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5 ways to engage frontline workers in a recession


October 25, 2022

As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 10.1 million job openings in the United States in August 2022, attracting frontline workers is still at the top of the agenda of many businesses. And while feeling the effects of high inflation is driving 70% of Americans to look for extra work, there is no real guarantee that, across multiple industries, employers that are hurting under the dire necessity to hire frontline workers will find the talent they need.

While workers’ options may be diminishing with the job market cooling under the effects of economic uncertainty, workers still have higher expectations than before the pandemic. They are still prioritizing flexibility, freedom and security when it comes to their work and work environment. While—indeed—inflation has pushed workers to focus again on compensation, how much people prioritize money is heavily dependent on industry. Competitive pay and health benefits have become minimum expectations versus differentiating factors, such as flexibility and heightened skilling opportunities.

5 considerations to attract and retain workers

When it comes to the challenges clients are facing related to managing a complex workforce, we have found a set of consistent themes that employers need to take into account to understand and care about their frontline workers’ needs.

Enabling women on the frontline

A report by Catalyst in partnership with Accenture

Speed to start

After accepting an offer, people want to start as soon as possible, and any delay can create the risk that workers will not show up on day one. Companies need to rethink the process of starting a new role. For example, people that rely on consistent pay checks may not be able to wait two weeks for a background check before they begin getting paid. They can receive an offer elsewhere with an immediate start, and they will jump on it. Organizations can handle onboarding frontline workers differently, reconsidering their background check requirements, or hiring on a contingent basis, while waiting for background checks to clear.


Flexibility primarily means flexible schedules, but it has also expanded to mean having options in general. As companies in various industries compete with each other for frontline workers, flexible shifts have become absolutely necessary, or people will leave. For the past eighteen months, what happened was that frontline workers often left higher-skill jobs for lower-skill jobs that offered flexible schedules and better work conditions. So, companies across the board that depend on frontline workers need to expand the definition of their competition and align their work models to the demands of frontline workers. Choice is key. Some frontline workers seek greater autonomy and trust from their employers. Others may appreciate flexible break times to step away from work and recharge batteries. And most seek a culture that promotes work-life balance, with schedules that offer holidays off to spend with families and friends.

People want flexible work models attuned to their needs. Yet, only 35% of people are satisfied with how their companies have responded. (Accenture Future of Work Research 2022)

Room to grow

Frontline workers are interested in developing new skills that will allow them to do their jobs better, move on to other roles, or simply get to a better position to live a stable and secure life. Businesses need to recognize this need and make learning new skills more accessible. The largest frontline employers such as Amazon, Costco, Starbucks and Walmart are raising the minimum wage, making shift work more flexible, offering greater educational opportunities and providing financial assistance for college. For instance, Target announced a debt-free education assistance benefit that offers free college degrees, certificates, bootcamps and more. The organization even covers textbook costs and course fees. In the long run, training people pays off because, if they are happy, they will stay with the company. You don’t have to be a behemoth to do the same. These are important factors for all employers to consider.

Tech boost

Investments in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) help businesses automate burdensome processes and create a future-ready environment, where there is a strong symbiosis between people and technology. They also lighten the physical labor load and make jobs more desirable for frontline workers. For example, in retail merchandising, hourly workers count items on shelves to see what is missing, or to identify low inventory. Now, AI can provide up-to-date information on inventory, making this task faster and more accurate. In manufacturing, robotics can help make physical jobs more accessible to an aging workforce, or simply make jobs more desirable to a larger pool of workers. Technology can also equip frontline workers with information to make better decisions, as in the case of the retail frontline worker responsible for inventory. Investing in future technologies is an investment in a future-ready workforce.

Diverse workers

Organizations are redefining what their base requirements are to fill roles, and many are looking to “hidden workers.” These hidden workers represent an untapped pool of 27.4M workers in the US alone who may face difficult circumstances such as health issues, gaps in employment history, family care responsibilities, having few formal qualifications or disadvantaged backgrounds. The single most common reason executives cited for hiring hidden workers was that it helped them close a skills gap. Companies that hire hidden workers were 36% less likely to face worker and skills shortages compared to companies that do not. Moving forward, rather than seeking “perfect” candidates and overlooking perfectly capable ones, businesses can change entry requirements. Doing so allows the business to tap into a greater pool of qualified candidates and it also helps remove diversity-and inclusion barriers.

The war for workers on the front lines continues to accelerate. We have reached a tipping point where businesses need people now and are continually challenged by how to find AND keep them. Employers will remain at a loss unless they will meet the evolving expectations of workers: paying people properly, giving them health benefits, offering flexible options, making it safer for people to come to work, and giving people opportunities to grow in the workplace. Making these kind of changes will attract new workers and allow companies to retain them in the long term.

Read more:

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  • Reinvent your workforce with emerging technology
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Yaarit Silverstone

Senior Managing Director – Talent & Organization, Global Strategy Lead & North America Lead