How to Engage Frontline Employees

June 28, 2021

Illustration of a boss giving a handshake to a waiter

We asked seven business leaders how they were engaging their frontline workers or advising their clients on engaging their diverse workforce. With many workers now at home, it is even harder to get a pulse of the organization and engage in the right way. At Recognize, employee recognition online is only half the battle. To engage frontline workers, Recognize provides a frontline worker package to SMS login, recognize staff, and redeem a reward. Further, printed certificates, physical buttons to press, and TVs of recognitions are all strategies to recognize frontline workers.

Engaging Your Frontline Through Recognition

Recognition isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. In fact, in most cases, it’s not even a one-size-fits-most strategy. For many companies, there are many different pockets of work groups, all with subcultures of their own. Even more granular, one employee may prefer to receive recognition privately while another feels more special when others know what they’ve achieved. What about those groups that are hard to reach because they’re mobile, or not always ‘plugged in?’

If you find yourself asking, ‘what is the best recognition strategy for my frontline employees?,’ we’re here to help with some tips!

Understand your Workforce’s Preferences

First, understanding that everyone is unique in their desire to be recognized is key. Allowing employees to choose how they receive recognition and how often they receive it is a great first step. Is there a monthly or quarterly survey you can leverage? Can employees note this in a company profile?

Another good place to start is by having a representative for each of your major business units or work groups that can serve as a recognition advocate and will be dedicated to tracking engagement. Ideally, this would be someone who is in the trenches with that work group and tuned in to the needs and day-to-day work styles of the employees in that work group.

Promote Common Goals While Allowing Flexibility

52% of employees feel that their rewards strategy isn’t aligned to organizational goals according to a recent survey by Deloitte.

Next, you should think about having some overarching programs or badges that will resonate with all employees that are tied to company values, but add a layer of flexibility with how these employees are celebrated. If it makes more sense to have separate programs for each work group beyond that, that’s okay! The point is to keep everyone motivated by tapping into those subcultures while maintaining ties to common goals as a company. With that in mind, you’ll want to ensure that you maintain a level of consistency with the recognition’s worth. For example, if you have one work group doing a fancy luncheon, and the other getting Starbucks cards, this may cause some strife between groups. You’ll want to make sure your representatives from each group are communicating with one another regarding your overall strategy. Perhaps there is one central team that determines the company strategy, and then a broader team with representatives that serve as an input from your major work groups.

Communicate Appropriately & Measure Success

Once you know what strategy each work group has in mind, have your representatives decide what the best method of communication is for each work group. This is where you’ll want to announce the launch of the programs for that work group. Think text messages for a mobile workforce or company intranet portal for corporate employees. The other piece of this is to consider training for your frontline. How and when will they be trained? Can they tune in to a webinar or would it make more sense to brief them in a standup meeting with a short demo? Recognize offers mobile capability for workforces that aren’t in front of a computer screen with our Gold package, so this may be something to consider if you’ve got a large frontline workforce.

Once you’ve trained your frontline, what are the expectations for engagement? Are your goals for the frontline different than they are for corporate employees? Are they realistic? It’s important to consider things like impact to operation and union contracts when coming up with these goals. There may even be workgroups in which leaders do not often interface with their direct reports. In these cases, it’s crucial to have a strong peer-to-peer program so that employees are still being recognized for their hard work. From peer-to-peer recognitions, your engagement representatives can then decipher who should be bumped up for higher recognition. Or there could be a “level-up” program in place whereby an accumulation of peer-to-peer recognitions lead to higher level achievement.

Get Leadership Involved

One other aspect of recognition to think about is how to make it more special for a pocket of your workforce that can feel disconnected from corporate. For this, you might try having quarterly visits scheduled from c-suite or VP-level leaders to award top performers with certificates of appreciation. Getting leadership involved will not only make things more special for the recipient of the recognition, but it will also create buy-in for local leaders and employees alike and encourage further participation in your programs. Leadership that is tuned in and involved in what is happening outside of corporate headquarters is more likely to be respected by frontline workers.

Now you’ve got a few tips to help you create a strategy for frontline engagement. We hope you’ll see value in these ideas, and that you build on them with what makes sense for your work culture.

Tom Mumford Quote

Tom Mumford

Co-founder of Undergrads Moving

Making sure frontline workers are getting the recognition they deserve requires those in leadership roles to go out of their way to identify specific traits and skills that frontline workers posses. If you don’t take the time to do that, it’ll be harder to give feedback and praise that doesn’t sound generic. Generic feedback is the definition of paying lip service, and many workers will see through that. Go out of your way to check up on them and see if there is anything you can do for them that would make their jobs easier. That doesn’t mean taking on work for them, but perhaps they have some advice about how to optimize the way they do certain things. By doing this, it demonstrates a true sense of care and a desire to help.

Michael Hammelburger Quote

Michael Hammelburger

CEO of Expense Reduction Group

As the CEO of a startup, I advocate buying from black-owned enterprises to show our support in their struggle for equality and provide meaning to the lives lost in this struggle. By being more sensitive to the current social climate, employees can feel that their welfare is also a priority and become more engaged with the organization.

One employee engagement activity that has worked for us is by having our staff nominate black-owned restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, food trucks, and pop-ups where the management can have food from these businesses delivered to employees to inspire everyone to take care of each other during this period. The restaurant industry has suffered a lot from their closure due to the pandemic and now that protests are happening around the globe to condemn the death of George Floyd and so many other victims, it’s time we raise the morale of the black community by supporting their livelihood.

The lack of compassion in one’s workplace has a strong impact on the organization and is reflective of unconscious bias. So when employers prioritize diversity, individuality, and inclusion, significant cultural shifts can take place even in the midst of a pandemic.

Ken Eulo Quote

Ken Eulo

Founding partner of Smith & Eulo Law Firm

Frontline workers tend to be the primary interaction with many customers while performing their day to day duties. Frontline workers often have useful insights that might not be available anywhere else, and these workers can present a unique aspect of customer experience. As such it can be a real asset to position these employees in such a way that they have the latitude to make decisions that will not only benefit our customers but also provide a level of engagement for these employees that make them feel more empowered and central to the operations of the business.

Marshall Atkinson Quote

Marshall Atkinson

Business Coach and CEO at Atkinson Consulting

When was the last time anyone in your company came forward with a new idea that would help improve something? Do you encourage this?

Make sure that your crew feels comfortable speaking up. Give them the freedom to say that the emperor has no clothes. Listen to ideas.

Listening to frontline worker concerns coupled with action equals respect.

Cory Colton Quote

Cory Colton

Principal Executive Coach at Inflection Point Coaching, LLC

Team members are most engaged when they know that they are valued, that they are heard, and that their work contributes meaningfully to the mission and strategy of the company.

Leaders, especially during the pandemic, need to be more intentional about leading to the culture and strategy of the company, providing feedback and recognizing team members. Think about the movieThe Wizard of Oz. The destination and way to get there was clear; “Follow the yellow brick road” to get to Oz. It’s your job to make sure teams know where they are going and how to get there, and to reward them when they do!

Teams on the frontline may not have regular access to email or other methods of communication like the company intranet. Here are some quick tips to make sure everyone is on the yellow brick road..

  • Schedule frequent one-on-one meetings and team check ins where information on strategy and goals is shared. The meetings can be shorter but increased frequency helps to ensure that team members feel aligned with shifts in priorities.
  • Without access to the communication technology others have, the in-person stand up meeting is a reliable war horse to communicate information about strategy. A daily 10-15 minute stand up (socially distanced and masked of course) can help immensely in aligning teams to the strategy and shifting priorities.
  • Leave time for discussion and questions; leaders should ensure that everyone has a chance to express views and ask questions.
  • Find out how team members like to be recognized—in person or in a group? Then make sure to tailor recognition to their style. For those that like to be rewarded in the group, ensure that you find ways to recognize and reward employees and teams in person for a job well done. Being recognized in the team helps people feel valued and included. Perhaps one stand up meeting each week can be dedicated to recognition.
  • Get input from team members about how they can effectively achieve their goals. Employees feel more valued when they can contribute to making work life better.
  • Most people have cell phones. Does the company have an app that can be leveraged to communicate consistent messaging to teams on a daily or weekly basis?
  • As a leader, if you do not feel you have meaningful strategy messaging or talking points ask for them! Connect with your leadership, your strategy office, or internal communications. If you feel like you do not have the important information, then many other leaders probably feel the same way!

Alex Grande Quote

Alex Grande

CEO & Cofounder of Recognizeapp.com

Engaging frontline workers means creating an all for one mentality. Here are a few ways to do this through technology.

Create a two-way communication platform between any employee and leadership. This could be through a tool like Workplace by Facebook, Slack, or Microsoft Teams. But some way for everyone in the company to join in.

Empower managers to help all employees express their opinions through paper forms. Computer vision is so good these days, if you are a 1,000+ employee organization with frontline workers, it is possible for you to manage a paper scanned to text process for feedback submissions.

End of the day, leadership and HR have to break down the computer using back office and on their feet frontline worker. Psychology research into prejudice shows group barriers are broken down when people work together. So find ways for everyone to work together towards a goal! XPO logistics did a weight balance competition to see which truck drivers can get their truck load perfected organized through business social networks with the whole company cheering them on digitally. Your frontline organization can do that too.

Alex Perkins Quote

Alex Perkins

Founder of All the Stuff

Companies that invest in employee appreciation and recognition will reap the benefits of a more engaged and motivated frontline workforce. This will result in better customer service and better customer engagements..

You can have the Employee of the Month program, include them in team buildings and activities, and give them bonuses. Acknowledging and appreciating them with their work is the same as respecting them.

Incentivize, Recognize, Reward

Recognize increases staff productivity, provides company engagement insights, and helps retain top employees. Providing HR with an out-of-box solution since 2012.

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