Home Lead Research Says 80 Percent of Employees Are Treated Unfairly

Research Says 80 Percent of Employees Are Treated Unfairly

Here Are 3 Ways to Instantly Change That. Eighty-percent of employees are 'deskless.' New research shows they're dangerously demoralized and growing resentful.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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As organizations scramble to meet employee demands for remote work, flexibility and career development, a critical group of workers is being left out of the conversation: the 80% of employees who spend their workdays someplace other than behind a desk.

From plumbers to pilots to production-line workers, these contributors were celebrated as "essential workers" during the pandemic. However, new research from the O.C. Tanner Institute reveals that these "80% employees" now feel dangerously demoralized--and that the rift between them and their computer-bound counterparts is growing.

O.C. Tanner's 2024 Global Culture Report, an examination of workplace trends and sentiments based on data gathered from more than 42,000 employees, leaders, HR practitioners, and executives in 27 countries, reveals that 80% of employees feel they have significantly less opportunity, voice, flexibility and support than their peers. As one focus group participant, a bus driver, put it, "We're expendable again."

Fortunately, there are measures organizations can take to change these sentiments. O.C. Tanner's research shows that when the 80% of employees feel seen, valued, and appreciated, there's a powerful positive impact on their sense of belonging, fulfillment, and connection to their organizations.

Troubling trends

The range of roles the 80% play within our economy makes them challenging to categorize, which may be one reason they've been overlooked. Labels like "deskless," "offline" and "frontline" fail to capture the experiences of those who construct our cities, grow our food, ring up our purchases, care for us when we're sick, assemble and deliver every product we buy--and fill other low-profile but crucial roles.

O.C. Tanner's research looked at the 80% in two ways: those who spend less than 40% of the workday at a desk and those who work without regular access to tools like email, messaging apps, and online platforms. They found that fully half of these workers say their organizations treat them as expendable.

Financial instability compounds the problem: While some 80%ers earn healthy salaries, nearly half report living paycheck to paycheck. About a third work multiple jobs to pay the bills.

A widening rift

O.C. Tanner's research also uncovered sharp differences in the experience of the 80% and their corporate counterparts. They found that less than half of the 80%--but more than two-thirds of corporate employees--think their organizations care about employees (45% vs. 68%), have a strong sense of connection to their organizations (43% vs. 67%), feel seen and valued at work (46% vs. 69%) and say their organizations support them in learning new skills (45% vs. 69%).

These divergent sentiments leave roughly a third of the 80%, but half of corporate workers, feeling satisfied with their jobs (37% vs. 51%). Moreover, the perception of differential treatment is breeding resentment, with two in five of the 80% believing their corporate colleagues view them as inferior.

Three solutions

The good news is that this problem is solvable. The research shows that when 80% of employees feel seen and valued, there's a 674% increase in engagement, a 592% increase in great work, and a 448% increase in workers' likelihood of feeling a strong sense of fulfillment.

1. Increase access to tools and resources

Leaders can help the 80% feel seen and valued by increasing their access to the systems, resources, and benefits required to do a job and do it well. For example, on average, this group receives less than 1% of companies' technology budgets. Without regular access to tools like email, messaging apps, and online HR systems, they're literally disconnected from vital lines of communication--and the visibility and opportunities those channels bring.

2. Increase access and enablement

Organizations can also increase "enablement": the degree to which employees have autonomy, influence and voice. Both access and enablement are required. If organizations provide access to an employee healthcare facility, for example, but don't enable their people with the flexibility to visit it during the workday, the effort will fall short.

When the 80% have both high access and high enablement, O.C. Tanner's research found they're three times as likely to want to stay for another three years.

3. Increase recognition

Meaningful recognition can also make a difference. More than half of the 80% in the study said that they'd received no recognition at work in the past month. Among those who were recognized, only 26% felt the recognition was meaningful. However, the research found that when workers receive frequent recognition and have leaders who understand how they want to be recognized, this dramatically increases their sense of belonging, community and fulfillment--and their chances of producing work that exceeds expectations.

No society or organization could function without the 80% of employees who work in fields, factories, warehouses and hospitals. Shifting their sentiments will take focus, listening and a willingness to experiment with new tools and practices.

These workers are essential. And it's essential that they feel it.

Photo Credit: Getty Images.

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