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The Retention Crisis: How to Keep Deskless Workers Engaged

The world of work is upside down! The number of open, advertised positions continues to rise, but many companies cannot find the right employees to fill them. This is hitting the commercial sector particularly hard. A job survey for Germany, for example, shows that of all vacant positions, almost 70% are in industrial occupations[1].

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The numbers of vacant positions show it clearly: a shortage of skilled workers, “The Big Quit” or “War for Talents” refer to the diverse and tricky recruiting challenges that talent acquisition managers are facing today. Companies around the world and in almost all industries are faced with the challenge of finding suitable talent and retaining them for the long term.

If we take a look at the global workforce, we see that non-desk workers make up about three-quarters or more of the workforce in most countries.[2] That’s 2.7 billion non-desk workers worldwide. These workers are distributed across the following top 8 industries, among others: Agriculture, Construction, Education, Healthcare, Hospitality, Manufacturing, Retail and Transportation.[3]

In view of the number of vacancies and the difficulties in finding suitable employees for these positions, talent acquisition and HR managers are faced with another very important challenge in addition to the task of finding new employees: retaining non-desk workers. The big question now is, what measures can companies take?


Employee turnover, retention and engagement

In recruiting, there is a wide range of measures for engaging and attracting employees. The trick is to select and implement the right strategies for the company and its workers. In this context, the retention of a company’s own employees is becoming increasingly important. On the one hand, this is intended to prevent employees from leaving to join the competition, and on the other hand, important know-how and skills remain within the company. This pays directly into the company’s success.

Another factor is that of employee engagement or motivation. For example, a Gallup survey on employee engagement revealed that around 80% of employees worldwide are not engaged and may even be actively disinterested or unhappy in their work environments.[4] These results are alarming. A study published by BCG with participants from seven nations (Australia, France, Germany, India, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) shows how precarious the situation currently is in companies around the world. In the UK, for example, 15% of the industrial employees surveyed said they had already decided to quit their current job within the next six months, another 15% said they were not ready to commit to the company for longer than the next six months, and 11% answered that they were undecided.[2] The survey also found that the number of employees in the United Kingdom was increasing.

In addition to the figures from various studies on the subject of employee engagement and Quiet Quitting (internal quitting, where employees have not actually quit, but only do the absolute minimum and no more than contractually agreed. No special projects and no effort or commitment to the company), it is important for HR managers to know the needs and requirements of their employees. Another important finding for companies is that younger non-desk workers are more likely to quit their jobs than older generations.[2] Another study with nearly 5,000 participants from four countries shows that the number of quits after only a short time in a company is most prevalent among non-desk workers.[6] Here it is important to counteract and implement measures for employee retention. Companies that fail to do so risk losing important in-house know-how, a decline in productivity and delays in project progress or completion. In addition, there is often uncertainty among the remaining employees when important team players leave the company.

Identify, understand, and meet the needs of commercial employees

In all industries, it is becoming increasingly clear that today’s employees call the shots on the labor market.[7] This requires recruiters and HR managers to rethink and demand more than ever future-oriented measures in dealing with their own employees.

But how can the company retain those non-desk employees for whom a better work-life balance, flexibility or home office are not possible as they have to be physically present at their workplace? In addition, non-desk workers are more difficult to reach in their day-to-day work and are often less well-connected internally. This is due not least to the fact that they do not have a computer workstation and are thus often excluded from written internal communication. In many cases, this also means that it is more difficult to communicate and live the internal corporate culture. The top priority here is for companies to think about their employees in the industrial technical professions and to regularly inform, involve and support these colleagues.

Measures to retain non-desk employees

1. Show appreciation

Showing non-desk workers in particular what value they have for the company is essential for their well-being and loyalty to the company. Friendly words of thanks and the knowledge that they are not a number or a resource, but are perceived and valued as a person, make all the difference. Employees who are told what value they have for the company are more motivated and loyal, and more likely to work hard to achieve the company’s goals.

2. open communication

Listening and being heard are probably among the most important issues in an employee retention strategy. This includes open dialog and the opportunity for honest, anonymous feedback that is accepted, taken seriously and implemented. Being open to criticism from employees and implementing possible changes in line with the wishes and needs of employees leads to greater satisfaction and motivation among the workforce in the long term.

3. tailored company benefits

Every person is an individual. This also applies to employees in all positions, industries and salary levels. Accordingly, their wishes, needs and ideas about bonuses, rewards or company benefits are also very individual. Companies are well advised to take this into account when awarding company benefits and to adapt them to the needs of their employees.[2] In addition, fair remuneration, including inflation adjustments and salary increases, has a direct impact on employee retention

4. Opportunities for personal growth and development

Many employees leave the company if they cannot identify with the corporate culture.[5] An important step here is to invest in the well-being of employees and to offer opportunities for further training and career planning. Employees thank the company for this by committing themselves to the company. Investing in the career prospects of your own employees also improves the company’s economic performance.[8]

5. Employee recommendations

Especially for companies with a large number of non-desk employees, employee referrals and a digital employee referral program are a great way to build loyalty. While it opens up a new recruiting channel for the company thanks to the networks of its own employees, it also involves all employees in the hiring process. All employees are encouraged to participate in the search for suitable talent. A good digital employee referral program offers a mobile app in addition to the desktop version, which can also be used by employees away from their computer workstations. Thanks to co-determination in the recruitment process, employees feel valued, which leads to them being more satisfied, committed and motivated.


Employee retention is considered the most important recruiting strategy for keeping companies successful and competitive. Following the pandemic, the commercial sector in particular has to contend with staff shortages, a lack of skilled workers and many unfilled positions. It is important to retain non-desk employees with suitable measures such as appreciation, open communication and the right incentives and benefits.

Do you want to know how employee referrals can help you master your recruiting challenges and involve your employees in the recruitment process? Our experienced team is happy to help. Contact us today.



[1] IAB. Institute for Employment Research. The research facility of the Federal Employment Agency. https:\/\/

[2] Lovich, D. et al. 2022. Why Deskless Workers Are Leaving-and How to Win Them Back. Boston Consulting Group.

[3] The rise of the deskless workforce.

[4] Gallup. Workplace. What Is Employee Engagement and How Do You Improve It?

[5] Ayoade. A. 2022. Three Strategies Organizations Can Use To Alleviate The Retention Crisis. Forbes.

[6] Boston Consulting Group. 2022. 43% Of Deskless Workers Are Looking For A New Job.

[7] Harding. I. 2022. The retention crisis: should we be treating employees more like customers? https:\/\/

[8] Crail. C. 2023. 15 Effective Employee Retention Strategies In 2023.



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