Engaging any employee is a challenge for HR teams — and that challenge is heightened when that employee is a frontline worker. These critical workers are often the face of your company, dealing with customers directly to drive demand and provide services, but they’re also some of the most disengaged employees in your workforce.
And that disengagement has a real cost in terms of productivity and turnover. In fact, McKinsey research shows that 45% of frontline workers plan to leave their jobs in the next three to six months.
So how can you effectively foster higher levels of engagement in your frontline employees? More than 50% of respondents to the Cooleaf State of Culture 2023 report said that fostering employee engagement, along with managing uncertainty, are their biggest hurdles right now. We’ve got your complete guide to frontline employee engagement strategies right here.
1. Assess Your Current Communications Channels
Communicating with your frontline staff is the first step to increasing their levels of engagement. But you can’t expect to communicate with them the same way you reach workers in corporate roles — the frontline is typically made up of deskless workers who aren’t checking email frequently (or, in some cases, at all) throughout their workday.
So if your internal communications strategy is simply to send lots of emails from leaders the frontline has no connection to, there’s an excellent chance they’re not going to read them, and that they’ll miss out on vital company news and updates as a result. If your comms strategy relies heavily on your intranet, you may face the same issue.
What can you do to communicate with them effectively instead? Well, the best way to find out is by asking them directly! Each frontline team is different, and you will be able to deliver a more targeted communications plan if you ask them how they want to engage with your communications.
Maybe they like viewing webinars, and you can coordinate with their managers to ensure they have the time to watch them. Perhaps they enjoy a printed newsletter distributed in their break room so they can read through them when they’re grabbing a cup of coffee and a brief break. Whatever their preference, you won’t know until you ask — and don’t forget to include their managers in your questioning and planning.
2. Invest in Frontline Networks
One big reason you need to keep managers in the loop is that frontline workers don’t typically have many touchpoints with the rest of the company — their networks mainly consist of their managers and their peers. And McKinsey found that 80% of them say their companies provide few opportunities for connections at work.
But 57% of those employees go to their managers, and 83% go to their coworkers, for work-related information at least once per week. Ensuring that managers have the training and information they need to provide that connection to the company as a whole and the people around them is essential.
You can also help frontline teams build a stronger sense of community by scheduling events, even small ones, to create those connections. Once again, asking teams what they would prefer is key here, but creating strong collegial bonds on the frontline is good for engagement. Having a best friend at work is even more critical now for engagement levels than it was before the pandemic, especially for workers in stressful frontline jobs like the healthcare industry where burnout is all too common.
3. Focus on the Employee Experience
It can be easy to forget about, or deprioritize, the frontline employee experience because they’re out of sight of your leaders and executives. But that’s a mistake, as a great experience shows them how much their hard work is valued and is critical to employee morale and even job satisfaction.
Start by considering the basics — is their work environment designed to promote happiness, wellbeing, and productivity? Do they have all the physical and digital tools they need to do their jobs effectively?
It’s hard to be engaged when you don’t feel your company cares about your wellbeing in the workplace, so be sure everything your workers need to thrive and deliver results is there. Not sure if there are improvements you could make? This is another great place to ask for employee feedback, whether in a formal employee engagement survey or casually in stand-ups, huddles, and on lunch breaks.
4. Offer Better Onboarding
Often, onboarding for frontline covers a limited range of practical topics: safety, labor practices, and a brief overview of some vague company values. While those topics are useful, they’re also usually not enough to get your new hires starting out on the right foot. Building engaged frontline employees starts from day one of their time at your company.
You should make sure to instill a sense of your company culture in them from the beginning, and connect the work they do every day to business outcomes to give it a broader meaning than simply earning a paycheck. Your frontline workforce should know exactly how what they do is part of a larger vision, whether it’s providing an exceptional customer experience or boosting the company’s profitability and bottom line through making more sales.
Good onboarding practices should help them form those critical bonds with their colleagues as well. Encourage peer mentoring where possible for new employees, both to help them get up to speed and to make friends at work. Creating more chances for them to bond with more of their team earlier in their tenure starts them off on a connected, welcoming basis.
5. Give Them Training and Upskilling Opportunities
Can your frontline employees see an exciting and fulfilling career path in the years ahead for themselves? If not, that can be a major engagement killer. Giving them purposeful career development and upskilling opportunities ensures they can get excited about their future career prospects, making them focus on delivering even better results today.
It’s critical to give them training for the skills they need right now, of course. But you should also make it clear that your company is invested in their long-term growth and development and offer them a wide variety of options so they can choose a path that appeals to them. This kind of investment is not only good for the immediate engagement of your frontline employees, but can also help you build a talent pool of strong future managers and even leaders for your company.
Looking for more ways to engage, reward, and recognize your frontline workforce? Cooleaf’s employee engagement platform can help — with everything you need to create a more engaged, motivated workforce on the frontlines and everywhere else.