Topic: Culture

How the 80% Workforce Feels Might Surprise You

Workers in the 80% thrive when they feel seen and appreciated - 2024 Global Culture Report, O.C. Tanner Institute
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Most conversations about the future of work focus on corporate and knowledge workers, and often neglect those who don’t work behind a desk and feel a lack of access and enablement at work (who we call the 80% workforce).

Some unsettling  stats about the 80% workforce:

  • Only 30% of them feel seen and valued at work
  • Nearly two of every five say they are viewed as inferior by other employees in the office
  • Over one-third (35%) report senior leaders minimize or dismiss their ideas
  • Only 35% feel they have freedom to take time away from work for personal errands

Who are workers in the 80% category?

The 80% workforce lacks regular access to technology and tools that keeps them connected to their organizations, and do not have the same opportunities, autonomy, influence, or voice as others in the workplace. They work in healthcare, retail, manufacturing, transportation, hospitality, construction, etc. but nearly every organization has employees in the 80%. These workers are essential and critical to an organization’s success.

“They [the 80%] are the livelihood and heart of businesses, and without them, everything will come to a standstill.”
—Matt Fairhurst, CEO, Skedulo

Despite the importance of these workers, they feel ignored, unappreciated, and expendable by their organizations. Their experiences at work differ drastically from their corporate peers.

As one manufacturing employee put it, “We’re frontline, so we’re the lowest on the totem pole. We’re not selling, we’re not pushing product, so we’re not rewarded for what we do. People on the corporate side are getting branded clothing, four-day trips, etc. It’s just totally different. They get respect.”

A chart comparing employee sentiment in the 80% versus corporate employees. 80% employees feel their organization cares less about them, their leaders are less empathetic, and they distrust their direct leaders. 80% employees lack connection and visibility.

Their perceptions are not incorrect. With only 8% of executives saying increasing support for these workers is a priority (and less than 1% of companies’ technology budgets dedicated to them), it’s no wonder turnover rates for these workers reach up to 500% per year.

How can we engage these workers? It’s not with pizza parties. To truly help the 80% thrive at work, organizations have to help them feel seen, understand their experiences, provide them support, and show they are valued and important.

1) Help them feel connected and empowered at work.

All employees should have access to HR and culture-building tools at work to feel connected to the company, and be empowered to speak up about obstacles they face and how to do their jobs in the ways they feel best.

2) Build equitable experiences.

Ensure things that corporate peers receive, like flexibility at work, employee recognition, and opportunities for skill building and development are also available to the 80%.

3) Recognize the 80% often and in meaningful ways.

Celebrate their accomplishments, provide rewards and awards that would benefit them, and showcase their contributions so others can see the great work they’ve done.

When 80% workers feel seen and valued by their organization, they have improved odds of engagement, productivity, and feelings of belonging and connection.


See more stats on the 80% experience and tips on how to help them thrive at work in our
2024 Global Culture Report.

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