Bridgette Morehouse on What Deskless Workers Need Leaders to Know
Bridgette Morehouse has spent her entire career advocating for deskless workers. Currently the CEO and Founder of LeadHuman, Morehouse’s passion for supporting the deskless economy was instilled at an early age.
Morehouse estimates she had eight years of full-time deskless experience built up before she began her career. These jobs supported her through high school, college, and a master’s program. They were also diverse. Morehouse did everything from working in service and manufacturing to canvassing for the census.
“It starts back when I was first able to work,” she told Anthill about her career path.
These experiences not only provided a strong work foundation that’s close to Morehouse’s heart. They alo set the trajectory for the rest of her life. Throughout her impressive career—which includes time at Ford and Amazon, in addition to leading her own organization—she has focused on labor relations and supporting the deskless workers that make up many companies.
At LeadHuman, Morehouse coaches leaders on how to connect with employees to better understand their needs. When she recently joined Anthill’s Being Deskless Live, she shared some of her insight on what leaders need to know about the deskless workforce.
The Great Rethink Shakes Up The Workforce
“The Great Resignation” is a term many of us are familiar with by now. Driven largely by the COVID pandemic, it’s the name given to the recent phenomenon of workers quitting their jobs at record rates.
In March 2021, the employee quit rate—measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)—hit 2.5%, a number not seen since BLS began recording the data in 2001. As time went on, the quit rate continued to creep higher. By the end of 2021, quit rates hit an all-time high of 3%. To date, this remains the highest quit rate the United States has ever seen.
And while everyone is calling it “The Great Resignation,” Morehouse prefers a different term. She calls this phenomenon “The Great Rethink,” because she thinks it better describes workers’ decisions to leave their jobs.
“We’re seeing a lot more people prioritizing their health and well-being, flexibility and their family,” she said.
Faced with an existential crisis in the form of a pandemic, people everywhere began ‘rethinking’ how they were living and what brought them happiness. With the uncertainty, restrictions and anxiety brought on by COVID, people began aggressively eliminating parts of their lives that made them unhappy. For many, this unfortunately included aspects of their jobs.
And the people driving this phenomenon? Deskless workers.
The top two sectors affected by The Great Resignation (or Rethink) are leisure/hospitality and trade, transportation and utilities. Both of these industries include massive populations of deskless workers.
“These people are owners of the deep knowledge of their jobs and the systems in the company,” Morehouse said. “As they’re leaving in The Great Resignation, companies are seeing how that hurts them.”
From Deskless Workers to Essential Workers
When the world shut down in 2020, another pandemic term surfaced: essential workers.
People quickly realized the people who didn’t sit at desks— 80 percent of the global workforce—are the people they rely on to keep their lives moving. These are healthcare workers, supermarket employees, teachers, factory workers, and countless other individuals who keep the world going.
“How do we recognize that these people that are not tied to a desk are the ones that drive the economy, these are the ones that get the things done on a day-to-day basis?” Morehouse says. “It’s changing the way companies and employees are thinking about the power that group has, and the contribution they can make to society.”
The additional focus on essential workers put pressure on companies to get creative. How can they help these essential deskless workers thrive in their jobs?
“Everyone is rethinking how work gets done, and that affects a lot of different fields that have deskless workers,” Morehouse said. “What that signifies to me is that people are willing to get creative and think about how work gets done.”
She gives two examples: telemedicine and remote learning. When people couldn’t get to school or a doctor’s appointment due to COVID, technology helped make it possible.
“There’s so much change that has happened over the past few years,” Morehouse said. “It’s hard to put COVID aside, because COVID prompted a lot of changes.”
The People Who Can Make Or Break A Company
When it comes to supporting deskless workers, Morehouse wants to get something clear: These individuals are not unskilled.
“There has been a legacy and history of thinking of deskless workers as unskilled,” she said. “What we saw from the pandemic was that these workers aren’t unskilled. They’re essential. They are the people who can make or break the company.”
Morehouse emphasizes that leaders everywhere need to shift their mindsets from viewing deskless workers as “unskilled” to “essential.”
“Everything grinds to a stop if they’re not there providing the labor and services they do on a daily basis - there's power in that.”
One way to encourage the shift is to look at employees as assets to be maximized as opposed to costs to be managed. And as more work becomes automated, manual jobs become more complicated.
“Now the jobs that are left are so much more essential,” Morehouse said. “They are focused on what is core to the business - things like quality, customer service, coming up with solutions to different problems, and using human skills like empathy, and creative problem solving.”
These are assets Morehouse says many companies are missing out on.
“I think there is so much power locked up in the deskless workforce that companies are not using,” she said.
Retain Deskless Workers By Engaging Them
Morehouse references a famous John F. Kennedy story that illustrates the importance of having purpose in work.
When the 35th president toured NASA for the first time—in the middle of a space race between the former Soviet Union and the United States—he crossed paths with a janitor. Striking up a conversation, President Kennedy asked the man about his role and how he fit into NASA’s operations.
“I'm putting a man on the moon,” the worker said.
Morehouse compares purpose—like this man demonstrated in his reaction to President Kennedy—to a strong engine that produces results.
“Deskless workers still want a sense of purpose, a sense of connecting to something bigger than them,” she said. “If you can leverage the passion these people have for their jobs, it's like an engine, it's going to keep everything moving, you’re going to see multipliers in performance that you haven't seen otherwise.”
But to understand purpose, leaders must engage with their workforce. This means having conversations about wants and needs. It means involving employees in designing jobs.
“They are experts in the job they are doing. They know the job, machinery, the process,” Morehouse said. “There is so much knowledge contained in this deskless workforce that it is easy for companies to say ‘This runs [smooth enough].’”
But those workers that know the job so well are also the key to innovation and company growth.
“A lot of the workers are saying ‘I have ideas, I know how things can get done better, I see issues affecting the customer,’' Morehouse said. “They have deep expertise we need to value, appreciate and celebrate.”
Improve Communication With Anthill
Knowing what motivates and excites workers is essential to cultivating a strong company. As Morehouse mentions over and over, deskless workers are a wealth of knowledge and expertise. When you can start two-way conversations with them, you’ll unlock loads of new ideas to help you improve your company.
For most leaders, this requires a communication channel that is quick and effective. Not another meeting. Just a text message.
Anthill Connect exists to make this two-way communication a reality. Employees can share quick ideas with their supervisors. Leaders can run surveys and get input from the experts they employ through simple text messaging. If you’re ready to get started, try Anthill for free today.