The real return on frontline investment - Part I

by Sean Oliver, on February 11, 2020

It might come as a surprise to learn that frontline workers make up the majority of the U.S. workforce. But it shouldn’t.

Consider the number of frontline—sometimes called “deskless”—workers you encounter on a daily basis: baristas, retail sales associates, customer support representatives, healthcare workers, security guards, flight attendants, teachers, bus drivers, cashiers, hair stylists, custodians. That doesn’t even include the legions of workers at staffing distribution centers and manufacturing plants, the truck drivers and construction workers. The BLS estimates that nearly 60% of the U.S. workforce falls into this category, and without them, our society would quite literally cease to function.

However in spite of their majority status and the critical work they do, frontline workers are frequently misunderstood and, as a result, often wholly ignored by the leaders who employ them.
HBR reports that frontline workers as a category exhibit among the very lowest levels of motivation among all categories of U.S. workers. A staggering 85% of frontline workers report not being engaged at work. And the result of all of this is that frontline workers turn over at a rate of 67% per year on average —a number that can climb above 100% in some industries.

It’s easy to see how a truly negative dynamic can emerge between employers and their frontline workers. Long burned by failed attempts at inspiring and motivating great work from their team, employers may look at a sizable segment of their workforce as more of a liability than as an asset.
This climate makes it difficult for employers to justify investment in technology for their frontline. For example, 9 in 10 retailers cite inability to measure ROI as a reason not to invest in technology to better enable the frontline workforce. Unfortunately, the logic checks out: why invest in technology to train and motivate people when most of them are expected to leave their jobs within the year?

To answer this question, it’s important to understand just how much impact an engaged and motivated employee can have on a business as opposed to one who is disengaged and unmotivated. Incisiv recently found that employers who make it a priority to enable their frontline workforce with technology see an average 26% improvement in employee retention. This change alone could increase a retailer’s profitability by as much as 10% depending on margins and the cost of replacement.

These employers also observed a 12% improvement in customer satisfaction and a 16% improvement in in-store sales conversion. In other words, investing in technology for the frontline has been shown to improve customer loyalty and increase revenue.

But how do you go from deciding on new technology to seeing these tangible results of a frontline genuinely transformed from a cost center to a profit center?

Next week, we’ll dive into additional research that shows the state of work in 2020 and how to drive motivation, engagement - and profit.

How do you motivate your team? Let us know on Twitter!

Original version of this post can be found on

Photo by Kyle Ryan on Unsplash

Topics:Employee Engagement