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29 Jan 2024
by David Bernard

Deskless vs desk-based: breaking down the recognition divide

It’s a sad fact that deskless workers often don’t get the recognition they deserve for doing a great job. What can employers do?

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Deskless workers – construction workers, truck drivers, healthcare workers, etc – are in general less happy at work than their desk-based colleagues.

There’s a marked divide.

Only 36% of deskless workers report a positive employee experience, compared with 52 % of desk-based workers. The same applies for how appreciated employees are made to feel by their employers, with just 30% of deskless workers stating that they feel valued. This jumps to 69% for corporate workers.

There are several underlying reasons for this happiness gap, but what stands out is how recognition differs between these two groups of employees.

Fewer than half of deskless workers report receiving any recognition in the past month. And of those who did receive recognition, most say it came across as inauthentic and insincere.

Lack of technology

This lack of recognition could be due to several reasons, including managers of deskless workers not being trained on the importance of recognition and how to give it effectively.

Plus, these managers may not be taking the time to get to know their employees as individuals and so any gesture of appreciation comes across badly. It’s also important to note that the availability and use of technology varies considerably between deskless and desk-based workers, with many technology-focused employee recognition tools and programmes only accessible via laptops and other corporate devices.

This recognition divide must be addressed if deskless workers are to feel appreciated, connected to their organisations and motivated to deliver great work again and again. This means prioritising recognition giving for everyone, not just the workers who are easiest to reach.

Leaders must be educated about recognising their deskless teams – why appreciating them is so important, what messages to communicate, how to create meaningful recognition experiences and how to help their teams feel connected to the rest of the organisation.

Reaching deskless workers is challenging as they will often have limited access to technology and resources, and so organisations must invest in making their deskless teams more connected.

This should include providing them with greater access to mobile devices and tools for ‘on the go’ communications, as well as ensuring HR and recognition apps are mobile-enabled.

Regular recognition

However, recognition shouldn’t just take place over a recognition platform, but given regularly during one-to-ones, team meetings and organisational celebrations as well as via notice boards, handwritten notes and thank you cards.

By linking recognition to awards, this elevates the recognition moment, but it’s important to ensure the gifts and awards are suitable for all. In fact, it’s wise to provide a wide variety of gift options and allow deskless workers to choose something that will benefit them the most.

It’s also advisable to train leaders on how to effectively present recognition, including the benefits of doing it publicly in front of peers and managers, and making the moment authentic and personalised. And all recognition must be celebrated and shared throughout the organisation so deskless and desk-based employees are recognised equally and fairly.

When deskless workers get frequent and effective recognition, positive results are likely including a heightened sense of belonging and community. And when organisations make recognition an integrated part of their everyday culture, the outcomes can be mind-blowing – great work is 440% more likely, there is a 255% improved odds of employees having a strong connection to the organisation, and workers are 349% more likely to stay at the company for one more year.

So, ignoring deskless workers is simply not an option. They must feel valued, appreciated and equitable and recognition has a crucial role to play in making this happen.

*Insights taken from O.C. Tanner’s 2024 Global Culture report

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