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Nearly two-thirds of frontline grocery store and retail workers feel left behind by their employers in terms of COVID-19 communication and readiness.

Study: Grocery workers feel less prepared during COVID-19 pandemic

Frontline employees less confident about safety, support and communication, Axonify survey finds

Nearly two-thirds of frontline grocery store and retail workers feel left behind by their employers in terms of COVID-19 communication and preparedness, according to an international survey by employee training firm Axonify.

Focusing on training and readiness during the coronavirus pandemic, Axonify’s Global State of Frontline Employee Training Study found that 39% of 2,000 U.S., U.K. and Australian workers surveyed across a range of industries — including retail, grocery, contact centers and professional sales — feel they’re unprepared to do their job in the current environment. What’s more, 30% of these frontline workers said they don’t trust their employers or are ambivalent about their employer’s ability to deliver the necessary training, with U.S. employees expressing the lowest confidence (64%).

When asked to describe employer communications amid the health crisis, 46% of frontline workers said the communications were relevant to their job, while only four in 10 described them as “reliable” (40%) and “timely” (39%). 

“Historically, there has been an inaccurate and pervasive view that frontline workers aren’t worth investing in. Luckily, the tides are changing, because nothing brings a level of focus to the things that truly matter quite like a global pandemic,” according to Carol Leaman, CEO of Waterloo, Ontario-based Axonify. “It’s now crystal clear that business runs through the frontlines. The things frontline employees do and don’t do absolutely impact how a business performs.”

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Conducted by Arlington Research from July 27 to Aug. 5, Axonify’s survey polled 667 U.S., 667 U.K. and 666 Australian frontline workers at businesses with more than 1,000 employees. There were 500 respondents each in retail, grocery, contact center and professional sales.

Grocery and retail workers on the front lines, in particular, felt they were behind the pack during the pandemic, Axonify noted. These employees scored lower than frontline workers in other industries and reported feeling less safe, less supported, less trained, less knowledgeable and less confident than the average frontline worker, according to the study. 

Among grocery workers, 64% agreed that their employer has provided them timely information about its response to the pandemic, compared with 66% of retail employees and 71% of workers overall (78% in contact centers and 75% in professional sales). 

When we asked if they felt employers had taken action to keep employees safe amid the COVID crisis, grocery store workers (65%) and retail workers (68%) were the least likely to agree, compared with contact center (77%) and professional sales (76%) staff.

Only 61% of grocery store and 62% of retail workers indicated they felt supported by their manager versus 73% for professional sales employees and 72% for those working in contact centers.

Of all respondents, 64% agreed they received continued training and coaching to ensure they were doing their job safely and productively in the current environment. The percentage was lower among frontline workers in retail (56%) and grocery (59%), compared with 71% each for contact centers and professional sales. 

Because of the disruption brought by the pandemic, companies have turned to frontline employees to take on new roles and tasks, Axonify said. Forty-six percent of employees polled reported taking on new tasks during the crisis, and 23% took on a new job. However, only 48% of frontline workers overall said training was provided for these new jobs or duties. Among businesses, less than a quarter of retail employees (21%) said they received training for new roles or tasks, compared with 27% in grocery, 46% in contact centers and 45% in professional sales. 

“It is no question that the grocery and retail industries have been directly in the eye of the storm, so they have certainly been dealing with more chaos than the average employer,” Leaman stated. “But this is the canary in the coal mine. If they don’t turn their attention to the actual training and support needs of their frontline soon, they risk getting swallowed up by competitors who are.”

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