Frontline workers are disengaged. Here’s how to fix it.

Why focusing on frontline worker engagement is the best retention strategy of all 

If you Google the phrase “hybrid work” you’ll see no end of recent articles exploring the topic – from how to implement it well, to the associated challenges and benefits, to the expectations of both employers and employees. You’ll also see that there’s one persona largely missing from the narrative: frontline workers. 

From the healthcare professionals caring for their communities, to the retail associates serving customers, to the employees keeping manufacturing plants going, there are so many deskless workers who don’t have the luxury of choosing where they work. And they make up 80% of the workforce. These folks must show up to a physical location on the front lines every day, because that’s where their work gets done. 

The worrying state of frontline worker engagement 

It seems frontline workers are definitely feeling left out of the workplace experience conversation. They’re also increasingly disengaged at work, which drives performance down and turnover up. All signs point to significant operational disruption and expense on the horizon for organizations with large frontline workforces: 

  • According to McKinsey, 45% of frontline workers plan to leave their jobs in the next 3-6 months. 
  • The cost of replacing an individual employee is one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary (and that’s a conservative estimate).
  • Business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profit compared with business units whose workers are unhappy. Plus, “teams with thriving workers see significantly lower absenteeism, turnover and accidents.” 

What’s behind the lack of frontline worker engagement? 

The Great Resignation saw more than 43 million people voluntarily leave their jobs, and frontline roles were particularly hard hit. While many headlines zeroed in on the number of vacant roles in industries like food service, hospitality, and retail, manufacturing weathered the biggest surge in workers leaving, with a nearly 60% jump in rates compared with pre-pandemic times. 

It turns out there are a couple of key reasons why frontline workers are rethinking their work experiences:

How to increase engagement among your frontline staff

The days of trying to keep frontline teams engaged using sporadic team huddles, bulletin board postings, and free donuts in the breakroom on Fridays are long over. Today’s workers want to be fairly compensated for the work they do, but they also want flexibility and opportunities for growth. And they want to always feel safe, respected, and supported at work.  

Here are a few strategies you can put in place to meet your frontline people where they are:

1.Keep them in the loop

The problem: Your messages get missed.

Sending consistent, timely communications to employees on the front line is a challenge. They often don’t have a company email or device, and they aren’t permitted to access their phones outside of sanctioned breaks. Many manufacturing facilities also have the added barrier of wireless access challenges. 

The solution: Make communications unignorable.

  • Curate a company newsfeed. Keep all your critical messages in one hard-to-miss newsfeed that employees check every shift. An employee app is a solid solution to consider here as it centralizes all communications and workplace management. Look for a solution that can be embedded into tools your employees already use, like Microsoft Teams. Anyone should be able to access your messages from mobile or desktop, without the need for a corporate email.
  • Democratize access to information. For frontline teams that can’t access communications on their own devices, providing kiosks makes sure everyone gets the same information, in the same way, regardless of where they are working.
  • Broadcast critical information. Digital signage isn’t just for the head office. Placing it in locations like your staff-only areas, factory floors, and warehouses gives frontline workers visibility into the latest company announcements, workplace guidance, and health and safety standards. 
  • Ease your content load. Creating content to keep employees informed can quickly drain the time and resources of your internal comms team. Explore whether your team would benefit from ready-made digital signage content that’s curated by experts and tackles hot topics like workplace safety, customer service, and even corporate culture. Appspace also lets you choose from several pre-designed HTML templates to easily create captivating content that’s responsive to any display.

2. Make safety a priority

The problem: Employees don’t mean to practice unsafe behaviors at work, they simply forget to do the right things.  

The forgetting curve shows us how rapidly people forget information that isn’t reinforced. So, while your training might be excellent, if you aren’t reminding your frontline employees of the right things to do on the floor every day, you may be putting them at risk for safety violations. 

The solution: Reinforce safety protocols right in the flow of work.

Those communication channels mentioned above? Turns out they’re also a fantastic tool for reinforcing important safety messages so they stick. Add them to the employee feed and keep refreshing them on digital signage in the key areas where frontline employees spend time to create a culture of safety and awareness.

Bonus: If you’ve got an urgent message that needs to get out quickly to multiple channels, Apspace lets you quickly broadcast across your entire organization, either by scheduling manually or automatically triggering by a third-party alert system like Singlewire’s InformaCast, Alertus, or Everbridge.

3. Give them a voice

The problem: Frontline workers don’t have enough opportunities to provide feedback.

Since the majority of their time is spent executing on operational imperatives, frontline employees can easily feel disconnected from the larger organization and struggle to understand how their contributions fit with overarching goals. 

The solution: Make it easy to weigh in.

  • Help them connect to the larger picture. A modern intranet makes it easier for frontline workers to connect and collaborate with coworkers and the larger organization. It’s also a handy place to centralize the storage of personalized information, like to-do reminders, policies, and other documents. Seeking out a social-media like experience that also encourages employees to add likes and comments makes providing feedback frictionless and gives you a real-time pulse on how they’re feeling on the issues that matter.
  • Ask them. The folks working on your front lines have an up-close view of things like how well processes are working and what customers are saying. There are many ways you can leverage your omni-channel digital experience to tap into their wealth of knowledge. Send out questionnaires through your employee app. Remind them to complete the questionnaire through messages on your digital signage and intranet. You can also encourage discussion and idea sharing during team huddles or 1:1 catch-ups.  

Check out this quick demo of our Appspace Intranet from a recent webinar. 

4. Set up your frontline managers for success

The problem: Managers are the face of the company for your frontline employees and they too often leave a bad impression. 

In one of the largest studies of burnout, Gallup found the biggest source was “unfair treatment at work.” That was followed by an unmanageable workload, unclear communication from managers, lack of manager support, and unreasonable time pressure. All of these factors lead back to a single person having a huge impact on the frontline experience.

The solution: Help them lead.

No frontline manager is intentionally doing a poor job supporting their people. Too often they simply don’t have the skills or time to invest in their direct reports. But when they do, it really pays off. 95% of people who are thriving at work report being treated with respect all day. 

  • Equip your managers to lead. Many managers get promoted into their roles because of tenure of their own strong performance as an individual contributor. Make sure they have the training they need to evolve from doers to leaders. 
  • Encourage kudos. Once you have the digital channels in place to attract frontline eyeballs – like an employee newsfeed and digital signage – make sure your managers are using them to share good news, give performance shout-outs, and generally promote team cohesion. 
  • Make time for stay conversations. When managers connect with direct reports 1:1, encourage them to ensure they aren’t staying at the task level. Stay conversations go deeper, with the intent of learning about an employee’s passions, struggles, goals, and what type of support they are craving at work. 

Let’s make work a place frontline employees can thrive 

Employee engagement matters. A lot. Teams that score in the top half on employee engagement more than double their odds of success when compared with those in the bottom half. 

The encouraging news is that organizations know things have to change when it comes to the experience of frontline employees. Almost one-third do not consider their frontline workers fully empowered and digitally well-equipped. They just aren’t always sure where to start with improving their work experience.

Want to see the engagement-boosting power of Appspace with your own eyes? Reach out for your personal demo.

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