5 ways to boost employee productivity in retail and manufacturing



1. Provide frontline workers with access to digital HR systems 
2. Allow employees to log in with personal devices using an employee number or phone number
3. Eliminate paper-based processes like attendance management
4. Digitize employee records including assessment and screening status
5. Improve communication between HR and frontline workers with real-time notifications

If you’re an HR leader in the retail or manufacturing industry, you’ve probably found yourself in an uncomfortable position. One that’s forcing you to rethink your relationship with frontline workers and face up to the financial and reputational damage a lack of HR investment is having on your business.


Bonus Article: How can HR reduce costs without losing efficiency?

In most industries, access to digital HR services has been reserved for white-collar workers only but high attrition rates, low productivity and diminished HR reputation amongst field workers in retail and manufacturing have highlighted the growing need for a more holistic approach to digital HR, one that caters to the needs of all employees regardless of location or job role.


In this blog, we’ll help you quantify the real impact of poor digital HR on frontline workers and will share cost-effective strategies that you can adopt to make it right.


frontline_workers_coverUnlocking Financial Gains: Bringing digital HR to frontline workers
Learn why businesses with frontline workers should take note of EX, and how technology can become a cost-effective gateway to connecting HR with this critical business unit. Read Now.


Frontline workers: The heroes of the retail and manufacturing industry

Pre-pandemic, deskless workers were often perceived as easily replaceable, which inevitably led to a feeling of being undervalued and underappreciated.


However, as COVID-19 hit, they became the business unit organizations turned to, bringing to light just how integral they would be to keeping businesses afloat. As HR tech expert Josh Bersin noted at the time, companies began to invest in frontline workers like never before, recognizing that they were the most challenging workers to attract and retain.


“Companies have woken up to the fact that frontline workers (retail, store employees, operations staff, drivers) are the most important and difficult workers to attract, so they’re investing in them like never before.” JOSHBERSIN, CEOs Are Leading A Movement To Educate The Workforce, 2021.


Now, as businesses strive to recover and rebuild, it's essential to continue acknowledging the central role they played in sustaining operations during turbulent times. 



But, when we examine the data, it paints a less appreciative picture.


The cost of doing nothing: The impact on your bottom line

Here are some of the most effective ways HR leaders can cut costs without slowing down your business or being forced to reduce headcount: 


Increased Attrition: The 2023 US and Canada Turnover Surveys reveal alarming turnover rates for blue-collar sectors like manufacturing (60%) and retail (32.9%), indicating a pressing need for retention strategies. 


In the current labor market, where skilled blue-collar workers are scarce, companies emphasizing workforce satisfaction will succeed in attracting and retaining top talent, ensuring financial stability and positive industry reputation. 


One out of five people in the United States works in the retail and hospitality sector, and at least half of frontline retail workers are thinking about quitting.” McKinsey’s Great Attrition Survey

Low Productivity: By sidestepping essential workers and burdening them with manual HR processes, businesses are unwittingly straining their staff, leading to overlooked financial repercussions. A study by Forrester Consulting for Applaud shows that 90% of organizations believe employees and managers lose 2-4 hours weekly to HR tasks. This challenge also extends to HR professionals, with 98% feeling overwhelmed with the unmanageable paper-based workload they have to get through. Transitioning to digital processes not only enhances HR efficiency but also empowers employees to focus on their core roles, emphasizing the vital need for this digital shift in optimizing productivity and well-being.


"90% of organizations believe their employees and managers lose between 2-4 hours
per week to HR tasks."

A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Applaud


Growing Distrust in HR: The perception of HR among field workers has diminished, leading to feelings of frustration and distrust. According to EmployBridge's "Associate Life Survey," 40% of blue-collar workers perceive that higher-level employees receive more respect and honesty than hourly workers. To repair these relationships, organizations must start recognizing their frontline teams as valuable assets and actively demonstrate this. The consequences of distrust are far-reaching, as employees are now less inclined to approach HR with work-related concerns, potentially escalating this from a mere reputational issue to a critical business challenge if unaddressed.


What you can do to make your employees more engaged and productive

While these issues might feel overwhelming, there are tools at your disposal designed to support digital HR transformation for blue-collar organizations. Employee Experience Platforms (EXPs), in particular, have emerged as an affordable game-changer in this area. 


Here are some of the simple ways you can use technology to transform HR operations and streamline HR processes for frontline workers:


  1. Eliminate Manual Processes: As mentioned, field teams in the retail and manufacturing sector often use paper-based forms to complete tasks like booking time off or viewing their time off balance. However, embracing affordable, no-code Employee Experience Platforms (EXPs) can allow employees to view their personal information via any device. EXPs can seamlessly integrate tools like Attendance Management Systems (AMS) with payroll to surface information and facilitate automated, error-free processes that streamline attendance management and ensure accuracy in employee pay and absence requests.

  2. Digitize Information: HR technology allows you to maintain accurate digital records of essential employee information, from personal details to employee assessments and screenings. This transformation ensures data accuracy, simplifies record-keeping, and makes information readily accessible, improving HR operational efficiency. To strengthen your business case for investment, highlight the positive impact it will have on other departments in the organization. Teams that rely on up-to-date employee data, such as IT and Finance, can reap the benefits of improved data management without investing in new tools themselves, making your investment more cost-effective overall.

  3. Enhance Communication: Clear, timely, and personalized communication is key to fostering a positive employee experience. HR technology, like EXPs, serves as a central hub for businesses to achieve this. Whether it's updates on company policies, safety guidelines, or business announcements, employees can receive real-time notifications, keeping frontline workers informed and fostering meaningful connections at scale.

  4. Promote Employee Self-Service: Until now, the main blockers to employee self-service for frontline workers have been limited access to devices or a lack of email addresses. However, EXPs now enable employees to use personal devices and log in via an employee number or phone number. Additionally, addressing common concerns raised about blue-collar employees' digital proficiency, EXPs employ a user-centric design with intuitive interfaces that are easy to use for both employees and HR. This empowers employees to take control of their data and access critical business and personal information, including employee directories, pay, and benefits.



Frontline workers are the face of your company, interacting directly with your customers, overseeing operations, and ensuring the top-quality production, delivery, and sale of your products. Research has shown that when employees feel valued and respected, your customers feel valued and respected too, leading to increased brand loyalty and repeat business.


"97% of consumers and 98% of contact center managers say customer service interactions impact whether consumers stay loyal to a brand."


In an era where employee satisfaction directly impacts business outcomes, providing them with consumer-grade digital HR services will prove to be a transformative move for your business. HR technology like Employee Experience Platforms, offers an affordable and efficient way to enhance the employee experience for your workers, and by embracing this technological shift, organizations can ensure all of their employees thrive in a digitally enhanced work environment, resulting in enhanced productivity, job satisfaction, and significant cost savings.

If you're interested in learning more about Applaud and how it can transform the HR experience for your key workers, visit our website or contact us at


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Frontline worker guide 2

This guide explores the concept of employee experience, delves into why businesses with frontline workers should take note, and illustrates how technology can become a cost-effective gateway to connecting HR with this critical business unit.

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Published November 3, 2023 / by Applaud