Building from the Bottom Up: Strengthening the Bottom Line by Investing in Front-line Workers | Harvard Business School

Talent Development

Business leaders continue to express concerns about their ability to fill open jobs. And while many leaders are asking, “where can I get the workers I need?,” this 86-page report suggests employers ask and answer, “how do we keep the workers I have?”  The report explores this question through the lens of a company’s front-line workers—who represent 44% or 53 million workers in America alone. These lower-wage workers are often the foundation of many firms’ operating models, yet they receive less attention in terms of retention efforts. Instead, many firms accept that low-wage jobs will always have high turnover and that this reality is just the cost of doing business. But as more front-line workers leave their organizations, the direct and indirect costs caused by constant churn will be magnified. The paper provides ideas for businesses to strengthen the bottom line by investing in front-line workers and retaining this worker segment. One point made is that 62% of front-line workers surveyed said a clear pathway to promotion, job security, stable and predictable pay, and working hours were the most critical attributes in deciding whether to stay with a company. Yet, an analysis of front-line jobs shows that those attributes are rarely mentioned in job postings or communicated throughout employment. Page 3 illustrates the factors contributing to the “low-wage, high turnover trap,” and firms can use the report’s findings as they develop retention strategies for their front-line workers.

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