A Business Essential:

Refocus on the Frontline

April 29, 2020

By Carla Keppler, Executive Director, Employee Communications and Engagement

We’re learning a lot about how work can be done in today’s age – learnings that will no doubt drastically alter the future of work. We’re also all getting a new view into the true lifeblood of many of the businesses we interact with – essential frontline workers.

While corporate employees continue to hunker down in home offices, a significant portion of the workforce leaves their homes each day to make, ship and sell the everyday necessities we rely on to keep our lives running smoothly.

It’s the grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, warehouse workers and many others – the jobs often considered “low-skilled” or “low-status” – that are keeping the world running. And there’s extraordinary demand for (and intrinsic value on) their jobs.

We’ve seen companies across sectors step up to deliver improved safety, sick leave, health coverage and affordable childcare for these employees. That’s an important thing to do – the right thing to do. But here’s the thing: These folks were always essential. Only now, they are getting their deserved spotlight on a broader scale.

Equalizing the Frontline
As we look to a return to life as “normal” (whenever that happens and however that looks), companies have an opportunity – an obligation, really – to ensure they get it right with this essential group of employees. Frontline workers make up the majority of the world’s workforce (60%-80% depending on the source). The way we engage and communicate with these colleagues must change. This is a chance for companies to reset their approach and connect to every member of their workforce.

Here’s how:

  • Loop them in. Currently, 75% of frontline workers feel out of the loop and half have no clear perception of their company’s direction, according to HR training and strategy consultancy People Matters. To shift those staggering stats, ensure channels exist to effectively engage all workers directly. From there, target and translate messages to accommodate the needs and questions of these staffers. Prepare managers to provide deeper context to supplement (not substitute) direct company messages.
  • Listen to their feedback – and act on it. Pull data from the annual Employee Engagement Survey to look specifically at frontline employees. Create opportunities to check in throughout the year and allow for Q&A at every opportunity. Ensure plans and actions resulting from feedback are shared with employees.
  • Look to them as brand advocates. Your employees are your strongest and most authentic advocates, particularly those who produce the company’s products and interface directly with customers. Celebrate these colleagues and share their stories on a broad scale – on your website, in your ads, across social channels. Enable their participation in advocacy and storytelling initiatives.
  • Let them know they are valued. This one starts by taking care of the basics like working conditions, wages and benefits. Recently improved offerings should stick around even after the curve flattens. It’s also about rewarding the often-thankless tasks performed by these workers – a token of appreciation, a note from the CEO, an extra day off (site managers will know what best resonates). Recognition is a key driver of engagement, which leads to stronger business performance.
  • Lean in on the trust factor. Trust is the top driver of the employee experience, and it takes two forms: having trust in the direction and decisions of leadership and feeling trusted as valued colleagues. Ensure leaders tailor messages to specific concerns and role responsibilities of various employees, and ensure those communications reach and allow engagement from all internal audiences (see first bullet). 

*If you have questions or are seeking counsel, email Carla at ckeppler@golin.com.