The Benefits of Flexibility for Frontline Workers

4 min read
Flexibility for Frontline Workers

Have you ever wondered why the buzz around workplace flexibility seems to miss the mark for frontline workers? It’s a crucial question, especially in a post-pandemic world where “flexibility” has become a golden word in the corporate vocabulary. Let’s dive into what flexibility really means for those who are the backbone of our daily lives – the frontline workers.

Exploring the Paradox of Flexibility for Frontline Workers

The pandemic brought a seismic shift in the way we work, especially for office-based employees. But for the 58% of American workers who are frontline and cannot work remotely, the pandemic era didn’t usher in Zoom meetings or home offices. Instead, these essential workers, pivotal in maintaining the cogs of our economy and society, faced an unchanged physical presence at their workplaces. This static situation is underscored by a Gallup survey revealing a stark contrast in engagement levels: fully on-site, non-remote-capable employees have notably lower engagement (29%) compared to their remote (38%) and hybrid (38%) counterparts, and even on-site workers who are remote-capable (34%).

Here’s where the narrative takes an unexpected turn. Despite the concerns by leaders, the majority of these on-site workers don’t seem to harbor jealousy towards their home-based colleagues. Surprisingly, only 33% would consider leaving their current jobs for the allure of remote work, marking a decline from 38% last year. This challenges the prevailing narrative that remote work is universally coveted as the zenith of workplace flexibility.

Unpacking What Frontline Workers Value

If the allure of remote work isn’t as strong among frontline workers, what then do they prioritize? The same Gallup Survey provides illuminating insights. Frontline workers, it appears, place a higher value on day-to-day flexibility over the location of their work. This preference spectrum includes options such as selecting workdays, enjoying more PTO, and the potential for a four-day workweek.

This pronounced preference for temporal flexibility over spatial flexibility is revelatory. It suggests that frontline workers are seeking dominion over their time, possibly valuing it more than the setting of their labor. They aspire to a work-life integration that allows them to balance professional responsibilities with personal life in a way that aligns with their needs and desires. This isn’t just about avoiding the commute or changing their work environment; it’s about shaping their work life to better fit their personal life.

Flexibility for Frontline Workers in the Manufacturing Sector

The manufacturing sector provides a fascinating case study in understanding the role of flexibility in industries where remote work is not a viable option. PwC’s survey illuminates this by placing a spotlight on what factors contribute to a positive workplace in this sector. Notably, safety is at the forefront, which is understandable given the physical and often hazardous nature of manufacturing work. However, right on the heels of safety is flexibility and scheduling, with a significant 68% of companies acknowledging the use of flexible schedules as a strategy to curb high turnover rates.

This statistic is not just a number; it’s a clear indicator that flexibility in scheduling is a key component in the employee value proposition in the manufacturing industry. It’s a strategic tool, not merely a perk. By offering flexible scheduling, manufacturers are not only addressing a critical pain point for their workforce but also enhancing their appeal as employers in a competitive job market.

Flexible schedules in manufacturing could involve various arrangements, such as adjustable shift times, opportunities for longer but fewer workdays (like four 10-hour days), or even allowing workers to have a say in their work schedules. This level of flexibility can be particularly valuable in a sector known for its demanding and often rigid work schedules.

Struggles in Retail and Hospitality in Flexibility for Frontline Workers

Turning to the retail and hospitality sectors, as highlighted by a McKinsey & Co. survey, we encounter a starkly different scenario. These sectors are often characterized by their inflexible scheduling practices, with little to no room for employee input. The result is a workforce grappling with burnout and dissatisfaction, which can be directly linked to the lack of schedule flexibility.

In retail and hospitality, employees frequently face unpredictable schedules, often receiving their work hours with little advance notice. This unpredictability makes it challenging for employees to plan their personal lives, leading to a work-life balance that is often skewed heavily towards work. The rigidity in these schedules is in direct contrast to the more flexible options desired by employees, as revealed in the Gallup Survey.

The discrepancy in flexibility between the manufacturing sector and retail and hospitality sectors is a call to action. It suggests a pressing need for these industries to reevaluate their scheduling practices. Incorporating flexible scheduling options could not only improve employee satisfaction and well-being but also reduce turnover rates, which are notoriously high in these sectors.

For retail and hospitality, flexibility could mean offering more consistent schedules, providing employees with the ability to swap shifts easily, or even introducing more predictable part-time schedules. These changes could lead to a more engaged and committed workforce, ultimately benefiting both the employees and the businesses.

The contrasting experiences of the manufacturing sector and the retail and hospitality industries in terms of scheduling flexibility highlight a broader need. It’s about recognizing and implementing flexibility in various forms, tailored to the unique demands and possibilities of each industry. By doing so, businesses can create a more positive, productive, and sustainable work environment for all employees, regardless of the sector they operate in.

The Significance of Temporal Flexibility for Frontline Workers

Temporal flexibility for frontline workers can translate into more than just convenience; it represents a profound shift in how they experience their work and manage their lives. It’s about the empowerment that comes from having autonomy over their schedules, the capacity to plan and control their time, which in many roles, particularly frontline ones, is often dictated by the needs of the business rather than the individual.

This shift in preference from spatial to temporal flexibility is a critical insight for employers. It signals a need to rethink traditional work structures and consider more innovative scheduling approaches that prioritize employee autonomy. By doing so, businesses can not only boost engagement and satisfaction among frontline staff but also potentially unlock new levels of productivity and commitment.

The paradox of flexibility in frontline work reveals a complex landscape where the desires and needs of workers diverge significantly from the broader narrative surrounding remote work. It underscores the importance of understanding and responding to the unique preferences of these vital members of the workforce, whose contributions are indispensable yet often undervalued in discussions about the future of work. As we move forward, it’s clear that flexibility in the workplace needs a more nuanced approach, one that truly resonates with the realities and aspirations of all workers, including those on the frontline.

The key takeaway here is the need to bridge the flexibility gap. Employers must understand that flexibility doesn’t always mean remote work. This realization can lead to more tailored approaches in addressing employee needs and improving engagement levels. For frontline workers, it’s more about when they work rather than where, and most – as the Gallup survey shows – don’t care about where remote-capable workers are located. And that’s what I tell client companies who I help figure out their hybrid work models who have both frontline and remote-capable workers: make sure to give flexibility to both, “where” and “when” as appropriate to their roles and as much as reasonable while accomplishing business goals, to maximize productivity, engagement, retention, and morale.


As we navigate the evolving landscape of work post-pandemic, it’s essential to remember that flexibility has different meanings in different work contexts. For frontline workers, it’s less about escaping the physical workplace and more about gaining autonomy over their time. Recognizing and respecting these preferences is not just a step towards higher employee satisfaction; it’s a stride towards a more inclusive and empathetic workplace culture. So let’s rethink flexibility to tailor it to truly meet the needs of all workers, especially those who have been tirelessly on the frontlines. After all, a flexible approach to flexibility might just be what we need.

Key Take-Away

Flexibility for frontline workers isn't just about remote work; it's about empowering them with control over their schedules. Tailoring flexibility to their needs boosts engagement and satisfaction, bridging the gap in workplace dynamics. Click To Tweet

Image credit: Mikhail Nilov/pexels

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky was lauded as “Office Whisperer” and “Hybrid Expert” by The New York Times for helping leaders use hybrid work to improve retention and productivity while cutting costs. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. Dr. Gleb wrote the first book on returning to the office and leading hybrid teams after the pandemic, his best-seller Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage (Intentional Insights, 2021). He authored seven books in total, and is best know for his global bestseller, Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019). His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles and 550 interviews in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CBS News, Fox News, Time, Business Insider, Fortune, and elsewhere. His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, Spanish, French, and other languages. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox. It also comes from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist, with 8 years as a lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill and 7 years as a professor at Ohio State. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr. Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio. In his free time, he makes sure to spend abundant quality time with his wife to avoid his personal life turning into a disaster. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, follow him on LinkedIn @dr-gleb-tsipursky, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Facebook @DrGlebTsipursky, Medium @dr_gleb_tsipursky, YouTube, and RSS, and get a free copy of the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace by signing up for the free Wise Decision Maker Course at