3 Steps to Improve Employee Engagement for Frontline Workers

Stuart Sinclair - September 28, 2021

Throughout the pandemic, companies have placed their focus on adapting to the sudden switch to home working. There has been a lot of HR attention given to the process of transferring employees from offices to home working, with efforts concentrated on keeping them happy and productive. But what about the frontline workers? What employee engagement improvement ideas need to be deployed to counteract the additional complexities for those who work remotely or in the community?

The fact is that increased isolation was a challenge to employee engagement for remote workers before the pandemic hit. Millions of people work in the community or private homes (for example, social and domestic care workers, engineers and tradespeople) and many organisations manage multi-site operations, from retailers to charities. The pandemic, however, has made people look for increased connection and sources of certainty. Employers can take this opportunity to figure out how to improve staff engagement and become a symbol of trust to their employees.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development’s communications guide during Covid 19, many organisations had to learn quickly to improve their digital communications routes with employees. Great communication is the number one factor in how to engage employees during uncertain times.

In this blog, we look at the three main factors that have been found to significantly improve staff engagement for remote workers.


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Step 1: Focus on Safety

Address health and safety concerns on a regular basis

It’s no surprise that safety has become the number one topic of concern for employers and employees. Anxiety levels spiked during the first lockdown. The Office for National Statistics reported that 69% of adults felt very or somewhat concerned about the effects of the pandemic on their lives. These mental health problems have the potential to create significant downturns in employee engagement and performance.

Addressing these health and safety concerns can go a long way to reducing anxiety levels.

Employers can find ways to challenge the barriers to employee engagement during difficult times. Publishing a comprehensive wellbeing and safety plan will help employees feel less isolated or give them confidence when dealing with customers.

By using baseline values of honesty and trust, employers can find the positives among the challenges by emphasising the strengths of their people. Combine that with increased visibility (even virtual) of the company’s leaders, and engagement can flourish from optimism, clarity and trust. A study by Perceptyx showed that when employees are satisfied with communications about the company’s response to coronavirus, 96% of them believe that their employer puts their safety first. However, when communication is poor, only 30% of them think so. These employee engagement statistics reveal that employee perception is all-important.

When you’re looking for ways to improve employee engagement, you need to start with the relationship between employee and employer. The foundation of the employee engagement model is the health of the psychological contract between employer and employee. And change generally affects this contract profoundly.

Covid 19 is forcing businesses to make huge changes, so a thorough but flexible communications strategy is needed to explain what is happening and, more importantly, why it is happening. This will reduce the risk of conflict around such potentially contentious matters as workplace surveillance and tracking employee movements. When a company’s workforce is split between home workers, office workers and those working between premises, employees need to understand that keeping track of them is part of a company’s duty to keep them safe.

If a workforce is separated or even feeling disconnected, instilling a sense of safety is a key part of how to improve employee engagement. It is down to the company to identify any required changes to the drivers of employee engagement in this new working environment.

Action Point: Show employees that you care

Send out regular, scheduled communications addressing health and safety concerns. An employee app will help you schedule messages and connect with all staff, including your frontline workers.

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2. Focus on Culture

Extend the company culture beyond head office

A company’s culture doesn’t sit within its offices or factories; it sits within its leaders and people. Businesses are learning that they need to maintain their efforts to keep their staff engaged, but they may need to do things differently. If venues can organise virtual comedy nights, organisations can use a good employee engagement platform to manage recognition, celebration and even social events at a distance.

There is little doubt that the disruption caused by the pandemic has made improving employee engagement more challenging. However, adopting a Covid relevant employee engagement strategy should help maintain motivation, performance and a resilient culture.

Unfortunately, some aspects of employee engagement initiatives often fall by the wayside during times of crisis. Strong companies, though, will make an effort to maintain their core commitments. Some ‘how to improve employee engagement’ tips include:

Action Point: Implement staff development opportunities

Professional online learning has flourished during the lockdown, offering new avenues to companies. A revised learning and development plan, including remote education, could be an important way to improve employee engagement.

Action Point: Encourage continuous improvement

Periods of uncertainty can actually be fertile ground for radical ideas from employees, so it is important to continue to encourage suggestions and feedback via an employee engagement survey. This could include a section on how to improve employee engagement ideas to ensure that the company’s thinking is aligned with its employees’ needs.

Action Point: Offer strategy updates

It’s understandable that companies have gone into survival mode, but messaging on how the business is still striving to reach its goals will reassure employees that they work for a successful company and will improve staff engagement. Employee engagement software will provide a helpful newsfeed for company updates.

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3. Focus on Leadership

Make sure your leaders are active and visible

Company values must be maintained and, indeed, given even higher prominence to improve employee engagement. According to the Chartered Management Institute, emphasising the company’s values to employees is an essential part of leading the workforce through tough times.

Values are demonstrated by everyone in a company, but the leaders are the role models. Senior managers have to engage in rational thinking, particularly in times of crisis. For frontline workers, communication from the senior leadership team is vital. A channel such as an employee engagement app can help communicate the company’s values and establish how important they are in supporting everyone to stay safe and well.

In essence, leaders have to act like governments by assessing the available scientific and medical advice and deciding how best to implement a strategy to protect the business, its employees and its customers. It’s crucial to have clear messaging around that strategy, including steps on how to improve staff engagement.

However, it’s equally important to recognise that plans will have to change as the business landscape adapts to the new normal. Having flexible and responsive communications channels with employees means that companies can update staff, encourage employee voice and increase employee engagement.

Highlighting the company’s values during that messaging will, in turn, make employees feel valued, which is an important component when deciding how to improve employee engagement. This means that all workers, no matter where they are or what they are doing, will work towards the same goal and be included.

Action Point: Keep your leaders front of mind

When your frontline workers are in the field, they are much more likely to feel a disconnect from head office and the management team. Ensure your leaders remain front of mind with regular communications, video messages and updates. An employee app will keep your front workers feeling connected by giving them that vital link to the office, wherever they may be.

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