Manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, grocers, healthcare organizations and more are struggling to attract the people who help their business stay in business. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 10.4 million job openings in the United States in August 2021. But where are the workers to fill these frontline positions?

With high demand for frontline work spanning multiple industries, workers have options, and with these options, come higher expectations. Now more than ever, workers are looking for flexibility, freedom and security when it comes to their work and work environment.

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Accenture research shows that frontline workers want safety first, then flexibility and opportunities for growth. 

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Accenture found that the priorities of the frontline are evolving. While workers continue to rank safety as their top priority, flexibility and opportunity are now next up when considering new roles. As a result, in the future of work, competitive pay and health benefits have become minimum expectations versus differentiating factors.

Additionally, according to our report—Care to Do Better—people expect a business to care about their human needs.

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of workers strongly believe their employer is responsible for helping them become net better off (meeting their holistic physical, financial, employable and emotional/mental needs).


of the workers we surveyed say that COVID-19 has strengthened the need for greater business involvement in improving social and environmental outcomes.


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Sentiment among workers has changed for a variety of reasons in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Many people left work in order to be at home to care for their children during lockdowns. Some had economic support and could get by without working. Some had to weigh the risk of being in the workplace with health concerns. Others rose to the occasion providing essential services in new ways.

We are all managing different complexities of life with COVID-19, but we all recognize that “business as usual” is not going to prepare any organization for what’s next. Business leaders must consider what they will do differently to not only bring people back, but to retain them for the future.

Winning back the frontline 

How can your business find and keep the workers it needs? A first step is to understand what people want. In the past, pay and benefits would have been the succinct answer, but now people are looking for more.

They want to learn and grow with a company that supports their emotional and financial well-being. They are seeking jobs that leverage what they know now AND that will help them expand their skillsets in preparation for the future. They have come to expect basic benefits—healthcare and dental—and are looking for personalized options that address all of their human needs including child and elder care, education assistance and paid time off. While businesses have historically balked at the cost of offering these perks, they have turned out to be far less expensive than the cost of turnover in the long run.

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. You don’t have to be a behemoth to do the same. These are important factors for all employers to consider in order to engage and keep workers.

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5 considerations to attract and retain workers

In discussing the challenges clients are facing related to managing a complex workforce, we have found a set of consistent themes when it comes to showing workers that employers understand and care about their needs.

1. Speed to start

After accepting an offer, people want to start as soon as possible, and any delay can pose the risk of workers not showing 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.

2. Flexibility

Flexibility isn’t just about work hours. It’s about options. While some frontline workers enjoy choosing their own shifts, they also seek greater autonomy and trust from their employers. For example, some workers prefer getting their work done as they choose, rather than having to adhere to a rigid set of rules. Others might appreciate flexible break times to step away from work as they see fit to recharge batteries. And many seek a culture that promotes work-life balance, with schedules that, for example, offer holidays off rather than forcing workers to be away from their families on Thanksgiving or Christmas.

3. Room to grow

Businesses can make learning more accessible so that frontline workers develop the skills they need to do their jobs better, move on to other roles, or simply become better equipped to live a stable and secure life. Working in roles that require relevant and critical skills helps workers to feel more effective; and it also helps the business to thrive. 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.

4. Tech support

Digital tools are essential to helping workers make decisions faster, automate burdensome processes and lighten the load of physical labor. Investments in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are equipping frontline workers to enjoy more interesting and complex jobs. Technology democratizes the workforce because it equips every type of worker with information to make better decisions. For example, in retail merchandising for instance, hourly workers count items on shelves to see what is missing, or to identify low inventory. Now, AI provides up-to-date information on inventory. In manufacturing, robotics can help make physical jobs more accessible to an aging workforce. So, investing in these future technologies is an investment in the workforce.

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5. 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.

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See more Workforce insights

Read more from Yaarit:

Yaarit Silverstone

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

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