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Supporting frontline employees must be the new normal

December 28, 2021 - 17 min read


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What is a frontline employee?

Who are frontline employees?

How to empower and support frontline employees

How to motivate frontline employees

Today’s business world needs a new approach, fresh leadership, and an increased focus on the employees at the heart of every company.

The world has changed dramatically in the last few years. Businesses need to change with it.

It’s becoming more important than ever to support your frontline employees. Better support for your frontline workers means greater agility for your organization.

Frontline workers are critical to productivity and your business’s reputation. They provide key services that enable your business and society in general to function. 

Let’s look at why making frontline workers feel supported and valued is so important now and in the future to come.

What is a frontline employee?

Essential employees are workers that fulfill essential civic functions. These vital roles enable public service infrastructure to function.


Many frontline workers don’t have their own workspace and cannot work remotely. Depending on their role, they may not have the same access to technology that other workers have. 

This can make communication and management of frontline employees more challenging.

Examples of frontline workers include: 

  • Supermarket cashiers 
  • Police officers 
  • Administrators 
  • Janitors

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, people have become more aware of how they can support frontline workers.

Many frontline workers’ mental and physical health suffered during the pandemic. This may be because of the number of people they have to interact with physically. 

Or it may be due to the significant stress involved in changing how they work to mitigate health risks and meet business needs during an already difficult time.

Who are frontline employees?

Frontline employees are found in many industries. Each industry’s workers may differ in terms of roles and responsibilities, but all are helping businesses get work done.

Here are some examples:

Food and agriculture

  • Chefs and waitstaff: Any employees involved in the preparation and selling of food in restaurants.
  • Bartenders: Any employees involved in the preparation and selling of beverages in bars and restaurants.
  • Agriculture workers: All employees involved with cultivating crops or looking after livestock.


Emergency services

  • Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs): Responsible for providing urgent treatment for injuries. Emergency medical technicians also provide transport to medical facilities.
  • Police: Responsible for maintaining and enforcing public order and civil laws.
  • Firefighters: Primarily responsible for responding to fires, but their job often includes responding to other emergencies.
  • Military personnel: Assist in civilian peacekeeping and disaster response. They are usually only called in by the government in extreme circumstances.


    • Nurses: Employees involved in providing palliative care in medical facilities.
    • Doctors: Primary medical personnel that provide palliative care and surgical treatment.
    • Hospital workers: Employees dealing directly with patients and patient support are considered frontline workers. These may include reception staff, janitors, and orderlies.
  • Pharmacists: Health professionals that dispense prescription medications to patients.


  • Retail sales associates: Employees responsible for advising and interacting with customers on the sales floor.
  • Cashiers: Employees responsible for ringing up customer purchases.
  • Team leads: Retail employees that are responsible for the supervision of other employees.
  • Beauty therapists: Employees that provide beauty therapies to clients in health spas and beauty salons.

Transportation, warehouse, and delivery

  • Factory floor workers: All employees whose work requires them to be present in person in a factory. Examples include machinists and line workers.
  • Warehouse associates: Employees involved in the receiving, processing, and sending out of warehouse stock.
  • Truck drivers: Employees required to drive transport vehicles in person.
  • Employees in critical manufacturing: Employees working at businesses that manufacture parts and equipment required for critical services.

Government and community-based services

  • Teachers and educators: Employees involved in providing teaching and tuition, whether in person or remotely.
  • Energy sector employees: The employees involved in providing oil, gas, and electricity. 
  • Water and wastewater management employees: Employees responsible for providing potable water. They are also responsible for treating wastewater.
  • Chemical manufacturers: Employees involved in producing industrial chemicals.
  • Janitorial sanitation teams: Employees responsible for cleaning and hygiene. Janitorial teams work in public, commercial, and industrial buildings.
  • Pharmaceutical workers: Employees involved in the manufacture of medicines and medical supplies.
  • Waste collectors: The employees involved in the collection, processing, and disposal of waste.


Industrial, commercial, residential facilities and services

  • Construction site employees: All employees required to work in person on construction sites. This includes general laborers, health and safety officials, and site managers.
  • Building managers: Employees responsible for the daily operations and maintenance of business properties.
  • IT support teams: Employees responsible for the digital infrastructure and telecommunications of a business. IT teams are of critical importance in today’s remote work world.

Most industries have employees classified as frontline. In the US, there were around 31.67 million frontline workers in 2020

How to empower and support frontline employees

Some frontline employees may be going through COVID PTSD as they deal with returning to work. When frontline staff isn’t supported, they may begin to suffer from feelings of languishing.

Here’s how you can empower and support them:

1. Present a clear vision

Presenting a clear vision of your company and its goals increases job satisfaction and buy-in. Your vision needs to be clear enough that employees at all levels of your business can understand it. A clear and concise vision is easier to communicate. 

Ideally, your vision should shape the entire culture of your business.

Make sure your employees understand the vision and goals of the business so that they can incorporate them into their own work. Having a clear vision also increases employee engagement.

As more employees are working remotely, it is increasingly important to ensure they still feel engaged and included.

2. Give and ask for feedback

Your frontline workers can be a great resource for your business. Sometimes, they are the employees that know your customers the best. They know the typical issues and problems that your customers are facing.

Ask for and use feedback from your employees. This way, you can streamline processes and spot potential issues. Letting employees know how their feedback improved your systems helps foster collaboration.

Give your employees a voice, and let them know that you are listening. They will feel more valued. Employees who feel valued are more likely to be productive. They are also more likely to stay with the business.

3. Have open and clear communication

Empower your employees by establishing open and clear communication channels. Good communication is a two-way street. So, you should make sure you listen as well as talk

Ensure your frontline employees feel that they can raise their concerns with their managers. By allowing them to speak up for themselves, you will make your employees feel part of a team.

4. Ensure they have the right tools to do their job

For frontline employees to be able to do their jobs effectively, they need to have the right tools. Without the right tools, you can’t expect your employees to feel empowered.


Providing them with the right technology will instill confidence in your employees. And with the right tools, they will be better able to focus on their job.

A great example of this is the way technology has changed the role of nursing

Portable monitors give healthcare workers the freedom to check on patients quickly, even when occupied with other tasks. Electronic medical record (EMR) systems allow nurses to quickly access critical patient information and reduce the need for paperwork. 

Empowering frontline employees with the correct resources also gives them more autonomy. They can then make more decisions without permission from a manager or supervisor.

5. Ensure basic hygiene factors are in place

Providing a safe and hygienic work environment has always been important. But in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become vital.

Communicate and ensure that all appropriate health and safety procedures are followed. Doing so shows your employees that you value their well-being.

Make sure that appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is used to reduce any workplace risks. PPE should be readily available and always accessible. 

If your employees feel safe, they are more likely to be more productive and motivated.

6. Provide coaching and support

Coaching is a tool that can empower people at all levels to leverage their unique strengths and achieve their goals. It also lays a foundation for holistic wellness by focusing on their mental health.

Coaching and support help develop your employees' skills and confidence. This focus on employee experience will result in more resilient and productive frontline workers.

How to motivate frontline employees

In any position, employee motivation is a key factor in business success. Motivating frontline employees can take on many forms, including: 

1. Foster a sense of purpose

Fostering a sense of purpose in an employee’s work is important. It communicates the idea that their work goes beyond metrics and sales. 

Help employees see how their job directly improves the lives of others. The fact that they provide services that are beneficial to other people is a driving force for many employees.

2. Recognize and reward high performance

Recognizing and rewarding employees is one of the best ways you can make them feel valued. Like all employees, frontline workers appreciate being recognized for their efforts.


Leaders with reward power can use recognition and reward systems to increase motivation. These might be tangible rewards, like extra time off or a gift card. Or it could be intangible, such as company-wide recognition and praise.

Offering rewards to high-performing employees empowers them to pursue great things. It also incentivizes healthy performance and productivity.

3. Invest in great onboarding programs

When you are a newly-hired frontline employee working in a fast-paced environment, keeping up with all your tasks is not an easy task. This is where efficient onboarding and a new hire checklist is key.

Employee motivation starts at the beginning. So, you should invest in great onboarding programs. This will create a foundation for their success.

A great onboarding program should clearly communicate the organization’s vision. It should also introduce new employees to the culture of the business and ensure they have the right tools.

4. Provide opportunities for skill development

Continue building on the foundation of great onboarding with ongoing training programs. Provide opportunities for skill development through on-the-job training and self-directed learning

Employees are more motivated if they know that there are opportunities to learn and grow their careers. It also promotes employee retention.

5. Give more autonomy

Give your frontline employees more autonomy and decision-making abilities. Delegating authority will motivate them by making them feel more involved in the business. 

Where possible, give employees the latitude to decide how they want to do their job. Over-specifying and telling people exactly what to do is demotivating. It can also prevent a sense of purpose.

By placing greater trust in your employees, they will feel more motivated and valued.

6. Invest in their career development

Invest in your employee’s career development. This demonstrates your interest in their long-term career. It also shows that you value them as individuals. This is likely to motivate your frontline employees even more and foster a sense of belonging.

As an employer, you will also benefit from more skilled frontline workers. Your business will be more resilient and more likely to attract new talent.

Support frontline employees in ways that matter

The global response to COVID-19 has shown how important supporting the frontline workforce is.

Supporting these essential workers in ways that matter means paying attention to them. This includes paying attention to their well-being and their value as individuals.

The fast-changing pace of business requires agility and adaptability. By developing your frontline workers, you make them agile. And by supporting them, you make them adaptable.

Doing things differently in the ‘new normal’ doesn't have to be a challenge. Learn to empower and motivate your frontline employees with BetterUp. Get in touch with one of our expert coaches today.


Published December 28, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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