Article:

Improving the experience of your deskless employees can pay off

19 July 2021

Jenine Waters, National Leader, People Advisory |
Maryanne Carter, Partner, People Advisory |

The past 18 months have been difficult for deskless employees Down Under. Deskless employees - those who don’t spend their days behind a screen - have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic. These jobs are often within essential services, such as construction workers, hospital staff and grocery store workers, which are tied to a specific location and where the majority don’t have the privileged option of safely working from home. With increased upheaval in these sectors, it’s important for employers to create employee experience initiatives that highlight their value, and rethink the future of work for these critical sectors.

In this article, Jenine Waters, National Leader, People Advisory, and Maryanne Carter, Partner, People Advisory, discuss how employers can empower a deskless workforce.

The deskless workforce

Globally, only 1 in 5 workers do their jobs from behind a desk; In fact, Forbes reported that 80% of the world’s workforce is up on their feet and not at a computer at all times also, according to Safe Work Australia, half of all Australian workers do not spend a majority of their time behind a desk.

Recently, job losses in several deskless sectors have been high, especially in retail and hospitality environments. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 64,000 retail and hospitality managers lost their jobs, along with 64,000 retail and hospitality workers, between February and October 2020. Around 43,000 sports and personal service workers also lost their positions during the same time.

Another ABS report indicates more than a third of hospitality jobs were lost early in the pandemic. As of March 2021, just 67% of these payroll jobs had been regained. Desk-based jobs continue to afford greater flexibility and safety than their deskless counterparts.

This kind of chaotic upheaval not only impacts those who became unemployed, and their families, but also the employees who did keep their jobs. Whenever turnover and layoffs occur, some tasks have to be absorbed by the remaining employees. There’s also a loss of institutional memory and knowledge of company culture.

As a result of these challenges, it is essential to critically consider employee engagement specifically through a deskless workforce lens.

Shaping the future of work for deskless employees

It’s easy for disconnected bosses to spout platitudes about positive employee experience at annual company-wide meetings. Managers are generally expected to say that they care about, and value, their workers, linking the company’s latest big achievement to the hard work and sacrifice of every last colleague. But generic statements alone won’t do much to create the kind of employee experience that truly helps the bottom line.

Managers who gain a tangible understanding of the real returns employee-based initiatives can generate will be best positioned to create a workforce culture in which each colleague feels like a valued asset. Taking the time to value and empower a deskless workforce is worth the investment. Whether staff work at a restaurant, aged care home, hospital or in a retail setting, it’s essential for managers to connect with deskless workers in a way that instils them with a sense that they and their work are valued. Crafting and executing an employee experience plan can improve customer satisfaction, increase profitability and decrease turnover.

The challenges of a good employee experience

When a colleague knows what is expected of them at work and has the resources and tools available to them to accomplish expected tasks, the individual is likely to feel calm and motivated going about their work. This is a good employee experience.

It’s a deceptively simple two-pronged requirement. When an experienced employee works in a nursing home, for example, they likely have in mind a best-practice way to care for the nursing home resident. This might be in conflict with the way a manager expects care to be managed. The manager, after all, will be considering not just the needs of one resident, but all the employees and residents. So the manager may expect the employee to simplify or accelerate care. Meanwhile, the patient will have an idea of the care they expect and want.

What happens to employees when these three sets of expectations aren’t aligned?

It creates a level of anxiety and inability to really do what’s best - so while it might sound easy, understanding what's expected of us, actually, it’s a tricky triangle to get right.

Benefits to the bottom line

Positive employee engagement can help any business. Here are four measurable ways companies benefit from investing in better employee engagement, according to MIT Sloan Centre of Information Systems Research:

  1. Greater customer satisfaction: Research shows us you can get up to a 100% increase, doubling your satisfaction scores with your customers, when you focus on the employee experience.
  2. Increased innovation: The percentage of revenues from new products and services grows when successful innovations are implemented. But when employees don’t feel safe to make a mistake, they will not take on the risk associated with being innovative. In environments where people learn from mistakes, innovation goes up.
  3. More profitability: The fact is, organisations who get this right see a 25% increase in profitability.
  4. Decreased turnover: Satisfied employees will continue working for your organisation, reducing the chaos of turnover - which often impacts customer service. It’s possible to decrease turnover by 40% with a good employee experience plan.

Improving the climate

Many managers understand that it’s necessary to take a whole-person approach to a good employee environment, factoring in the spiritual, physical, emotional, social and intellectual aspects of a person.

All too often though, there’s a failure to translate those elements into an impactful experience. A manager sees an unhappy employee and offers a lunchtime yoga class. An evening training programme is made available to an employee frustrated about lack of resources.

Such peripheral changes won’t have an impact to fundamentally shift your employee experience, instead, it’s about driving a strong culture.

There are three keys to creating a better culture:

  1. Understand your employees: Engaging and connecting with each member of staff is essential for several reasons. First, managers must understand the skills and passions of their employees so as to be able to allocate their resources. Second, it’s important to demonstrate concern for an employee’s life, generally. Ask about the health of their family, or how they are doing today. The way you treat your employees will have a direct impact on how they treat customers and clients.
  2. Look for alignment: Once you do a little workplace cultural research, think deeply about how to align what’s important to employees with what’s needed for the success of the business and the needs of your customers. Identify what matters most and build around it.
  3. Human-centred design: After you’ve engaged, connected and understood your employees, think about how to build their values and skillset into your business for the benefit of all.

When you really, truly understand what’s important to your employees, and you start to build your employee experience all around that, then ultimately you will achieve a far deeper impact on your employees than any of the bells and whistles initiatives that we might see.

It may be difficult to motivate some leaders in your organisation to take the time to invest in its people. So, often the focus is on outgoing resources, and less understanding on the return on investing in employee experience.

Should you have any questions about how you can invest in a better employee experience for your deskless workforce, reach out to our team of experienced advisers.