When you think of the major brands you use, what’s your main point of contact with them? In many businesses and organisations, it’s going to be through a frontline worker. Let’s discuss how to engage your frontline staff.
These people are the face of businesses and the work they do is essential for our economies. So, how can we make sure frontline staff have everything they need to excel at their jobs?
The answer is to look for effective ways to engage your frontline staff.
Examples of frontline workers
Frontline workers provide essential services to the public, and their jobs are often characterised by face-to-face interactions. They work in a huge variety of industries, doing essential work to keep economies moving.
It’s thought around 70% of the global population are frontline workers:
- Healthcare staff
- Education and childcare
- Social workers
- Public services — local government, public safety, emergency workers, etc.
- Utilities, communication, and financial sector – plumbers, bank clerks, etc.
These people are often the face of their organisations, so it’s vital businesses can engage them and give them the tools to thrive in their jobs.
10 actionable ways to engage your frontline staff
How can you engage frontline workers? These people are the point of interaction between organisations and their customers, so it’s important they have the support they need.
Use productivity tools
One of the biggest frustrations for any employee is when things are needlessly complicated. For frontline workers, the key element of their job is generally helping to solve a problem for the public. Everything that draws them away from this is a distraction.
Think about a school counsellor. They’re there to help children express their problems and work through them. While scheduling, note-taking, and reporting are an essential part of this, if you don’t have efficient processes in place to help them with these tasks, then they’re limiting the amount of face-time the counsellor has with their students.
Productivity tools might save a few minutes of administrative work for each student a counsellor sees, or reduce the time it takes for a police officer to fill out a report by a couple of minutes, but when this is repeated thousands of times over the course of a year, it can make a massive difference.
Productivity tools make frontline workers’ lives easier, giving them more time to put back into the most important parts of their jobs, and helps engage your frontline staff.
Implement an employee feedback system
Frontline workers are a great source of feedback. These people are interacting with your clients and customers all day, every day.
It can be dangerous for businesses when there’s a separation between what’s going on on the shop floor and what happens behind office doors. You need to have input from those people who are engaging with the public and are responsible for being the face of your business or organisation.
We can do all the focus groups and polls we want, but that first-hand feedback is vital.
For instance, a charity may be focusing its efforts on providing homeless people with training to help them get jobs. While the training is invaluable, the volunteers may notice that a major barrier to these people getting a job is that they don’t have the right clothes to wear to an interview.
Regular face-to-face interviews with frontline workers can help decision-makers see what’s happening on the ground and make changes that have a positive impact. Not only does this help you provide a better service, but it engages frontline staff in the process and helps them get more out of their work.
Increase morale with rewards and recognition
Everyone likes to be recognised when they do great work. Frontline workers deal with challenging situations each and every day, putting a face to your organisation’s brand.
As with any job, there are benefits and challenges, good days, and bad days. One way you can engage your frontline staff and increase morale and make those bad days easier to manage is by recognising the challenges and rewarding people when they do exceptional work.
The rewards don’t have to be anything excessive — often it’s simply about saying “you’re doing a great job.”
A school might do this by introducing “Educational Moment of the Month” and “Innovative Teaching” awards. You may decide you want to attach a reward to these awards like a spa day or a meal for two, but a large part of it is the recognition.
It shows you back your staff and you recognise the hard work they put in each and every day.
Simplify your staff schedules
Frontline staff often work shifts. While this can offer flexibility, it can also be very limiting and a source of frustration. One of the best things you can give frontline workers is clarity when it comes to their shifts.
If you’re constantly leaving your scheduling to the last minute and not giving staff time to plan, then it’s going to affect morale. Instead, you should be aiming to make life simple for your frontline staff, and the right scheduling software can help you do this.
A great example is healthcare scheduling software which allows managers to create optimised schedules with just a few clicks of a button. It facilitates team communication, gives doctors, nurses, and other staff the ability to manage their schedules from one central location, and eliminates the need for endless spreadsheets.
Shift work can offer flexibility and allow people to fit their schedules around their lives, but if it’s not optimised, then it’s going to further complicate things for your frontline workers.
Streamline internal communication channels
When you don’t have open communication channels, then it’s easy for your frontline workers to feel isolated. Good communication helps build trust and gives frontline staff the confidence they need to make good decisions.
If your staff are aware of expectations and policies, then they can make better decisions in the knowledge they’re supported by the company. However, if there isn’t open communication, or there’s mixed messaging, then it’s going to lead to indecision, affecting your staff’s ability to provide a good service to the public.
A lack of communication can lead to many problems. Simple things like communicating your PTO policies to doctors can make a big difference. Not only can you use it to ensure doctors are getting the rest they need (helping to reduce errors), but it can also improve morale.
Invest in your onboarding process
Your first day working somewhere new is hard enough, but it’s extremely daunting if you’re sent out with no preparation. Frontline workers are constantly engaging with the public, which means there’s nowhere to hide if there’s something they don’t know.
While staff will naturally learn with experience, you can give them a head start with an excellent onboarding process.
Not only is this going to help people do their best work from day one, but it’s also going to help them feel at home in their new environment. You can use your onboarding to help people get to know their colleagues, understand expectations, and give them easy access to information.
Throwing people in at the deep end isn’t always the best option. For example, if you were putting a team of firefighters together to tackle wildfires – you’d spend time onboarding them, allowing them to get to know each other and how the team works.
Not every frontline job is quite so life and death, but onboarding can still have a big impact.
Measure and track important metrics
Good employees learn from everything they do. They’re constantly striving to do things better and offer an improved service. However, without hard data, it’s difficult to know what works and what doesn’t.
It’s amazing how small details make a big difference, particularly when you’re dealing with the public. Think of the effect of placing a mirror behind customer service counters — when people can see themselves, they’re more likely to be cordial. There are lots of different ways you can make work easier for frontline staff, and so often, the key is in the data.
The most important part is understanding what data is relevant. Use open communication to settle on KPIs and then use them to help improve performance and find ways to help your frontline staff.
Give frontline staff decision making power
Frontline staff has to be able to act quickly. If you limit their decision-making powers, then you take this away from them.
When the public interacts with frontline staff, they want answers to their questions, and they want action. When staff has to go up the chain of command to get every decision signed off, it makes them appear powerless, frustrating the customer and the employee.
Hilton hotels do a great job of this with their “Make It Right” initiative. This gives employees permission to make decisions that resolve guest problems. This could mean offering a free drink, a free night’s stay, or a week’s vacation in the Maldives – the employee is responsible and accountable for fixing the problem.
Programs like these place trust in frontline staff and allow them to get on with their jobs without constantly having to seek permission. Another reason to engage your frontline staff.
Foster a team culture
It’s hard to do good work when you’re not happy with what you’re doing. It’s unrealistic to expect people to look forward to coming to work each and every day, but you can create a team culture that people enjoy being a part of.
Even on the most challenging days, when you finally finish and close the doors for the evening, it’s a great feeling when you know you’ve got through it as a team.
Company culture is complex, but it’s easy to make little changes that help engage your frontline staff and build team spirit. It can be something as simple as the waiters and bar staff in a bar having a beer together after a busy shift – it’s something that brings people together.
When you come in each day and deal with the challenges of frontline work, it’s nice to know you’re doing it as part of a collective.
Provide ample growth opportunities
People have goals. They want to get better at what they do, gain new responsibilities, and earn more money.
Does your business or organisation offer them these opportunities?
It’s unsurprising that many frontline jobs have high turnover rates. These are demanding positions, and all too often, there aren’t ample growth opportunities. This isn’t just bad for frontline staff though; it’s also bad for employers who have to spend huge sums training new employees.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Businesses and organisations have the power to offer high-quality training, support learning, and promote from within. It’s another way of rewarding frontline staff, and it results in more skilled, happier employees who are likely to stay with you for the long haul.
Working on the frontline can be incredibly rewarding, but it also poses great challenges. So often, frontline staff are the faces of their organisations, but sometimes they don’t get treated like the important cog they are.
It doesn’t take a lot to improve engagement with frontline staff and enact policies that benefit everyone. When you do, it can have a big impact on your employees, your customers, and your business performance.
About the Author
Saurabh Wani is a digital marketer at ZoomShift, an employee scheduling tool. He has worked as an HR Recruiter for over 2 years where he defined the recruitment life-cycle that helped employees find the right job. He loves traveling and can be seen binge-watching Friends when he is not working.