How Frontline Candidates’ Expectations Have Changed Post-COVID

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

Halting business as usual during COVID has led many organizations to reevaluate what they owe employees and customers.

We talked to Briana Gosselin, an employment brand manager at Sodexo, to learn how the food services and facilities management company attracts new frontline employees. Many candidates are hesitant to put themselves and their families at risk in order to return to positions traditionally plagued by low wages, few benefits, and persistent burnout. It’s a unique challenge that Gosselin, a former frontline worker herself, knows firsthand.

“For over 50 years, [Sodexo has] been partnering with some of the world’s biggest companies to ensure that our people in organizations have access to nutritious meals, a healthy and productive environment, and, overall, improve their quality of life,” Gosselin says.

As Sodexo has worked to fill frontline roles during the pandemic recovery, the team has come to some important realizations. Here’s what they’ve learned about how to capture a candidate’s attention.

Why Filling Frontline Roles Is So Hard

The economy has picked back up, but employers hiring frontline workers have sometimes struggled to fill roles, largely because they fail to recognize that the context has changed.

A March 2021 survey by the National Federation of Independent Business found that a record-high 42 percent of small business owners had job openings they could not fill, even as the national employment rate steadily grew month-over-month.

The challenge is that raising wages and improving benefits only goes so far. As Steven Kramer, writing for Supply Chain Brain suggests, businesses need to refocus on the employee experience. They must cultivate a strong culture and engaging workplace, where employees feel motivated, listened to, and supported.

For example, childcare and in-person schooling have lagged behind the overall recovery, keeping many parents at home, without other options. Meanwhile, employers facing hiring problems are pushing their existing employees to work longer hours, further contributing to burnout and making the situation worse as more staff leave.

How Employers Can Change Their Approach

What’s needed, first and foremost, is improved scheduling flexibility to accommodate people who have other demands on their time. From childcare to eldercare, individuals have responsibilities outside the workplace.

At Sodexo, Gosselin frames the challenge as creating the right role for the talent that’s already out there, rather than the other way around.

“Candidates have really high expectations right now,” Gosselin says, “and I think our biggest challenge is being able to pivot and adapt with that changing job market.”

To stand out, you need to sell the perks of the roles you wish to fill. Think strategically about how to appeal to talent. A commitment to growth and building your team members’ careers can be a major selling point—no one wants to feel they’re working a dead-end job.

How a Frontline Candidate Audience Is Different

To meet these challenges, Gosselin and her team focus on messaging that promotes their employer brand and strong company culture, particularly around career growth. The Sodexo careers site is full of stories about people who have grown their careers there, tips and tricks for job seekers, and a thriving employee alumni networking community.

One surprising thing Sodexo has found is that frontline candidates use different job-hunting resources than office workers. In particular, they’re not on LinkedIn. Instead, hires use Sodexo’s careers page as their primary resource, with organic content on other social networks from current employees doing a lot of the heavy lifting.

Filling frontline worker positions remains a challenge. To improve your odds, put yourself in a job seeker’s shoes. Focus on how your open roles can appeal to the candidates already out there. Understand what challenges candidates may face in committing to a position.

Our relationship with work has changed. Every organization must make adjustments to its employer value proposition to keep up.

To follow Briana Gosselin’s work in employer branding at Sodexo, follow her on LinkedIn. If you need help refining your employer value proposition and identifying the values and culture you want to create in your company, let’s talk.


Our newsletter is exclusively curated by our CEO, Jörgen Sundberg, for leaders who make decisions about talent. Subscribe for updates on The Employer Branding Podcast, new articles, eBooks, research and events we’re working on.


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