How can you engage deskless workers who are in survival mode?

Cynthia Mühlemann De-Bruce
A man with an empty wallet

It may come as a surprise that 80 per cent of the Global workforce don’t sit at a desk. They are ‘deskless’, rarely if ever needing a computer to do their job, and are construction workers, hauliers, factory workers, nurses and so on. In the U.K, 50 per cent of these deskless workers are in survival mode, living paycheque-to-paycheque with almost a third needing to borrow money from family and friends to pay bills. With such constant financial pressures, especially with the cost-of-living crisis ongoing, it begs the question as to how you engage with these deskless workers? Can they even be motivated to perform great work when their monthly finances are a constant cause of stress? Here’s what leaders must do to increase deskless worker engagement, especially when many are in ‘survival mode’.

O.C. Tanner’s Global Culture Report highlights the pressures many deskless workers are under with 43 per cent of these U.K. based workers admitting that giving a gift for a wedding or birthday would put a serious strain on their finances for the month. In fact, a combination of financial pressures, a lack of support from employers and a feeling of not being valued, is resulting in an 83 per cent increased likelihood of deskless workers burning out.

Despite their vast numbers, deskless workers are often the most overlooked – ‘the silent majority’ - who have less opportunity and rarely get their voices heard when compared to their desk-based corporate colleagues. So, as well as struggling with day-to-day financial pressures, many deskless workers simply feel invisible, expendable and that they lack control over their everyday employee experience. They are also more likely to be disengaged with their job and feel disconnected from their organisation.

On the flipside, the Global Report uncovers the likely outcomes when deskless workers are made to feel seen, valued and appreciated. Even when financial pressures are a constant strain, deskless workers’ sense of belonging, fulfilment, and connection to the organisation are considerably improved. It all comes down to relationships, recognition, access to technology and giving workers both autonomy and a voice.

To start with, leaders must spend time understanding what matters to their employees. They must take the time to listen to their needs and the cause of their stresses as well as their opinions. It’s then important for there to be follow-up actions – what can be done to make their job easier? Do they need certain tools and resources? Can they be given more training and can their roles be made more agile to support their life outside of work?

Ensuring deskless workers feel recognised and appreciated is also crucial as all too often, they are made to feel dispensable. This requires a programme of regular, timely and meaningful recognition. It must also be given in a way that’s appropriate and so not wholly reliant on online recognition tools. Calling-out ‘above and beyond’ efforts and results in team meetings, putting recognition onto notice boards and using handwritten “thank you” notes are just some ways to reach deskless workers. When recognition is an integrated part of the organisational culture, above-average engagement is 403 per cent more likely.

Unfortunately, deskless workers regularly encounter technology and connection issues. While desk-based workers are tech-savvy and tend to be well-connected to the organisation and their colleagues, deskless workers tend to struggle as they are often without the right tools, technologies and processes. This creates frustrations, communication issues and a sense of isolation. Leaders must therefore work to overcome these obstacles, providing tools for HR processes, recognition, and connection when workers are rarely at a computer or desk. When workers have high access and enablement at work, they are 568 per cent more likely to feel engaged.

Disengagement also tends to happen when workers feel a loss of control over their everyday employee experience. They may feel unable to ask for greater flexibility to manage basic needs such as doctor appointments, home repairs, and children’s school events. They may also feel micromanaged and unable to prioritise their own workload, with this lack of autonomy a recipe for disconnection. This is why leaders must provide their employees with some level of autonomy if they’re to thrive.

Finally, feeling powerless is believing that your voice doesn’t matter and that you have no influence. Giving employees the opportunity to feedback, and provide their thoughts and opinions on company ideas and plans is fundamental, directly influencing how they feel about their job and employer.

And so, even when deskless workers are encountering financial hardships, there is much that can be done to improve their engagement levels and overall employee experience. By making these workers feel seen, valued and genuinely appreciated, a number of outcomes are significantly enhanced from engagement through to belonging, with instances of great work 592 per cent more likely!

Written by
Cynthia Mühlemann De-Bruce
Written by
January 16, 2024