How engaged your frontline employees are directly impacts how successful they are as a team. If you can encourage engagement then productivity, quality, care, commitment, and retention surely follow.
Yet, no matter how clear the correlation is, it’s not always as clear how to achieve frontline employee engagement.
In this guide, we share expert insights for your employee engagement strategies — helping you create a positive working environment that inspires satisfaction and success.
From understanding the importance of communication and collaboration across the organization to leveraging technology for better team performance, this guide will cover the activities and tools needed to foster an engaging frontline culture.
The current state of frontline employee engagement
Recent employee engagement statistics tell us that only 21% of employees are engaged at work.
The percentage is likely lower when it comes to the frontline.
That’s because frontline employee engagement is often handled as an afterthought. There’s a misconception that when workers are out in the field, then they don’t ‘need’ to feel connected to the wider business. Or that because their role doesn’t require a computer, they won’t want digital tools to improve their experience.
We see from our work with frontline organizations that these assumptions are wrong, and that frontline employees do want to feel engaged.
Communication starts to flow much more freely when the right tools are in place (as much as 10x more for certain Blink customers); frontline staff are more willing and able to provide feedback (survey responses increase by 300%); and you can help almost every employee to better connect with the company’s mission and vision.
So why do so many attempts at frontline employee engagement fall flat?
Workers might resist not because they don’t want to engage, but because they have become wise to empty frontline engagement projects and initiatives. The programs that fail are the ones that misunderstand what frontline workers need to succeed — or that ask too much of them while delivering too little.
“Great, another thing to remember”
“It’s not a natural part of my day”
“It’s a one-off thing”
“It’s too hard to use”
To help create frontline employee engagement initiatives that work, we first have to understand why these employees have become disengaged in the first place.
Why frontline employees become disengaged
1. Lack of the right technology
According to Blink research on the health and social care space:
- Over one-third (34%) of employees can’t easily access workplace systems on their mobile
- Nearly 20% aren’t using their company’s intranet
- … and two-thirds of this ~20% aren’t even sure how to log on
Disengagement with — or lack of access to — company platforms leads to missed information and feelings of isolation. At best, this can impede a frontline worker’s ability to do their job (maybe they miss an important update or never receive new guidance). At worst, it distances them so much from the rest of the business that they exist in their own, dissatisfied silo.
52% of frontline workers say they would leave their job over tech tools, making leveraging the right technology a very easy win for keeping your frontline engaged and retained.
But we can’t take the same tech stack that desk-based workers use and apply it to the frontline.
As Ian Gordon, former President of Administrative Operations at Elara Caring, told us in an interview:
“Being a frontline worker can feel like you’re on an island by yourself, and the solutions that you need must be quicker and more succinct. You can’t spend a lot of time signing in and navigating. You need to get to your answer now.”
The ‘right’ technology for frontline engagement will:
- Be intuitive and frictionless
- Allow the most essential, day-job-critical messages to cut through
- Facilitate the workflows that are most important to the ‘deskless’ front line: shift swapping, accessing pay stubs, providing feedback, and so on.
If your frontline tools don’t deliver on the above, then your frontline employee engagement efforts will be wasted.
2. No sense of belonging
Frontline disengagement can also result from a lack of community.
80% of frontline employees say that they are afforded few connection opportunities at work, according to McKinsey research.
And even if these opportunities exist, frontline workers aren’t always engaging with them. McKinsey found that frontline workers were taking part in the below methods of community and connection just once a month or less:
- Internal corporate communications (e.g., town halls)
- Watercooler talks with co-workers
- Employee resource groups
- Other work-related events
Touchpoints like these are all essential for building team spirit and rapport within frontline teams. And if workers aren’t engaging with them, then this speaks volumes about the types of community events that frontline leaders should invest in.
The best way to learn what works for your frontline is to ask them.
We touch on the concept of outside-in thinking in our whitepaper, ‘The frontline engagement roadmap: A step-by-step guide to driving transformative change’. Download your copy today.
3. No clear development opportunities
If you think that all engaged frontline workers are ‘rockstars’ — satisfied with mastering the job they have today rather than looking to step up — then think again.
There’s a very good chance you have ‘superstars’ in your frontline workforce as well. When engaged in a role, these employees are further motivated by the idea of career progression and will actively seek out opportunities to advance and develop. 70% of frontline workers apply for advancement opportunities when they are offered, seeking greater financial security, learning, and development.
But how easy is it for these employees to find this professional development?
Lack of development opportunities came up as a theme — and a reason for leaving a role — among the health and social care workers we spoke to in 2021. Further research has found a similar trend in the retail space, where 32% of frontline workers cite a lack of career development as a turnover factor.
“The vast majority of deskless workers (97%) report that they would stay in their current roles if their conditions improved. Such conditions go beyond a pay rise, meaning that HR needs to offer deskless workers the same opportunities as their deskbound counterparts.”
Frontline leaders should strive to offer clear development opportunities to frontline workers, plus training and learning resources wherever helpful. This could include anything from providing access to relevant training courses and a Hub for training materials, or offering them direct opportunities to move into managerial roles.
There’s also something to be said for training and empowering first line managers to help frontline workers develop. 73% of frontline employees agree that having a manager who supports their career progression is key to career advancement.
4. They don’t feel listened to
The 2021 Blink research we mentioned earlier was called our Listen campaign. And it got its name for a reason.
In it, we surveyed 1,000 frontline UK health and social care workers to find out how their day-to-day lives could be improved. And one word cropped up again and again: listen.
Over one-third of the frontline workforce feels their organizations would fail to act on employee feedback — and that needs to change if we want them to keep providing it. To truly empower your frontline employees, you need to show them that you value what they do and that you hear what they say.
No more out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality. No more assuming your frontline is ‘getting on just fine’. If your frontline workers don’t feel heard, your engagement strategy isn’t working. It’s as simple as that.
5. No culture of, or channels for, recognition
Nearly 4 in 10 (37%) frontline workers don’t feel as valued as their desk-based counterparts. We were saddened to learn this from our Listen research, but not all that surprised.
After all, the recognition strategies that work for desk-basked employees can’t be efficiently deployed for the front line. A line manager can’t send a team-wide or company-wide email celebrating someone’s contribution. You can’t all get together at 5pm on Friday to toast the week’s achievements.
As with the tooling and community-building tactics we looked at above, frontline recognition requires a unique approach. How can you bolster both technology and community to give credit where credit is due?
It’s also important to make sure that feedback is given as soon after the event as possible. So ask yourself: what are the platforms that allow a quick turnaround of employee recognition in a fun, engaging way?
Frontline employees deserve to be recognized for the hard work they do: for being the backbone of an organization’s success.
Without this, it’s no wonder they become disengaged.
6. Inefficient communication strategies
In our research, almost one-fifth of workers state that they don’t receive relevant internal communications from their employer organization.
An effective comms strategy combines group and 1:1 Secure Chats, regular Feed updates, engaging company news announcements, and more — all wrapped up and delivered in a platform or platforms that frontline workers want to engage with.
Given anything less than this, frontline teams can feel left out of the loop and unable to participate fully in their organization’s culture.
Get your frontline-centric communication strategy right and you can expect to see frontline employee engagement pay off in a myriad of ways.
Blink’s best advice for frontline employee engagement
Use tools that work for them
Your frontline staff need digital tools that work for them: where they need them and when they need them. From seamless integration with your current tech stack, to push notifications, single sign-on capabilities, and more, there are a number of tools that make it easy for frontline employees to engage on the go.
A frontline engagement app like Blink allows your workforce to easily access everything from one single platform. We’re talking company news, training materials and resources, inter- and intra-team communications, feedback surveys — the list of features keeps growing.
No more complex systems to navigate or multiple passwords to remember. Blink provides you with a simple, intuitive mobile app that gives your frontline employees the power to stay connected and engaged.
Conduct regular pulse surveys
Your frontline staff are the eyes, ears, and face of your organization. Listen to what they have to say, and you can learn more than you’d realize about your product or service, how happy customers are, and how well your processes are working today.
Pulse surveys offer up a consistent and user-friendly way to gather frontline feedback, no matter where your teams are working.
The data you gather can help identify areas of improvement — both internal and external to the business. This, in turn, will have a positive impact on all the essential metrics: frontline employee engagement, customer satisfaction, plus revenue and ROI.
💡 Learn more about How To Conduct Your First Employee Engagement Survey today.
Listen to and action feedback
Remember that statistic about frontline workers not believing their feedback will be actioned? Now is your time to win back their trust.
Remember, employee engagement should be earned. It won’t be given freely.
As a frontline leader, making sure that feedback is heard and put into action should be an essential part of your wider engagement strategy.
Be open and honest with the results of your surveys — and communicate what you’re doing as an organization to action this feedback.
Never present results as better or worse than they actually are, and always encourage an open dialogue about the outcomes of feedback initiatives. If you want your employees to offer their feedback on an ongoing basis, you need strategies that communicate to them how you’re hearing what they say.
You could even share your survey findings in a company-wide Feed announcement, along with specific objectives the organization has taken from the results and when these new initiatives will be put into place.
This doesn’t add any extra pressure to your frontline, but it does make your employees feel heard and valued.
Create engagement champions
Setting off on a frontline employee engagement transformation isn’t easy — or, it doesn’t feel easy at the start, at least.
We look at the power of allies in our frontline engagement roadmap and Ian Gordon also referenced how influential they can be:
“You need to find someone who has the energy, passion, and is empowered enough to lead the initiatives. That person could be the project lead, but preferably it’s someone from the frontline or with frontline experience. The frontline needs to have that relationship with management all the way up and be comfortable to share their concerns.”Ian Gordon, Former President of Administrative Operations at Elara Caring
These allies, or engagement champions, can help drive initiatives both top-down and bottom-up, facilitating two-way communication between management and staff. They can also support the adoption of new tools, ensuring that frontline workers are comfortable and engaged as new technologies are implemented.
Blink Champions are the cornerstone of a successful launch with the frontline’s leading engagement app. Their role includes:
- Working with other Champions to ensure the launch is a success
- Raising awareness of Blink
- Encouraging others to use the app
- Being active in the Feed
- Educating their team on how to use the app
- Being an advocate for Blink
- Becoming an expert on Blink
Get commitment from every level of management
Ideally, you’d have engagement allies from the front line to your C-Suite.
If your company’s mission is to boost frontline engagement, then every staff member in an authority position needs to show their support. Yes, engagement should be enabled by managers buying into the right digital solutions, but it should also be held up by your company’s values and all aspects of your leadership.
Our research also demonstrates that frontline staff want senior management to listen to them, communicate with them, and respond to them. A simple, yet frequently forgotten, task.
First line managers could be a particularly interesting group to engage with: making up 50% – 60% of a company’s management and directly supervising as much as 80% of the frontline workforce.
When employees interact with their first line managers daily, it’s essential that those individuals set an example and demonstrate engagement through their behavior.
Managers should also be available to listen to frontline workers and act upon any issues they identify. This will help drive the desired engagement from the bottom up, inspiring the workforce to keep engaging regularly.
Recognition and reward
Forward-thinking companies are already investing in co-worker recognition tools. This helps deliver meaningful recognition and rewards to their employee base, reminding employees how valued they are.
Such approaches can quickly encourage motivation, nurture employee wellbeing, raise employee morale, and boost engagement levels across the board.
You should also consider directly rewarding engagement (interactions with your employee app, for example) to reinforce and reward the behavior, creating a positive ripple effect to inspire more engagement.
What your business stands to gain
Frontline employee engagement = fewer absentees
Teams within the top 20% of employee engagement scores realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism. Imagine what your frontline organization could do with fewer empty shifts and less time spent finding staff to cover sickness — plus the additional revenue this will inevitably create.
Frontline employee engagement = lower turnover, higher retention
The cost of replacing an employee can range anywhere from 50% – 250% of their annual salary. So it’s no surprise that 87% of HR experts consider employee retention one of their highest priorities.
Why are we telling you this in an article about employee engagement? Because engaged workers are more likely to stay with their employers.
Disengaged workers will either be in an active search for their next role or much easier to sway should a desirable opportunity arise elsewhere. If you can create an engaging employee experience, however, you’ll retain your best talent.
Frontline employee engagement = a healthier bottom line
Engaged frontline employees deliver better quality of service, leading to customer satisfaction and loyalty.
92% of business executives believe that engaged employees perform better. And with engaged frontline workers performing at their best, better business outcomes are a natural development.
Bottom line improvements for highly engaged organizations include:
- 10% higher customer ratings
- 18% higher sales
- A 23% difference in profitability
In this way, an increase in engagement from frontline employees can be felt by every stakeholder, in every department, and at every level of the business.
Achieving operational excellence is a challenge on its own. Doing so while also investing in employee experience can leave frontline management teams feeling overwhelmed.
So let’s break it down into simple steps.
If you understand why frontline employees disengage, what motivates them, and how to keep them engaged, then you can establish a frontline engagement strategy that truly works.
Companies can unlock tremendous value from their workforce, demonstrate a real commitment to their employees, and drive positive business outcomes — all by leveraging the power of frontline employee engagement.
How can Blink help?
At Blink, we understand the importance of engaging with frontline employees. We’ve helped over 250 frontline organizations increase engagement and performance throughout their frontline.
Our frontline engagement app helps you measure and manage employee engagement in real-time to drive sustained improvements across your business. With our advanced analytics and tailored solutions, you can quickly identify problem areas, create action plans, and keep your employees engaged.
With our comprehensive suite of solutions, we’ll help you unlock the power of your frontline and achieve the results you’re looking for.
Frontline employee engagement FAQs
Why is frontline employee engagement important?
Engaging frontline workers leads to increased employee satisfaction, productivity, and loyalty, as well as improved customer ratings and business outcomes. By leveraging employee engagement, companies can realize greater value from their workforce and reduce attrition.
How can HR leaders nurture engagement in frontline workers?
HR can nurture engagement in frontline workers by using the right tools and technology to measure and manage employee engagement levels. By understanding what motivates employees, investing in effective communication, providing ongoing training, and recognizing their contribution, HR teams can foster a culture of engaged frontline workers that leads to improved business performance.
Who is responsible for frontline employee engagement?
Frontline employee engagement is the responsibility of all levels of an organization. From executives, HR, operations managers, and C-Suite leaders, everyone must work together to ensure frontline employees are engaged and empowered.