What is a 'frontline employee'?
March 7, 2023 / Frontline Employee Blog
What is a frontline employee?
Frontline employees have many names: hourly workers, associates, casual workers, etc. Examples of frontline workers are those who staff retail and grocery stores, restaurants, warehouses, hospitals and health clinics, and manufacturing locations. Frontline workers are essential to delivering brand promises, from selling food and goods to producing and shipping widgets to proving patient care and everything in between.
Frontline workers make our society and economies work — this has always been the case. However, it was the outset of the COVID-19 epidemic and global lockdowns that shocked the world into seeing frontline workers as they always have been: essential.
The fragility of the frontline employees
Employers have historically relied on inexpensive, readily available labor. This approach to human capital was contingent on the ability to replace employees quickly. That way of thinking was put to test in 2020 — that way of thinking is long gone.
Why? A frontline employee is a customer of employment. When the product (employment) no longer fit the needs of employees, they stopped buying it. A collective period of reprioritization forever changed the workforce.
Two major factors that lead to the reprioritizing of what matters in frontline work are: pay and flexibility.
The increase in the cost of living has far outpaced wage growth. This financial stress has been building for decades.
WorkJam explored “The Economic Impact of Missing a Single Shift” in a 2019 study. The 1,000 hourly employees surveyed exposed the far-reaching implications of missing a single shift. Respondents cited the devastating effects of what happens when their paycheck gets reduced as the result of a one-shift difference:
- The inability to pay utilities on time (49% of respondents)
- Missing rent (27% of respondents)
- Foregoing groceries for a week (25% of respondents)
For this reason, flexibility to decide when and where to work in order to earn more and protect earnings is important to frontline workers. Employers who did not adapt to the needs of the modern workforce before the pandemic are now playing catch-up.
How is frontline employee power shaping the future?
Employees have more power than they ever have before. We see it manifesting itself in many ways — unionization, quitting, and wage increases are a few examples.
One stat showcases this new power better than any other — the relationship between open or “vacant” jobs and the number of people who are unemployed.
Employers are left to decide: “How do I become the employer of choice?”
What are the four pillars of frontline work?
Employers know the formula for output is “labor hours x productivity.”
With new constraints on labor, the productivity question becomes: “How do I do more with less?”
Despite the abundance of frontline work and changing labor dynamics, technology initiatives have often focused solely on desk-based workers. Simply put, frontline workers have been left behind.
But technology does exist to impact frontline workers and their productivity. The key is to focus on enablement, execution, and engagement through the 4 essential pillars required to manage the frontline:
- Shift swapping, shift pooling & shift management
- Employee learning
- Two-way communication
- Task management
These pillars provide frontline employees with the tools to work when and where they want — flexibility that fits their lives. Together, the pillars foster community and provide a sense of accomplishment by employees efficiently completing work.
For employers, the 4 pillars increase shift coverage while avoiding the need to hire additional people. They provide transparency and new data points to improve processes. And the pillars build a culture of learning that continually upskills the workforce.
Frontline employees are everywhere. They are critical pieces of society and are key contributors to delivering your business objectives.
The two major questions that help address business needs (1) How do I become an employer of choice? and (2) How do I do more with less? are two sides of the same coin. They have the same solution: Connect your frontline back into your business.
Coincidentally, the outcomes of a connected frontline are happy, engaged employees that have higher productivity. Win-win-win.
If you have questions about how to connect your frontline back into your business, request a consultation.