply chain complications. Early in the pandemic, this was often due to COVID-19-related isolation and quarantine, but now, it’s related to high quit rates. And the standard way many organizations have operated for decades greatly influenced the current situation.

When companies don’t support their deskless workers’ needs as human beings, their employee experience suffers. With recent shifts in worker expectations and the labor shortage, these organizations now struggle to hire and retain talent because they’re no longer competitive. However, if you support your people, you’ll be an employer of choice.

Be inclusive

Truly inclusive organizations realize that inclusivity branches out beyond race, gender, ability, etc., and includes every workgroup too. HR’s responsibility is to ensure that each employee is treated fairly, which is difficult if your organization’s policies aren’t created with deskless workers in mind. For this reason, Josh Bersin recommends that HR designs hybrid work policies in tandem with a new deskless employee experience to give everyone similar opportunities.

For example, one of the tenants of hybrid work is greater flexibility. A store clerk can’t work remotely as a marketing coordinator can, but they can work longer hours, which means working fewer days a week. Frontline employees could also work at different locations or stagger their hours for more work-life balance.

It’s worth noting organizations that make everybody report to the office in the name of equality aren’t following a winning strategy for overall talent retention. Plus, this approach doesn’t improve the employee experience of your deskless workforce.

The key is to tailor opportunities to every workgroup, so everyone wins. Making intentional decisions like these regarding policies and workplace opportunities helps deskless workers feel like they’re a respected part of the team—like they belong. As a company, you must also figure out what matters most to employees on the front lines, and the best way to do that is to listen.


Some wants are universal, such as flexibility, autonomy, adequate training, and good management. But you need to survey and listen to feedback from your deskless workforce to understand their unique wants and how well you’re delivering on all fronts as an organization. HR can use frequent pulse surveys to gauge employee sentiment and solicit feedback on new initiatives and policies.

Managers are in a prime position to help their companies understand deskless worker priorities, but many don’t have meaningful conversations with employees. If a supervisor only ever asks about day-to-day work, it may feel awkward to bring up other topics, such as advancement opportunities or voicing a concern. Workers may even be more likely to leave than risk an uncomfortable conversation or assume the manager, and therefore the company, doesn’t care.

Oracle ME, part of Oracle Fusion Cloud HCM, includes a powerful continuous listening tool and action channel called Oracle Touchpoints* to help managers foster stronger relationships with their direct reports. Oracle Touchpoints* encourages frequent one-on-one conversations, and the Nudges feature recommends actions to engage the workforce. Managers can send quick pulse surveys to their teams and track real-time sentiment, allowing them to address concerns immediately.

When managers are invested in their people, it builds trust, boosts retention, and makes it easier for individuals to grow. Arguably, supervisors and managers have the biggest impact on an employee’s experience. A Gallup study found that managers account for a 70% variance in employee engagement scores. To improve the deskless workers’ experience as an organization, you must empower managers with the proper training, tools, and encouragement to build relationships and help employees thrive.

Read the ebook “5 Steps to Create a Better Employee Experience for Deskless Workers” for insights on how to protect your organization, the global economy, and the supply chain by improving the experiences of your deskless workforce.

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*Disclaimer: The preceding is intended to outline our general product direction. It is intended for information purposes only and may not be incorporated into any contract. It is not a commitment to deliver any material, code, or functionality and should not be relied upon in making purchasing decisions. The development, release, timing, and pricing of any features or functionality described for Oracle’s products may change and remains at the sole discretion of Oracle Corporation.

Amber Biela-Weyenberg

Senior Content Marketing Manager, HCM Global Campaigns

Amber is the Senior Content Marketing Manager, HCM Global Campaigns. She's passionate about writing, dogs, lifting others, and personal growth.

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