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07.08.2023

HR & New Work

8 min read

Group of Flip employees wearing white T-shirts
Group of Flip employees wearing white T-shirts

7 steps for successful frontline employee empowerment

Learn about the importance of enabling your frontline workers, as well as practical tips and tricks your business can implement today

Frontline employees are the backbone of so many industries - from healthcare workers in hospitals to hospitality staff in hotels - yet they are often underserved with poor communication processes and tools, and a lack of autonomy. With research illustrating that overall business productivity increases by empowering frontline workers, the concept of frontline employee empowerment is gaining traction. 

Put simply, frontline employee empowerment is about giving workers the power, resources, and support they need to make decisions independently. This sense of autonomy ultimately improves customer service, increases job satisfaction, and enhances an organization’s overall business performance. 

The game-changing nature of empowering frontline employees cannot be overstated. Harvard Business Review conducted a study of over 400 companies, and 87% agreed that their organizations will be more successful when their frontline workers are empowered. In today’s competitive landscape, where efficiency is on everyone’s wishlist, it’s a smart and strategic business decision to think about how to empower your workers. In this article, we’ll help you to do this by explaining some of the challenges your frontline employees are facing, and seven steps you can take to successfully empower them.

Who are frontline employees?

Before we delve into practical examples of how to empower your frontline workers, it’s important that we’re all on the same page about who frontline employees actually are. A frontline employee is anyone who interacts directly with the customer or client. That means they are the first point of contact between the company and the customer, and as such, play a pivotal role in a business’s success. 

Frontline workers are found across many industries and sectors, including retail, hospitality, healthcare, banking, customer service, and more. While their individual responsibilities may vary from role to role, their primary objective is to ensure customer satisfaction and act as brand ambassadors. These employees are not limited to junior positions but also include supervisors and team leaders overseeing other frontline workers.

Examples of frontline workers, per industry

Below you will find some examples of roles frontline workers represent.

  • Retail: sales associates, cashiers, and customer service representatives. 
  • Hospitality: hotel front desk personnel, concierge staff, and restaurant servers. 
  • Healthcare: nurses, medical assistants, and receptionists.
  • Banking: tellers and customer relationship managers.
  • Education: teachers, daycare specialists, and special educational needs professionals. 
A Visual portraying different frontline workers and their industry

Challenges faced by frontline employees

While many challenges facing employees are universal, such as the desire for fair remuneration and flexible working hours, frontline workers face some unique hurdles compared to their office or desk-based counterparts. Many of these challenges revolve around the way that communication and information sharing are not equal among all employees, with those working behind a computer receiving faster, more accurate information than those workers on the ground. This can lead to resentment, poor job satisfaction, and ultimately, high turnover of frontline employees - which is very expensive for an organization.

You can summarize the main challenges faced by frontline workers into the four following categories:

  • Lack of autonomy to make decisions: many frontline workers do not have the power to make independent judgments when resolving issues, as they are bound by rigid protocols and guidelines. This can lead to frustration and disengagement, as they may feel undervalued and unable to make a meaningful impact.
  • Limited access to information and resources: this is especially relevant for industries with a low level of digitalization. Frontline workers may find it difficult to access crucial information as it is not shared in an accessible way, such as via paper announcements on a notice board in the staff room. 
  • High-pressure work environment: although ‘the customer is always right’, the customer is not always polite or easy to work with. This means that frontline workers can encounter challenging situations with high mental and emotional pressure. 
  • Communication gaps: whether from management or other teams, frontline employees are often left out of important announcements, leading to misunderstandings, inefficiencies, and missed opportunities for feedback and improvement. Not only does this lead to workers feeling disconnected, but it also leads to a lack of alignment with the overall business objectives.

Addressing these challenges is paramount for empowering frontline employees and running a successful organization. In case you still need convincing, in the next section, we’ll illustrate the tangible business benefits of empowering your frontline.

The importance of empowering the frontline

They say a picture paints a thousand words, so let us illustrate why empowering your frontline is so important with the following numbers:

  • Enhance customer satisfaction and experience: strong satisfaction in frontline workers leads to a 73% increase in customer satisfaction.
  • Increase frontline employee engagement and motivation: engaged employees lead to 23% higher profitability for the business. 
  • Improve operational efficiency and productivity: 72% of businesses say productivity has increased through empowering frontline workers. 
  • Foster innovation and problem-solving: 90% of organizations say success depends on empowering frontline employees to make autonomous decisions.

These statistics show how transformational empowering your frontline workers can be for a business. Not only are empowered employees more satisfied and engaged, leading to better customer satisfaction, but as they are the ones in direct contact with customers on a daily basis, they have a better understanding than anyone else in the business of the pain points facing customers and what the best solutions might be. If frontline workers are empowered to take action when they see an area for improvement, it can lead to huge returns for your business. 

Our customer, EUROPART, manages employee suggestions for innovation using our employee app, Flip. Since launching the initiatives, they’ve seen over 150 suggestions for improvements coming directly from their frontline workers, and 87% of them have already been implemented. Learn more about how EUROPART empowers its frontline employees here.

Infographic Employee engagement and idea management at Europart via employee app

Empowering frontline employees is not only a strategic business decision, but also a step forward in improving the overall customer experience, which ultimately helps your organization to stay competitive. In the next section, we’ll dive into the seven practical steps you can take to successfully empower your frontline workers.

How to empower frontline employees - 7 steps to success

Now we’re moving on to the golden nuggets - the practical tips and tricks your organization can implement to start empowering your frontline workers today. Follow these steps, and you’ll see your customer satisfaction, productivity, and revenue start to soar!

Step 1: Audit your current employee empowerment

Before implementing any new empowerment initiatives, you should first establish the status quo to find out how empowered (or not) your frontline workers already feel. 

Conduct employee surveys, focus groups, and 1-1 interviews to gather insights from your frontline workers about their current challenges and how empowered they feel to make autonomous decisions. Remember to also speak to supervisors and managers to get their perspectives.

Once you’ve conducted this audit, you’ll have a baseline to identify areas that need improvement and to understand which areas of employee empowerment you should focus on for the biggest impact.

Step 2: Provide training and development opportunities

Lack of knowledge and resources hinders your frontline empowerment. Design a learning and development program that focuses on customer service skills, such as problem-solving, conflict resolution, and communication.

By enhancing your employees’ ability to effectively handle challenging customer interactions, you not only boost their confidence but empower them to make more informed decisions in the future. 

Step 3: Encourage autonomy

Your frontline workers will never feel empowered if they lack the autonomy and authority to make decisions independently. 

By giving frontline employees the authority to resolve minor issues and make process improvements without input from management, you’ll establish a sense of empowerment that goes a long way toward increasing employee engagement. 

Clear boundaries and documentation are essential here to help guide their decision-making and ensure they always act in accordance with the overall business objectives. 

Step 4: Establish effective communication channels

Open and transparent communication is one of the most critical elements of frontline empowerment. You must establish tools and channels to facilitate easy information sharing between frontline employees, supervisors, and management. 

Access to information should be the same in your organization, whether your employee is a frontline or an office worker, in order to promote fairness and ensure that all workers are on the same page. Make sure to regularly update employees about organizational changes, new initiatives, and customer feedback.

Another way to empower frontline workers is to establish a communication channel where they can share their insights, suggestions, and concerns - this helps them to feel heard and valued.

One of the best tools for empowering frontline workers is an employee app, like Flip. Working from any device, including personal smartphones, all employees can access all the information they need from their pockets. With an instant messenger function, group chats, and AI-powered translation, frontline workers can communicate and share information with anyone in the company - right from the shop floor, warehouse, or nursing station.

Step 5: Recognize and reward

69% of frontline workers who feel their contributions are recognized and celebrated say they’d work harder, so recognition is clearly a powerful motivator. 

Implement a program that celebrates exceptional performance, top-notch customer service, and innovative ideas. Recognition can take various forms, but public praise where all employees can see it is particularly effective - especially if it comes directly from management. 

By celebrating successes, you’ll boost morale and help to reinforce the value of frontline workers, leading to a better sense of empowerment.

Step 6: Encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing

If your frontline workers feel isolated from the rest of the business, then they won’t feel empowered. You can improve this by promoting a collaborative culture where all workers are encouraged to share their experiences, best practices, and success stories. 

A communication tool, such as an employee app, facilitates this with a social media-style newsfeed where frontline workers can share updates, photos, videos, and more. Not only does this increase the sense of belonging in a company, but it empowers employees to collectively tackle challenges and drive positive change, as they’re better able to learn from each other’s experiences.

Step 7: Implement employee-driven initiatives

Nothing increases a sense of employee empowerment more than seeing one of their suggestions for improvement come to fruition. As already established, your frontline staff are in the weeds of the work on a daily basis and therefore have the best insights into processes that can be improved.

Set up a system where frontline workers can submit ideas or initiatives for improvement. Most importantly, there must be a process in place for reviewing and actioning these ideas, ensuring that the original employee stays involved along the process. Not only does this increase a sense of ownership, but it also fosters a sense of innovation and creativity that ultimately benefits the business. 

By witnessing their ideas come to life, frontline workers can feel a sense of pride and empowerment. Just don’t forget step 5: recognition! Make sure to publicly thank your employees for their great ideas, and it will encourage even more to step up to the plate. 

By following the tips and tricks in these seven steps, you can successfully empower your frontline staff and reap the rewards.

A checklist showing the 5 stages of employee empowerment

Empower your frontline employees with an employe

From increasing customer satisfaction to positively impacting your bottom line, the business benefits of an empowered frontline are self-evident. With these seven steps outlined in this article, you have the knowledge to successfully empower your frontline workers. What next? Now you need the right tool to facilitate your initiatives. A digital employee app is the best solution for empowering your workers, by encouraging open communication, innovation, and recognition. You can learn more about Flip and how an employee app could transform your frontline empowerment here.

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