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Frontline Workers Want Flexibility Too

Frontline Workers Want Flexibility Too

Story Highlights

  • 58% of U.S. workers are on-site and most of them can’t adopt hybrid work
  • On-site, non-remote-capable workers have far lower engagement than others
  • For frontline workers, time flexibility matters more than location flexibility

In debates over returning to the office and hybrid work, leaders often miss one fact: 58% of American workers work fully on-site. Most of these workers can’t do their jobs remotely, and many of these workers are considered “front line,” meaning they interact with customers or manufacture products directly.

During the pandemic, these required on-site workers were considered “essential” for keeping the economy -- and society -- going. And yet, Gallup’s data find that fully on-site, non-remote-capable employees have far lower engagement (29%) than fully remote workers (38%), hybrid workers (38%) and even on-site workers who are remote-capable (34%).

Frontline workers have not experienced the benefits of remote work or hybrid flexibility -- for example, getting to skip the daily commute. Could this explain the engagement gap between hybrid frontline workers? Our research suggests it does not, at least not directly.

  • Over half of on-site, non-remote-capable employees (57%) say they are “not at all” bothered that other workers are allowed to work from home some of the time. For those who are fully on-site but could work remotely, resentment is higher: Over half say they are bothered, “a little” to “a lot” that other employees are allowed to have remote work flexibility while they do not have this option.
  • When Gallup asked frontline workers what type of flexibility they would leave their current employer for, working from home was one of the less-valued options (33%). This desire for remote work or work-from-home options has declined significantly from 2022 to 2023, with 38% saying they would change employers for this benefit in 2022 compared with 33% saying the same in 2023.
  • Either because it seems unrealistic in their current career path or because they simply prefer working on-site, frontline workers rate time flexibility higher than location flexibility.

Day Flexibility More Valuable Than Hour Flexibility

Time flexibility can mean different things to employees: the opportunity to choose which days you work, which hours you work or increased vacation time. All these options allow workers to better fit their work into the rest of their lives.

When Gallup asked frontline workers which types of flexibility their employer offered and which they would leave their current employer to gain, the answers fell into four categories:

  • More Expected (More Valued, More Offered)
    • Choice of which days per week you work
  • Differentiating (More Valued, Less Offered)
    • Increased PTO or vacation time
    • Four-day workweek (e.g., four 10-hour days)
  • More Common (Less Valued, More Offered)
    • Flexible start and/or end times
    • Flextime (some choice over the hours you work)
    • Relaxed dress code
  • Nice-to-Have (Less Valued, Less Offered)
    • Remote work or work-from-home options
    • Choice in which hours per day you work
    • Three-day workweek (e.g., three 12-hour days)
    • Shorter shift lengths
    • Work at any location (on-site)

The most appealing flexibility includes the ability to choose which days you work, more PTO and vacation time, and a four-day workweek. The less appealing options include the ability to choose the hours you work -- flexible start/end times, short shift lengths and flextime more generally. And even this interest in hour flexibility seems to be in decline: Valuing flexible start and end times declined from 36% in 2022 to 34% in 2023 and valuing choice over hours worked decreased from 35% in 2022 to 31% in 2023.

Bottom Line for the Front Line

Employers may think they are providing the perks and benefits their employees want when they are actually missing the mark.

For example, while many employees say their employer offers a relaxed dress code, that doesn’t seem to play a significant role in attracting or retaining frontline workers. On the other hand, workers valued increased vacation time even more highly than a four-day workweek.

To maximize frontline employee attraction, performance and retention, leaders should find a better way to listen to workers opinions on what flexibility options they value most.

Do you know what your employees value?


Ryan Pendell is a Senior Workplace Science Editor at Gallup.

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