HR & New Work

7 min read

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

5 powerful ways to engage frontline employees

Discover the strategies to motivate your frontline workers (hint: it’s time to digitise).

Customer experience is marked out as a key differentiator in today’s ultra-competitive market, so every man and his dog is talking about how to improve customer service. But let us ask you a question — who actually interacts with your customers? Your frontline workers. 

Whether your business is in manufacturing, healthcare, retail, or something else, the staff who have the biggest influence on customer experience are your frontline employees. And guess what? The engagement levels of your frontline staff have an enormous impact on customer experience. This has such tangible consequences that ignoring employee engagement is estimated to cost the global economy $8.1 trillion every year.

There are many other business reasons for prioritising the engagement and satisfaction of your frontline employees, which we’ll delve into later. For now, let’s discuss the good news. Even if you currently have a disengaged frontline, there are proven steps and measures you can take to reverse it. In this article, we’ll outline five simple but powerful ways to engage your frontline workers, and reap the rewards. 

What is frontline employee engagement?

Generic employee engagement means that your staff identify with their work and are committed to the goals and values of the company, leading to higher levels of motivation, productivity, and satisfaction. Frontline employee engagement goes one step further, as it encompasses your staff's enthusiasm and dedication when interacting directly with your customers, products, or services. 

Frontline workers have vastly different needs to knowledge economy workers based in an office or remote environment, and they can also have a more significant influence on your customer service and brand reputation, as they often act as advocates for the organisation.

Why is frontline employee engagement important?

As the face of your organisation, frontline workers have a tangible impact on your customer experience and satisfaction. When your frontline is engaged, this has a powerful knock-down effect on the productivity and efficiency of your staff, their ability to innovate, and their sense of autonomy. Frontline employee empowerment is a vital part of overall engagement. 

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Operational efficiency
  • Innovation
  • Empowerment

The challenges impacting frontline workers’ engagement

All employees face challenges, but your frontline staff are likely to be impacted by hurdles unique to their role. This can often involve feeling isolated from the rest of the company and disconnected from the overall company goals. These challenges have a noticeable impact on engagement. 

Communication barriers: Based across multiple locations, communication can often be a significant challenge for frontline workers, especially when important announcements are delivered in an analogue way, such as via a notice board in the staff room. Missing out on essential updates (as well as recognition) can lead to feelings of isolation, detachment, and a lack of engagement with the overall sense of purpose at the company.

Treating the frontline like office workers: Many organisations assume that the same engagement strategies that work with office workers, such as emails and team meetings, will be effective with their frontline. The reality is that most frontline workers do not have access to a workstation or computer, are often on the move or based across multiple locations, and have a general lack of access to communication tools. When a company demonstrates a limited understanding of the unique needs of frontline employees, it leads to feeling taken for granted and disengaged. 

Enter digital solutions like Flip: With a huge element of frontline disengagement related to poor communication, digital solutions such as Flip’s employee app offer a clear solution. A versatile platform that can be used on any device, Flip enables organisations to communicate with all employees in real time, including the frontline. With all vital nformation and updates available from your pocket, frontline workers can stay connected, informed, and engaged. 

How to engage frontline employees —  5 powerful ways

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

If one of the main reasons that frontline workers feel disengaged is related to poor communication, then this is one of the most powerful ways to turn things around. Consider your staff’s main pain points — likely, missing important updates because they’ve only been shared on a notice board in the staff room, feeling that office-based workers get better and more information about the company goals and vision, missing out on success stories, and feeling disconnected from the rest of the organisation. 

This hurdle offers a clear business case for digitisation with a communication tool, such as an employee app, where every staff member can access important updates, regardless of location or device. Once this new communication channel is established, ensure a clear communication strategy is in place to regularly share the company’s mission, vision, values and goals to help your frontline workers understand their role in the wider business. 

Download this free whitepaper today to learn how to boost frontline engagement with digital tools:

Get it here

2. Use recognition and appreciation to improve morale

Frontline workers are often the unsung heroes of an organisation and regularly have to deal with challenging situations, such as difficult customers. Yet, these efforts commonly go unnoticed or without broader recognition among the company, which contributes to frontline disengagement. Recognition is such a powerful motivator that 69% of frontline workers who feel their contributions are recognised and celebrated say they’d work harder.

Establishing a recognition program that acknowledges frontline employees' contributions and celebrates their achievements will foster a greater sense of appreciation and boost overall morale and engagement. Both leadership and peers should be given the opportunity to offer praise and recognition via a platform that everyone in the organisation can access, such as an employee app.

3. Invest in your frontline’s development

It can be a common and damaging misconception that frontline employees lack ambition or the desire for growth and development. In fact, one study showed that 70% of frontline workers have applied for career advancement opportunities either with their current employers or different companies. By offering clear pathways for development, training, and growth, you demonstrate that your organisation cares about their overall career, not just what they can do for you now. This, in turn, leads to a greater sense of belonging and better engagement. 

These learning and growth opportunities can come in the form of workshops, in-person training, online courses, on-demand learning, and more. Since frontline workers often don’t have access to an office, it’s important that they are offered equal development opportunities via a format that works for them.

4. Empowerment leads to engagement

Almost all humans react negatively to a lack of control, which translates into the workplace. Lack of autonomy is a vital part of job disengagement across industries and roles, and is relevant too for the frontline. By empowering your frontline workers with the autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their tasks, your employees will feel more respected, valued, and engaged.

Not only does this boost overall employee motivation, but as the staff closest to your customers, your frontline workers have a unique perspective on their pain points. They can offer suggestions and help make decisions that will improve the overall customer experience, which will positively impact your bottom line. Explore seven steps for empowering your frontline for more ideas about bringing this to life.

5. Build a community to boost belonging 

If isolation and lack of connection is one of the major issues facing frontline workers, a supportive community is the antidote. Your frontline employees should benefit from being in a community among themselves as well as one encompassing the wider organisation. This boosts team connection and builds a larger sense of belonging, positively impacting engagement. The sense of community you build should encourage teamwork, collaboration, and shared experiences to enable employees from different functions to connect and learn from each other.

A digital tool, such as an employee app, is best for building community among a team with a wide range of roles and locations. Both frontline and office workers can share updates and photos, similar to a social media feed, engage and ‘like’ their peers’ posts, and interact with colleagues in different teams. Building a sense of community takes time, but once established, it can be a very powerful employee engagement tool.

Remember: every company is unique; no engagement strategy is a silver bullet. Any strategy is unlikely to succeed if it’s not aligned with your organisation’s frontline needs and culture. Discover more ways to increase employee engagement to choose strategies and initiatives that are best tailored to your company.

How Flip’s employee app engages frontline workers

Digital solutions, such as Flip, address frontline employee engagement challenges. Every strategy outlined above can be achieved using Flip, from creating a sense of community using the social media-style newsfeed to recognising employee achievements that the entire company can see. 

Flip features include:

  • Digital newsfeed
  • Chats and groups
  • Live translation
  • Surveys
  • And more!

How an employee app transformed communication at Prechtl

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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