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Why Are So Many On-Field Staff Quitting? Lessons Learnt From Close Encounters

On-field staff quit because of reasons that you and I seldom face in our workplaces.

The turnover rates in the industries they work in, are nowhere near ours: US sees a 27% turnover rate in hospitality, 17.4% in finance and insurance. In the healthcare industry, some states experience double the national average of 15.6% .

To find out why this is so.. we did a little digging around, spoke to a few of them, actually quite a few of them. The conversations with cab drivers, delivery folks, retail sales agents, housekeeping staff, cabin crew, among others, revealed the following.

Strike 1: No respect at workplace

..either from employers or customers.

A sales agent at the doorstep is shown the door more times than he is shown some kindness.

The delivery person is rarely thanked for the order he delivers.

The housekeeping staff is rarely tipped for cleaning rooms.

Even in their office, they occupy the lowest rung. They’re invisible to the knowledge workforce, and have minimal contact with the top management.

Even though the work is physically and mentally demanding, few respect or even acknowledge them for it. While this can be devastating to new joinees, for the existing workers, it’s almost a way of life. They know that they’re nothing more than just workhorses. Even the HR implicitly conveys that they are supposed to get used to this arrangement.

Example: In 2015, Alternet investigated into what made Walmart a toxic work place: Not pay, not terrible labor practices, but disrespectful managers.

“We don’t treat people with respect,” Dan said. “The stigma within a Walmart facility, and even some of the really good ones, is still, ‘We need bodies.’ But, we’re human beings, we’re not bodies.”.

Lack of respect at the workplace? That’s Strike 1.

Strike 2: No empathy

Remember the time when Travis Kalanick, the former CEO of Uber got into an altercation with his cab driver? That incident clearly demonstrated the toxic effects of lack of empathy, and explained the mass exodus that followed soon after.

We’ve seen this happen over and over again with the gig economy in United States, India and other high growth markets.

The managers tend to have little empathy and insight into the nitty-gritty of their staff’s worklife. They have little connect with the staff, because of the sheer size of the team they manage.

So, when targets, incentives and schedules are assigned, the disconnect and apathy stands out.

It gets worse when the top management issues macro directives that directly impact the rhythm and morale of everyday work.

Would you work for someone who knows nothing about your craft, or your work life, but sets unrealistic targets nevertheless? That’s Strike 2, btw.

Strike 3: No sense of career-progression

A cab driver recently told us, “This is what my life is going to be..driving cars 12 hours a day, everyday, for the rest of my life.”

“What were you thinking before you joined the company?” we asked.

“I just wanted to make money then. I didn’t think of a career at that point,” he said.

This conversation revealed their thought process or the lack of it, when it came to picking a career: Unlike the knowledge workforce, the field staff generally choose jobs that sustain them for a short term. Also, they don’t think actively think of a career progression until they’ve gotten comfortable with the job.

So, while the cab company might have drawn up a career path for employees, the drivers may just not be aware of it.

And that’s strike 3. This dormant restlessness creeps up after a while, forcing them to look for other options.

Can you spot what’s missing here?

Of the many people and incidences we encountered, the topic of salary was rarely broached upon.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but true.

People stay not just for salaries, but for the social and value networks they build during the tenure of their employment. (Read more about it here and here.)

The problem with deskless workers is that there is no time or space to build these value networks.

Attrition rates spike when this problem gets compounded due to apathetic managers, the absence of valuable information/communication channels and a lack of respect at workplace.

And when that happens, be prepared to shell out anywhere between 1.5–5 times of that employee’s annual salary. And some backlogs.

Industry estimates show that by the time a new person learns the job, prove themselves, and learn to recognize its subtleties, backlogs are only going to grow and adversely impact your business.

So, what are you going to do about it?

Start by providing for what is lacking:

(1) Define communication guidelines for practicing mutual respect within the company.

(2) Create engagement plans to strengthen employee-manager relationship.

(3) Set up seamless on-boarding to get employees excited about their job.

Each of the above can be achieved by tweaking existing communication practices for creating more inclusive workplaces.

While this seems straightforward for the knowledge workforce, it’s a little tricky for the on-field staff. They’re spread across locations, hard-pressed for time, and are always on the move. How can one INITIATE and SUSTAIN practices that fosters respect, build empathy, and conveys career progression for them?

Unlike the yesteryears, there are great platforms out there today that are custom-designed for deskless workers, to do exactly that. (including Noticeboard btw)

Give them all a spin. It might just save you a lot of time and money in re-hiring and re-training your staff.

But, here’s a word of caution while choosing these platforms: Know that any platform available on the market today will require exhaustive content-related work— to communicate, to train and engage.

Choose platforms that offer content advisory and execution, in addition to their technology. The platforms that can handcraft IC strategies as well as demonstrate measurable outcomes, are the ones you should go for.

Cut down attrition. Improve retention!

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