Frontline workers are the backbone of almost every organization. By definition, these are the people who support or are directly involved in the production, handling, distribution and selling of a product or service. Typically their jobs cannot be carried out remotely, and the jobs they perform do not (or at least need not) require a 4-year college degree.
Unfortunately, all too often these are the very people who are most ignored by company leaders and under acknowledged by company policies. This is not only unfair,but it is bad for business. The question is why?
Let’s start with what it means for an organization to be “frontline-friendly.”
Frontline Careers has a list of criteria that go into being a frontline friendly company. Essentially it comes down to this: Frontline-friendly companies hire, develop, and promote people based on their skills, experience, and potential—not on artificial litmus tests, such as whether they have a college degree. They pay well, provide good benefits, and design their operations with the work-life balance and wellbeing of their frontline employees in mind. They provide career development and advancement opportunities, including training, coaching and real career paths. And they show their respect for frontline workers by taking their thoughts, ideas, and contributions seriously and encouraging them to share in the mission and vision of the organization.
How is this good for business?
At its most basic level, turnover is expensive and disruptive, and treating employees well goes a long way toward retaining them. In addition, developing and promoting from within is more efficient and less expensive than filling upper level vacancies with outside hires. Helping employees grow their careers at your company also prevents training dollars from going down the drain, as disgruntled employees depart for the competition. And it makes maintaining a strong and cohesive culture much easier.
But there’s more…
Frontline workers are quite often the face of the business for customers. The way they interact with those customers plays an outsize role—in some cases the only role—in how customers feel about the company, what they tell their friends about it, and whether they will return for more. It stands to reason that workers who are happier, who feel they are treated fairly, are going to build better relationships with customers. Not only that, but employees who feel a part of the organization’s mission—who understand what it is, and how their role now and in the future play a part in that—have a much higher stake in ensuring that customers are satisfied.
Customer-facing frontline workers are important for another key reason, too. They are the eyes and ears of the company—the literal frontline for hearing from customers. But the feedback they gather on a daily basis is only useful if they feel comfortable sharing it. And whether or not they are customer-facing, frontline workers are deep in the weeds of daily processes and procedures. They are uniquely positioned to know what’s working and what’s not, and to have ideas on how to fix whatever’s broken. Again—this fact only becomes really valuable to the organization if employees feel empowered and inspired to share what they know and suggest solutions.
The world is watching
Finally, in a world in which customers care increasingly about corporate citizenship, how companies treat their employees can have a real impact on the bottom line. And it isn’t only current and potential customers who are watching. Those searching for work are also increasingly aware of the many ways prospective employers may, or may not, be frontline-friendly. Companies who can show they treat frontline workers well are going to have a larger pool of strong talent to recruit.
But don’t take my word for it
Companies large and small have figured out that treating their frontline workers well is good for business. Many have found interesting and creative ways of doing so—and from Nordstrom to Patagonia to Starbucks, they are all famous for both their acclaimed customer service and their overall business success.