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New Research Shows the Forces Behind the Worsening “Deskless” Worker Shortage

A BCG Survey of More Than 7,000 Deskless Workers from the US, Australia, France, Germany, India, Japan, and the UK Shows That Almost 40% May Quit Their Jobs in the Coming Months

BOSTON—“Deskless” workers include construction, distribution, factory, health care, retail, and transportation employees, and comprise approximately 75% to 80% of all workers. And unlike the 20% to 25% of desk-bound or office workers, deskless workers don’t have the option of working hybrid.

With many organizations already struggling with deskless talent shortages, the latest study from Boston Consulting Group (BCG), titled “Why Deskless Workers Are Leaving—and How to Win Them Back,” shows that the problem could worsen significantly in the months ahead if company leaders don’t act quickly.

Based on a seven-nation BCG survey conducted this spring, the research showed that employers are at risk of losing as many as 37% of their deskless workers within the next six months. Nearly a third of those workers already are planning to leave. A similar percentage said they haven’t yet decided whether they want to stay or go. And a slightly higher percentage said they expect to stay in their jobs for the next six months but aren’t ready to make a commitment beyond that.

The study found that Gen Z and hourly paid staff are more likely to leave their jobs than other deskless workers, with 48% of younger employees at risk of leaving within the next six months.

Uptick in Resignations Could Exacerbate Talent Shortages

BCG’s latest employment survey results were released against the backdrop of widespread global talent shortages that threaten to further disrupt global labor markets and supply chains.

Persistent talent shortages now rank among the greatest challenges facing many companies. The US has millions more job vacancies than people looking for work. Germany reports record-high shortages of skilled workers. France and the other countries included in the survey face similar challenges.

Globally, Japan’s deskless workers indicated the weakest attachment to their current jobs, with 42% either planning to leave (11%), undecided (24%), or unwilling to make a commitment beyond six months (7%). Workers in the UK followed closely behind at 41%, with a higher percentage (15%) already having decided to leave their current jobs in the next six months, another 15% unwilling to commit beyond six months, and 11% undecided. At the other extreme, German and US deskless workers were the least at risk of leaving, the survey showed—but not by much, with 13% and 12%, respectively, already planning their exits. Among the seven countries surveyed, France had the lowest percentage of deskless workers already planning to quit—although they comprised a still-significant 10% of employees.

“The costs of open positions are only going to get worse unless leaders start to materially address the reasons why employees are leaving,” said Debbie Lovich, BCG’s global leader for the future of work. “The good news is that when leaders take the time to walk in the shoes of and listen to their ‘deskless’ talent they will find ideas—often low-cost ones—for how they can immediately make their employees lives better. And they will also surface more innovative ideas (e.g., shift marketplaces, upskilling, expanded and differentiated benefits) that will enhance the work and lives of these critical colleagues.”

What Workers Want

When asked to identify the main factors driving their decision to leave their current job, more than four in ten respondents (41%) identified a lack of career advancement opportunities. Thirty percent cited pay, 28% said they want more flexibility in where and when they work, 22% said improving work-life balance, and 15% highlighted a lack of enjoyment in their current position.

Among the respondents who said they plan to stay in their current job for at least another year, nearly half (48%) identified satisfaction with pay as one of the top reasons. The next most common reasons included enjoyment of their current role (30%), job security (27%), an easy commute (23%), and career advancement (23%).

Satisfaction and Pain Points

The benefits for employers who understand and act on their deskless workers’ needs are clear. Satisfied workers are eight times as likely to stay in their roles for over two years than unsatisfied workers.

Overall, deskless workers identified five challenges when asked about pain points: their work schedules (56%, applicable mostly to shift workers), benefits package (49%), a lack of opportunity for career growth and advancement (48%), a lack of opportunity to learn new skills (46%), and feeling that their contributions go unnoticed (42%).

Avoiding the Next “Great Resignation”

The BCG research points to several bolder steps leaders can pursue to address the concerns of unsatisfied employees and strengthen their bonds with satisfied employees. Compensation clearly needs to be addressed, but other factors are also critical:

  • Flexible scheduling. Consider each worker’s lifestyle and needs when designing and scheduling shifts, create shift “marketplaces” where and when it’s possible, and use technology to creatively design workers’ schedules.
  • Expanded benefits. Consider expanding benefits to entire households, offering on-site or subsidized daycare, providing financial planning assistance, and other job and life-enhancement perks.
  • Career growth and upskilling. Invest in upskilling and/or retraining all workers, including frontline managers, to support career growth, actively identifying career pathways for workers.
  • Demonstrated support of and commitment to deskless workers. Build a “frontline-first culture” with leaders committed to spending time listening to and acting on their deskless employees’ views.

Learn more about key findings from the report here.

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