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03.04.2024

HR & New Work

10 min read

Hospitality frontline worker using a smartphone
Hospitality frontline worker using a smartphone

Five effective ways to engage frontline employees

Discover practical and straightforward tips to keep your frontline workers engaged (tl;dr: it’s time to invest in an employee app).

Customer experience is important to get right. We all know it. Everyone and their dog is talking about how to improve customer service. But something is frequently glossed over: The connection between great customer service and the engagement of the people who are actually interacting with them. 

Yes, we’re talking about your frontline workers. 

Whatever industry you’re in, the people who have the biggest influence on customer experience are your frontline employees. And keeping your frontline staff motivated and engaged with the business has a substantial impact on customer experience, with real, tangible consequences. Highly motivated business units drive higher customer engagement and loyalty than teams with poor engagement, resulting in an 18% increase in sales.

But high engagement doesn’t just lead to better customer service. Other frontline industries such as manufacturing, logistics, and construction benefit from great employee engagement too. Highly engaged employees are high-performing workers. This difference is especially noticeable in industries that require more complex or skilled work. In these instances, they’re 125% more productive.

There are many, many business reasons for prioritising engaging your frontline employees. We also understand that this feels like a big challenge. Where do you even start with something that feels so broad? The good news is, there are several straightforward ways to get things back on track.

In this article, we’ll go through five simple but effective ways to engage your frontline workers, in turn improving overall efficiency and saving money. We’ll also cover how Flip supports you in getting things moving.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s go back to basics and cover some important definitions.

What is frontline employee engagement?

Employee engagement is a general term that refers to how workers feel toward their work, the company they work for, and their commitment to the goals and values of the company. It’s a combination of morale (think: satisfaction and well-being) and energy (which affects productivity). When employees are highly engaged, they’re more satisfied and motivated, which improves their performance. That translates to a slew of business benefits. All of this is pretty important stuff to get right!

Frontline employee engagement is specific to workers who are at the coal face of the company – those who man the tills or the assembly lines, who serve food or deliver parcels, who drive forklifts or stock shelves.

Why is frontline employee engagement important?

We’ve already looked at some of the benefits of high employee engagement, but the list goes on! A highly engaged workforce is associated with: 

  • Reduced employee churn
  • Lower absenteeism
  • Reduced accidents, errors, and other safety and quality issues
  • Improved performance, productivity, and process efficiency
  • Increased customer satisfaction and sales
  • Improved brand reputation
  • Reduced costs and increased profitability

This impacts all areas of the business, including recruitment, PR, and operations. 

So where do frontline workers come in? Frontline employees are the ‘face’ of the company. They make up the majority of the world’s labour force, and are especially vital to industries like retail, healthcare, hospitality, and manufacturing.  

Their engagement is crucial for a successful business – disproportionately high value is created at the frontline. And the frontline employee experience is what affects their engagement. But why are so many businesses struggling with keeping their frontline motivated and satisfied?

What are the common barriers to frontline engagement?

Frontline roles are very different from back-office work. Not only do they require physical labour or hours on your feet, they usually come with lower pay and fewer growth opportunities.

Work on the frontline is also inherently less flexible, and doesn’t involve working at a computer all day. As a result, it’s common for workers to feel isolated from the rest of the business. This has a snowball effect leading them to feel disconnected from overall company goals. When they don’t feel connected to the decisions that are being made, or feel less important than other workers, it isn’t surprising that they aren’t engaged with the company.

Let’s take a closer look at two examples of how the nature of frontline work impacts frontline employee engagement.

Communication

Communication with and between frontline workers is a tricky one, especially when they’re working on-the-go across different locations. Think tills, storerooms, kitchens, workshops, customer service desks, and so on. But when there isn’t a centralised place where workers, well… work… communication can suffer, harming employee engagement.

One key area is in top-down communication from the company. Just think of how easy it is to overlook a message pinned up on a notice board in a staff room, even if you walk past it a couple of times a day. Things like this are really easy to miss! Or you might have an employee intranet system in place. But is it doing the job if it can’t be accessed on your frontline employee’s phones? 

This has broader impacts than missing company memos, though. Without that centralised place to engage with other areas of the organisation, frontline workers struggle to provide feedback or submit new ideas to the company, denying them the ‘voice’ that back office workers have. It also means they cannot use company channels to communicate with colleagues who aren’t within arm’s reach.

The result is frontline employees who miss out on essential business updates, lack a ‘voice’ within the organisation, encounter productivity barriers, and struggle to feel like part of a ‘community.’ It’s no surprise they’re disengaged.

Knowledge, perks, and tools

Similar issues impact how easily frontline employees can access resources that the company offers. When existing systems are inaccessible from the frontline, workers can’t access the knowledge, perks, and quality-of-life tools that would benefit their morale, productivity, and engagement. 

Take a wiki, for example. The company may have expended a lot of effort to centralise all of the company’s key information, but if it’s only accessible from a desktop computer with a company email address, it’s going to be difficult to pull that information up from a factory floor.

The same goes for accessing company incentives, online learning systems, or HR tools. It’s harder for frontline employees to book annual leave, adjust working hours, fill out required paperwork, claim perks they’re entitled to, or complete training.

When frontline workers don’t have the same quality of employee experience as their back-office colleagues, their engagement is under threat.

Why do businesses struggle so much with frontline employee engagement?

Many businesses assume that the same engagement strategies that work with office workers — email communications, desktop training, and so on — will work with their frontline. The problem with this is that most frontline workers don’t have access to a workstation or computer, and back office solutions aren’t suitable for the way they work. That leaves frontline employees without access to the information and tools they need. This is understandably demotivating.

A big challenge businesses face in engaging their frontline workers is understanding how to connect with them in a way that aligns with how they work. Everyone, no matter what they do, wants to feel seen, heard, and valued in their job. 

Initiatives need to focus on tailoring communication methods to meet frontline workers’s needs and making company tools and knowledge accessible in frontline roles. This is vital for their satisfaction. A one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t cut the mustard, especially when you’re trying to reach a widely distributed workforce. It’s not easy, but it can be done. And the right technology is ready to do the heavy lifting.

With a huge element of frontline disengagement related to poor communication and lack of access to company tools, Flip’s employee app is here to help. Our versatile platform can be used on any device, enabling your company to reach and engage all employees in real-time, including the frontline. With all vital information and resources easy to access, frontline workers can stay connected, informed, and engaged.

How to engage frontline employees: Five actionable steps

Now that we understand some of the challenges facing frontline workers that impact their engagement levels, let’s outline five effective ways to get your staff feeling motivated again.

1. Establish clear communication channels

It’s time to flick the switch on poor communication. First of all, consider your frontline staff’s main pain points. This includes:

  • Missing important updates because they’ve only been shared on a notice board in the staff room, skipped over in an unwieldy group chat, or uploaded on an intranet that they can’t easily access.
  • Feeling that office-based workers get better and more information about the company's goals and vision.
  • Not knowing who to contact regarding specific questions and concerns.
  • Missing out on success stories.
  • Feeling disconnected from the business as a whole.
  • Not feeling valued and supported.

This is where an employee app, like Flip, helps. An accessible communication tool means all workers can access important business updates, regardless of where they work or what device they’re using. This makes this a whole lot easier for businesses to reach everyone who works for them.

But once this new communication channel is established, you’ll need to ensure that there’s a clear communication strategy in place. You’ll need to regularly share the company’s mission, vision, values, and goals so your frontline workers understand how their work is valuable and vital to the business.

Download our free whitepaper below and learn how to boost frontline engagement with digital tools.

How to digitalise deskless employee communication

Your Flip guide to improving employee engagement by digitalising your frontline workforce.

2. Use recognition and appreciation to improve morale

Frontline workers are the unsung heroes of business but regularly have to deal with challenging situations, such as difficult customers and technology meltdowns. Yet, dealing with and de-escalating these frequently goes unnoticed, and there isn’t broader recognition in the company of how important this type of work is. This can be pretty demotivating. 

Recognition is a powerful motivator at work. 69% of frontline workers say they’d work harder if they  felt their work contributions were recognised and celebrated.

Establishing a recognition program that acknowledges frontline employees' contributions and celebrates achievements will absolutely boost morale and employee engagement. Everyone in a company should be allowed to offer praise and recognition, something that can be easily done on an employee app.

3. Invest in your frontline’s development

There’s a damaging misconception that frontline employees lack ambition or the desire to grow in their careers. One study shows that 70% of frontline workers have applied for career advancement opportunities either with their current employers or different companies. By offering accessible pathways for development, training, and growth, your organisation can clearly demonstrate to your frontline workers that you want to invest in them. This signals that you value them as a team member, which helps in developing a sense of belonging.

These learning and growth opportunities can come in the form of workshops, in-person training, online courses, on-demand learning, and more. And remember, as frontline workers often don’t have access to an office, they must be offered development opportunities in formats that work for them.

4. Remember: Empowerment leads to engagement

Lack of autonomy in a job is a recipe for low employee engagement. No matter the job role, being trusted to make decisions and take ownership of tasks signifies to workers that they are trusted, respected, and valued.

Not only does empowering your frontline lead to more satisfied workers, but it also opens up channels that might not have been explored before. Customer-facing workers offer some of the best perspectives on client pain points. Factory floor workers know exactly what will make their workflows more efficient. By inviting them to offer feedback and suggestions, the company can give workers a voice and capitalise on the untapped knowledge within the organisation.

5. Build a community to boost belonging 

If isolation and lack of connection are major issues facing frontline workers, a supportive community is the antidote. Communities boost team connection and build a larger sense of belonging, positively impacting engagement. These encourage teamwork, collaboration, and communication across different departments and teams that might not necessarily know how their work impacts each other.

Flip is designed to facilitate community-building across different facets of a company. With a social media-like interface, all workers can share updates and photos, engage and ‘like’ their peers’ posts, and interact with colleagues in different teams. Building a sense of community takes time, but once established, it’s a powerful employee engagement tool.

Remember: every company is unique; there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all engagement strategy. Your approach must be aligned with your organisation’s frontline needs and culture. Learn how to increase employee engagement with strategies and initiatives that are specifically tailored to your company.

How Flip’s employee app improves frontline engagement

We understand that businesses struggle to improve frontline employee engagement. We also recognise that you know that’s something that you need to do, but aren’t exactly sure how to go about it. Something that feels as broad as ‘employees need to feel more engaged’ is a daunting task. But here at Flip, we’re ready to help out.

Our employee app addresses all the frontline employee engagement challenges and solutions covered in this article. From rolling out company news to creating communities and giving all employees access to company resources, Flip features include:

  • Digital newsfeed
  • Chats and groups
  • Surveys
  • Digital pages to build a wiki, house policy or training documents, or outline company perks
  • Digital forms to collect feedback or operational employee data
  • Integrations with existing HR and workforce tools

How an employee app transformed engagement at Prechtl

Let’s take a look at Flip in action. With over 400 employees at their fresh food stores, Prechtl struggled with top-down communication where important updates weren’t making it to the shop floor. After implementing Flip, Prechtl has not only improved overall communication but increased frontline autonomy, meaning that more problems are solved without needing to involve the head office.

Simon Mareth, Member of the Executive Board at Prechtl

The employees in the branch take responsibility themselves – without going through head office. That takes us to a new level."

Simon Mareth

Member of the Management Board at Prechtl

Read more about how Prechtl benefitted from an employee app in this interview with Simon Mareth.

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