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Boosting Frontline Employee Engagement: Strategies and Tips

boost engagement rates in frontline employees

Frontline workers fill some of the most demanding jobs in our economy. Yet many of them are disengaged and unhappy. In this guide, we’ll explore how you can fix frontline employee engagement and unlock benefits for your organization. 

From nurses to warehouse workers and grocery clerks to servers – frontline employees perform some of the most important roles in our economy. Estimates suggest there are more than 2.7 billion of them working in the world today, making up around 80% of the planet’s entire workforce. 

These people are the backbone of our economy, the unsung heroes who play a key role in sectors like healthcare, tourism, manufacturing, retail and hospitality. Yet, compared to their desk-based counterparts, frontline employee engagement is often overlooked. 

By failing to act on frontline employee engagement businesses are sleepwalking towards disaster. So why should companies act, and what can they do to reverse the decline in frontline employee engagement? 

Table of Contents

Frontline Employee Engagement Explained

The Current State of Frontline Employee Engagement

Why Is Frontline Employee Engagement So Important?

Strategies To Boost Frontline Employee Engagement

Tips For Measuring And Maintaining Frontline Employee Engagement

FAQ

Frontline employee engagement

Frontline Employee Engagement Explained

Before we explore some of the hints, tips and strategies you can use to improve your frontline employee engagement, we first need to understand what it is…

Who are frontline employees? 

Let’s kick things off by defining exactly what we mean when we say “frontline employees.” 

Put simply, frontline employees are workers who provide direct services for clients and customers. They’re the people who have to physically turn up for work and perform hands-on tasks like patient care, construction and food preparation. 

As a result, frontline workers are the people who contribute to every part of your day-to-day life. They make the coffee you drink in the morning, drive the bus that you ride to work, and build the offices that you work in. They fill some of society’s most important roles like first responders, teachers, doctors and nurses; as well as other vital hands-on positions in retail, hospitality and manufacturing. 

What is frontline employee engagement? 

With that in mind when we talk about frontline employee engagement, we’re looking at the level of enthusiasm these people feel for their work. 

Frontline employee engagement is a term we use to measure how motivated your workers are, how happy they are in their roles and how committed they are to your company.

When we’re specifically talking about frontline employee engagement, the idea of connection is also crucial. How connected do your frontline staff feel to the rest of your business? Do they feel like they are listened to? Do people care about them? Do they understand what is going on in other areas of the business, or that other areas of the business understand the challenges that they face? 

Later in this guide, we’ll cover how you can impact frontline employee engagement and what you can do to measure it. But it’s vital to remember that frontline employee engagement isn’t something that’s fixed. Instead, it’s something that ebbs and flows over time, something that needs to be nurtured and maintained in order to flourish.

That’s why developing strategies that enhance frontline employee engagement is so important.

engaged front line employee

What does good frontline employee engagement look like? 

Things like commitment, happiness and motivation can be hard to define. So what exactly does frontline employee engagement look like? And how can you tell if your frontline workers are actually engaged? 

Everyone is different, but there are a few telltale signs that show your frontline employees are engaged.

  • They are excited to come to work.
  • They are committed.
  • They go the extra mile to get things done.
  • They are collaborative.
  • They are positive.
  • Their communication is on point.
  • They deliver excellent customer service.
  • They actively seek opportunities to advance.
  • They participate in every area of the business, not just their own roles.
  • They are adaptive and flexible.

11 challenges facing frontline employee engagement 

  1. Growing incivility and abuse from the general public.
  2. Lack of career development opportunities.
  3. High turnover creating increased workload.
  4. No recognition and rewards. 
  5. A growing skills gap. 
  6. Unfilled roles mean there’s more work than ever. 
  7. Frontline employees don’t feel listened to. 
  8. Stress and burnout is on the rise. 
  9. Company culture is not being extended to frontline employees. 
  10. No clear development opportunities. 
  11. Frontline workers still feel the impact of COVID-19. 

stressed frontline employee

The Current State of Frontline Employee Engagement 

Get ready to feel shocked…

Just 23% of global employees feel engaged by their work. It’s a staggeringly low figure, one that is probably even smaller when it comes to frontline workers in particular. 

And yet, we really shouldn’t be surprised that so few employees feel committed to their roles. That’s because, over recent years, employee engagement has been trending downwards. According to Gallup, it’s been in steady decline with engagement rates falling from 36% in 2020 to 34% in 2021, 32% in 2022 and 31% in 2023.  

So what’s behind the alarming drop in employee engagement? 

A perfect storm

You need to only look at the issues that these workers have faced over recent years for answers. 

Severe labor shortages and unprecedented supply chain issues have meant that frontline workers are being overworked. Combined with changing consumer demands and the growth of digital tools has meant that we’re expecting more of our frontline workers than ever before. It’s perhaps no wonder then that stress levels are on the rise, leading to frontline workers burning out at a record rate

Though it’s firmly in our collective review mirrors, the specter of COVID-19 and its associated restrictions and lockdowns still looms large. During the pandemic frontline workers became more essential than ever. Indeed the crisis highlighted just how essential these roles are to countries across the globe. 

But it also shone a spotlight on the issues that these workers faced. 

While many industries could pivot to remote working, these people had to face the pandemic head-on. Not only were they physically more at risk but their incomes were also more precarious as companies cut hours or made roles redundant. 

In sectors such as healthcare, for example, the impact was catastrophic. And these industries are still grappling with the mental and emotional stress that was placed upon frontline workers. 

Incivility on the rise 

Because many frontline roles interact with members of the public, employees also have to contend with rising levels of anger, unrest and abusive behavior. 

So-called incivility is on the rise, with more than three-quarters of frontline workers admitting that they experience this kind of behavior at least once a month. 

Driven by rising stress levels, divisive headlines and a growing disconnection between people and communities – incivility is taking a toll on frontline workers, many of whom are questioning their futures in their individual industries.   

Cut adrift 

Another issue that’s shaping the current landscape of frontline employee engagement, is that workers feel cut adrift from the companies that they work for. 

Many frontline employees feel like they don’t have a community to be a part of. Others report a lack of mentorship opportunities, while more still struggle to make the kind of personal and professional relationships that they’d like to at work. The problem has grown so large that 80% of frontline employees say that their company doesn’t offer them connection opportunities at work. 

Professionally, frontline employees are also being left behind. Lack of career growth opportunities is the number one reason why frontline employees quit their roles. Without opportunities to improve their skills or develop professionally, many workers feel like they are trapped in their roles with no opportunity to progress. 

In numbers, key statistics that showcase the issue of frontline employee engagement. 

Disengaged employees cost companies $350 billion per year.

51% of frontline workers admit they want to leave their roles because of the technology they have access to. 

70% of frontline workers have suffered from, or are at risk of, burnout. 

More than half (51%) of frontline workers believe they are seen as less important than desk-based employees. 

41% of frontline employees quit because they don’t feel like they can advance their careers. 

33% of frontline employees quit in search of a better workplace culture. 

frontline worker engaged at work

Why Is Frontline Employee Engagement So Important? 

Get it right, and frontline employee engagement can be a catalyst to transform your business and unlock your potential. And, because they form the backbone of many companies, these benefits can extend to every area of your organization.

When frontline employees are engaged, they become more productive and deliver higher-quality work. Workers with high levels of engagement are more motivated, have higher morale and are dedicated to achieving the company’s goals. On the flip side, however, disengaged frontline employees are more likely to have high levels of absenteeism, low levels of motivation and low productivity

Here are just some of the reasons why frontline employee engagement is so important…

It improves retention and reduces turnover

Replacing frontline workers can be an expensive process. Some estimates suggest that it costs businesses up to one-fifth of a frontline employee’s salary to fill their role. And that’s not to mention the costs that are accrued due to staff shortages and the knock-on impact that will have on your existing frontline workers, who may already be disengaged. 

Businesses can help to alleviate these costs, improve retention and reduce turnover simply by focussing on frontline employee engagement. That’s because when your employees are engaged, they’re less likely to leave, saving your organization from the escalating costs of unnecessary turnover. 

It can improve customer service

In many cases your frontline employees are the most important interaction your customers will have with your business. They are the day-to-day shop front of your organization, which means if they are disengaged they’re going to provide people with a negative experience.

However, if your frontline employee engagement levels are high your workers are more likely to establish meaningful relationships with customers, or go the extra mile to deliver exceptional service. These positive interactions can add up to higher levels of customer satisfaction that help your company to thrive. 

Reduced absenteeism

Absenteeism costs businesses billions of dollars every year. 

There are a number of reasons why people miss out on work, but one of the key drivers is disengagement. You see, if your people aren’t happy in their roles then they’re not going to be motivated to come into work. That leads to increasing absenteeism, which disrupts operations and ultimately costs money. It’s a vicious cycle that organizations call ill-afford. 

Increase productivity 

When your frontline employees are engaged, they’re more committed to their work and more energetic in their performance. That naturally translates to higher levels of productivity as engaged frontline workers commit more time and energy to help your business achieve its goals. 

Up your innovation and creativity 

Few people understand your business quite as well as your frontline employees. They offer a unique perspective on the challenges it faces and the opportunities that are available to help it improve. 

When frontline employee engagement levels are high your people will feel empowered to share their insight, providing an invaluable source of ideas and problem-solving suggestions that can help drive your company forward through innovation. 

Enhance safety 

Frontline workers can be faced by a number of health and safety hazards that simply don’t impact employees who work in an office. Navigating these risks is vital to protect your people from harm, and safeguard your organization from legal and financial challenges. 

That’s where engagement comes in. When your people are more engaged they’re more aware of their surroundings and more committed to best practices surrounding workplace safety. That’s why highly engaged frontline employees typically create and maintain safer environments where there are fewer errors

Frontline employee engagement can lead to… 

📈 Increased productivity

⬆️ Improved morale

🙋🏾 Lower absenteeism

📣 Boosted retention

✅ Improved recruitment

Disengaged frontline employees can lead to…

🤒 Increased absenteeism

📉 Lower productivity

⏲️ Taking longer to achieve tasks

❌ Higher employee turnover

⬆️ Increase operational costs

⬇️ Reduce quality of work 

restaurant frontline worker

Strategies To Boost Frontline Employee Engagement

So what are some strategies that you can employ to boost frontline employee engagement?

Of course, every organization is different. That means that the combination of tools and tactics that you use to boost frontline employee engagement will be as unique as you are. However, there are proven strategies that provide a great starting point for organizations that want to make an immediate impact. 

Here are a few ideas to get you started…

1. Prioritize work/life balance

Burned-out and stressed employees are more likely to become disengaged. So make a concerted effort to improve work/life balance. This could involve introducing flexible working hours or alternative scheduling options. You could also implement wellbeing initiatives to safeguard mental health and ensure that your people get the support they need to fight stress. 

2. Open up communication channels

One of the biggest barriers to improving frontline employee engagement is poor communication. If your people don’t feel like they’re listened to by management or that their ideas aren’t acted upon, then they can become disengaged. Creating a two-way dialogue between senior figures within the organization and workers at all levels is key to ensuring that everyone feels like they are a part of a team, something that is bigger than themself. 

This fuels motivation and employee engagement, but it can also lead to invaluable insights. After all, who better to provide information on pain points and roadblocks than the people who are operating on the frontlines of your business? If you want to open up lines of communication then consider drop-in sessions, staff forums and employee engagement surveys as tools that can be employed to give your people a voice.

3. Action employee feedback

Listening is one part of the equation. But if your frontline employees do offer feedback on things that you can do to improve their working lives, then you need to ensure that you act upon them. This makes your people feel heard, that their voices matter and that their thoughts and feelings are valued by their employers.

4. Provide learning and development opportunities

Frontline workers are crying out for opportunities to develop themselves professionally. By providing meaningful opportunities to develop themselves you can help to prevent one of the key drivers of frontline employee turnover. Better still you can arm your frontline employees with the skills they need to thrive. Access to learning resources, mentorship, coaching and new job opportunities are all key here. 

5. Use digital tools

Though they aren’t as easy to engage as desk-based colleagues, modern digital tools make it possible for you to ensure that your frontline employees are engaged in your company through their smartphones. HRIS systems, recognition and reward platforms and dedicated company apps can all ensure that your people are kept up-to-date, even when they’re away from the computer. 

6. Recognition and rewards

One of the most powerful tools your organization can employ to improve frontline employee engagement is a company recognition program. Recognizing people is a powerful tool that in the right hands can be used to increase motivation, boost engagement and send your productivity soaring. Without an effective rewards and recognition program people will feel invisible or that their efforts don’t matter. A recognition program shows frontline workers that their hard work is appreciated and that their efforts are valued by your organization. Thanks to modern recognition platforms like Bucketlist you can tailor your program to suit your workers and inspire them with personalized rewards and meaningful recognition. Not only can you offer spot prizes for people who demonstrate excellence, but you can recognize career milestones, personal anniversaries and even tie your rewards in with organization objectives like safety or customer satisfaction. Click here to find out more about what Bucketlist can do for your organization.

Bucketlist rewards employee recognition software

7. Empower your employees

If your people feel powerless, it can cause frontline employee engagement to nosedive. So avoid the trap of micromanaging and empower your people to take responsibility for their own actions. By entrusting your people with the appropriate level of decision-making and problem-solving you show them that you value their opinions, this also makes them more agile. 

An exceptional company is the one that gets all the little details right. And the people out on the front line, they know when things are not going right, and they know when things need to be improved. And if you listen to them, you can soon improve all those things which turns an average company into an exceptional company.

-Sir Richard Branson

Tips For Measuring And Maintaining Frontline Employee Engagement

Improving frontline employee engagement is not something you can achieve overnight. It’s an ongoing process, one that will require constant maintenance. Measuring levels of frontline employee engagement is also vital. After all, how will you know if your efforts are working if you don’t monitor their success? 

By proactively measuring your frontline employee engagement levels you can not only measure the impact of your efforts, but trace levels of motivation over time and spot issues before they begin to impact your business. 

So what can you do to monitor frontline employee engagement? 

Employee Engagement Surveys

When it comes to something as important as your workforce you can’t base your decisions on hunches, or hearsay. Instead, you need cold hard facts. And the only way that you will get an honest assessment of your current engagement levels is through a survey.

These surveys are your most powerful tool when it comes to measuring and maintaining frontline employee engagement. For many organizations, they’re a vital source of truth that can provide an accurate representation of how workers are feeling and the issues that they face. 

As the name suggests, employee engagement surveys are targeted questionnaires that measure people’s commitment, motivation and passion for their work. 

Conducted anonymously, they allow your employees to share honest feedback about their experience of working for your company, revealing their true feelings no matter how positive or negative they may be. 

Most companies choose to conduct employee engagement surveys on a yearly basis. But you can also conduct spot or pulse surveys that enable you to take the temperature of your organization at other times, measuring frontline employee engagement during challenging periods or when organizational change may have impacted your workers. 

If you haven’t already done so, then make conducting an engagement survey your top priority. This will give you a baseline that will let you know what level your engagement is at right now. You can then use this to measure your progress over time. Are your strategies working? Do you need to do more to address frontline employee engagement? These are the kind of questions that regular surveys can answer.

Once you have this data you can make informed choices about the actions you need to take to either maintain engagement levels or work towards increasing. A combination of regular monitoring and continuous improvement is the key to success. 

Dive into the data 

When it comes to measuring and maintaining frontline employee engagement, surveys aren’t the only tool at your disposal. 

Your organization holds an incredible amount of data, a treasure trove of information that can be put to work to measure engagement levels. Statistics on absenteeism, retention, customer satisfaction, turnover and productivity can all be collated. These give you a snapshot of the direction your business is trending in, providing early warning signs that may point towards an issue with frontline employee engagement.

For example, high levels of absenteeism and turnover could be cause for alarm. But if your retention and productivity are on the up then the chances are you are on the right course. The key is to work with other areas of your organization to ensure that you have access to the information you need to monitor how your frontline employees are feeling. 

Listen to your people 

Frontline employee engagement isn’t something that you can click your fingers and create. It’s something that’s earned.

That’s why encouraging regular feedback from your people is so important. Beyond anonymous surveys, you should engage your frontline workers in ongoing discussions to track how they feel. An open dialogue about the challenges they face, the issues that are impacting their work or the concerns they provide you with invaluable anecdotal evidence about levels of engagement.

It will also make your people feel heard. Especially if you make the effort to speak to them on their own turf. Frontline employees often feel cut adrift from the rest of the organization. By getting in the trenches with them you can not only demonstrate how valuable they are, but gather firsthand insight into their day-to-day lives. 

getting employee feedback

Appoint engagement champions

It’s no point embarking on a host of frontline employee engagement initiatives if people aren’t going to get involved with them. Transformation will only occur once you have buy-in, and that buy-in can be difficult to secure especially if it’s being issued from an area of the business that doesn’t engage often with frontline workers.

This is where allies are so important. To ensure your frontline employees are engaged in your initiatives and comfortable sharing their thoughts and feedback, you need to appoint someone they can trust. 

By appointing employee engagement champions you create a conduit between head office and the frontlines. These people can help to drive your initiatives and facilitate the kind of two-way communication that’s needed to genuinely move the needle on frontline employee engagement. 

Engage leaders

If you want to maintain engagement over time then it’s not just frontline employees that you need to work with, you need to get your C-suite on board too. 

Engagement involves everyone. Managers at all levels have a part to play in supporting your initiatives, but company leaders are particularly important. They set the tone for the rest of the organization, and where they lead everyone else will follow. Your senior leaders will also be the ones arguing the business case for your frontline employee engagement program and green lighting the costs that are associated with it. They need to understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how long it will take to accomplish. Only then will they be able to ensure your entire organization buys into your plan. 

Recognition and rewards

Implementing a recognition and rewards program for your frontline employees can supercharge your engagement efforts

That’s because, when you proactively take the time to show your employees that you appreciate their hard work, those employees will feel good about themselves and their efforts. It’s a great way to boost employee engagement, but it also helps to show your frontline workers the role that they play in the wider company’s success. 

It’s not just hearsay either. The psychological evidence shows us that from engagement and retention to productivity and even profits, employee recognition can have a significant impact on every aspect of your organization. 

FAQ

Who are frontline employees?

Frontline employees are workers who provide direct services for clients and customers. They’re the people who have to physically turn up for work and perform hands-on tasks like patient care, construction and food preparation. 

What is frontline employee engagement? 

Frontline employee engagement is a term we use to measure how motivated your workers are, how happy they are in their roles and how committed they are to your company.

Why is frontline employee engagement important?

Get it right, and frontline employee engagement can be a catalyst to transform your business and unlock your potential. 

How can you improve frontline employee engagement?

There are a number of strategies you can employ to improve frontline employee engagement. These include offering better work/life balance, access to career development opportunities as well as recognition and rewards programs. 

How can you monitor frontline employee engagement? 

Annual surveys and regular pulse questionnaires are great tools for monitoring frontline employee engagement over time. 

frontline employees reaching high engagement

The bottom line…

Taking the step to prioritize frontline employee engagement is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. 

Whether they’re carers, serving staff or retail partners – frontline workers are the public face of your company. They interact directly with your customers and represent your brand on a personal level. They also ensure the delivery of your products and services and keep your business ticking over. Add it all together and you simply cannot underestimate their importance. 

So if you want your business to succeed, you need to invest in your frontline workers. Taking steps to improve frontline employee engagement won’t just help to improve the lives of the people who work for you, it will impact every area of your operations. Creating business benefits that far outweigh the time, effort and expense that you put into your program. 

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