Managing Director & Partner
“Deskless” workers—those who need to be physically present to do their jobs—do not have the option to work remotely. They also generally do not have the flexibility to set their hours. And more than one-third of these workers, who make up three-quarters or more of the labor force in most countries, are at risk of quitting in the next six months.
This finding, revealed in a seven-nation survey of more than 7,000 deskless workers, has potentially dire implications for fields as diverse as construction, distribution, manufacturing, health care, retail, and transportation.
The survey, conducted this spring and covering about 1,000 employees each in Australia, France, Germany, India, Japan, the UK, and the US, found that 37% of these workers could be out the door within the next six months. Employees at risk of leaving fell into three similar-sized groups: those who are definitely leaving within six months, those unwilling to commit beyond six months, and those who are undecided.
That finding is sobering news for employers, which already have raised the wages of deskless workers and taken other measures to retain them during the pandemic. The reality, of course, is that employers often struggle to offer what many of these workers want: greater flexibility and the ability to work from home as so many knowledge, or desk, workers do.
Barring a recession, persistent talent shortages are among the greatest challenges facing many companies. The US, for example, has millions more job vacancies than people looking for work. Germany reports record-high shortages of skilled workers. France and the other countries from the survey face similar challenges. That’s why employee retention needs to be a top priority of every leader.
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%). Deskless workers in the UK followed closely behind, with a higher percentage (15%) already having decided to leave their current jobs in the next six months, 15% unwilling to commit beyond six months, and 11% undecided. Meanwhile, Germany and the US have the lowest shares of at-risk deskless workers. Even so, more than one in ten deskless workers in those countries are already planning their exits.
Younger workers are more likely to quit their deskless jobs than older workers. Nearly half (48%) of Gen Z employees are at risk of leaving these jobs in the next six months, compared with 35% of Gen Y, 32% of Gen X, and a still-considerable 24% of the Baby Boom generation.
Among deskless workers who said they might leave their jobs, 50% cited lack of flexibility or work-life balance as the reason. Other top reasons were lack of career advancement (41%), pay (30%), lack of enjoyment in their current position (15%), and lack of recognition for their contributions (14%).
The BCG research suggests steps leaders can take to address the concerns of unsatisfied employees and strengthen the bonds with satisfied employees. It will take more than pay increases to reduce the number of at-risk deskless workers. Companies should also consider:
The world saw the importance of deskless workers during the pandemic. They allowed the rest of us to remain productive while working remotely. Today, they watch after our children and our elderly; they build our bridges and operate the trucks and trains that deliver the goods we require for work and life. If they flee their jobs, we will all pay the price.
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