COVID-19 pandemic brings frontline workers closer together but exposes deep divides with leaders, research reveals 

The stress of living through the COVID-19 pandemic has created closer bonds between frontline workers in the UK, who feel overworked, exhausted and unsupported by their bosses. 

New research released by Microsoft reveals that employees in sectors such as retail, healthcare, hospitality and manufacturing want to work in places that have a healthy culture, with more help to use technology in their jobs and greater communication with management. 

Many companies and organisations risk losing these valuable staff members unless they place a greater focus on employee wellbeing. 

Microsoft’s Work Trend Index Special Report, entitled Technology Can Help Unlock a New Future for Frontline Workers, found that 78% of frontline workers in the UK felt “very bonded” to co-workers because of shared stresses brought on by the pandemic. 

Teams working in customer-facing industries such as retail, healthcare and hospitality have been hit hard by the pandemic as they are more likely to be exposed to people carrying the virus, causing staff shortages and pressure on services. The study revealed that 57% of UK frontline staff say worker shortages are making it difficult for them to do their job, with 69% believing that work stress will stay the same or worsen in the coming year. The top concerns were too much work (47%), long work days (43%) and low wages (42%). 

To make matters worse, UK workers felt little support from management, with 55% saying they do not feel valued as an employee, 63% wanting more help with physically exhaustion and 58% needing more mental health support. A further 70% say company bosses do not prioritize building a workplace culture and 68% say they never receive messages from leaders. 

Read more about Microsoft’s Work Trend Index

This is leading to many frontline employees to move jobs, with more money, a better work-life balance and the chance for pay increases cited as the top reasons. 

Emma Williams, corporate vice president of Modern Work Transformations at Microsoft, said: “The frontline workforce, which represents nearly two billion people worldwide, is the backbone of communities and economies around the world. In fact, 88% of organisations employ people in frontline roles. When frontline workers say something’s not working, we can’t afford to ignore them.” 

Microsoft’s report revealed that bosses can prevent this talent exodus by listening to their staff and responding to their concerns over pay, staffing levels and digital tools. For example, more than half (56%) of UK frontline workers are excited about the job opportunities that technology can bring, with automation of repetitive tasks cited as one of the most appealing use cases. 

However, nearly a third (32%) do not have the right tech to do their job effectively and 54% have had to use new digital tools without proper training. This is creating further stress for employees, with 44% worried they could lose their jobs if they don’t adapt to using new technology. 

“This research reveals a common fundamental need for a sharpened focus on sharing information, building skills and creating a healthy culture,” said Alysa Taylor, corporate vice president of Industry, Apps and Data Marketing at Microsoft. “We believe industry-specific technology tailored for the unique needs of frontline workers can help foster a more innovative, productive and engaged workforce.” 

The report was released as Microsoft revealed new features in Teams and Viva to support managers as they change workplace culture, and help frontline workers. Microsoft has seen 400% growth in monthly active usage of its Teams collaboration platform among frontline workers since March 2020.

The new features include the Viva Connections app in Microsoft Teams, which allows leaders to share messages, updates, and recognition with staff, while frontline workers can share feedback with management. 

Virtual appointments in Microsoft Teams with scheduled queuing provides real-time updates on wait times, missed appointments and staffing delays to offer valuable insights to employees and a more transparent experience for customers. 

Microsoft Cloud for Retail, generally available on February 1, provides a comprehensive, tailored set of capabilities for retailers. It empowers retail frontline workers with the insights, resources and data they need to deliver a better customer experience. 

To read more about these and other new features announced by Microsoft, read this blog post. 

Williams added: “It’s no secret that the pandemic is reshaping work for all workers, and at a faster pace than we have ever seen. Empowering frontline workers remains essential for digital transformation. Together with our partners, we’re equipping frontline workers with tools that allow them to stay connected with their team and company leadership while concentrating on the customer or job at hand. If done well, we believe technology can modernize workflows and enhance job performance while also improving workplace culture and communication.”