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Frontline workers play a critical role in ensuring the smooth functioning of essential services. From retail stores and supermarkets to healthcare settings, these employees are the backbone of Australian society, yet they often face unique challenges that impact their engagement, wellbeing, and productivity.

Leading HR departments who support these essential frontline employees are prioritising strategies to support their workforces and address their specific needs. So, what are the key areas of concern for frontline workforces?

Low employee engagement for frontline workers

Recent findings from our Workplace Engagement Index shed light on the significant disparities in engagement and wellbeing between frontline workers and other workforces.

grocery-store-employee

Frontline employees consistently reported lower engagement scores, highlighting the need for targeted interventions. Alarmingly, under the pillar of 'personal and professional wellbeing,' frontline workers scored an average of 5.1 out of 10, significantly lower than hybrid and remote employees at 6.7 out of 10.

Additionally, under the pillar of ‘understanding employee needs and sentiments’ the highest score was reported by remote workers with a 6.2 out of 10 and the lowest score was a concerning 4.2 for frontline workers.

So, what elements lead to these concerning engagement scores? Our research identified a number of persistent issues for frontline workers, demonstrating a clear lack of wellbeing support, psychological safety and recognition.

Frontline employees are crying out for wellbeing support

Almost one in two frontline workers say that workplace concerns have impacted their wellbeing and 43% say they’re concerned about their mental health.

When asked how often they feel stress, overwhelm or burnout, frontline workers saw higher levels across the board when compared to the survey group’s average:

  • 56% of frontline workers frequently experience stress (compared to 38% across the survey cohort);
  • 45% of frontline workers frequently feel overwhelmed (compared to 30% overall);
  • And 47% frequently feel burnout (compared to 33% overall).

Not sure where to start when it comes to employee wellbeing? We've got a few tips and strategies below: 

Psychological safety may be at risk for the frontline workforce

happy retail employeeWe wanted to get a sense of the state of psychological safety for Australian employees in 2024, so we asked a range of questions in our recent survey to better understand this complex area.

According to our research, 52% of Australian employees aren’t afraid to take risks and commit mistakes because their company doesn't have a blame culture, however this sinks to just 26% for frontline workers.

Additionally, 61% say their company supports employees in voicing their views and opinions through proper feedback channels, but this falls to 43% for frontline workers. 

Finally, we asked whether employees feel safe going to HR whenever they have issues with their manager or colleagues and 43% say they do, but only 23% of frontline workers say the same. 

These findings suggest that certain industries and workforces may be more susceptible to psychosocial hazards, negatively impacting employee wellbeing and workplace productivity.

Recognition and rewards essential for frontline workers

One psychosocial hazard identified by Safe Work Australia is inadequate recognition and reward, and that’s clearly something that too many frontline workers experience. 

While one in two Australian employees state that their organisation has a recognition and reward program in place, this drops to just 28% for frontline workers. This is then reflected in lower rates of appreciation with 41% of frontline employees saying they rarely or never feel recognised.
nurse-aged-care

A staggering 71% of frontline workers believe that their wellbeing would improve if they received more recognition and 48% say receiving recognition and rewards makes them feel more productive at work. 

Recognition can also have a big impact on retention with 46% of frontline workers saying that a lack of recognition was one of the key reasons why they had thought about leaving their job in the last six months. Additionally, 43% say they’d consider staying with their current organisation if they received more recognition  

With recognition tied to wellbeing, productivity and retention, it’s clearly an essential tool for HR leaders to leverage when seeking to support their frontline workforces.

We’ve compiled a few tips below on how HR professionals and leaders can boost productivity and better support frontline workers with a culture of continuous recognition.

Boost productivity for your frontline workforce with a culture of recognition

Recognise individuals and teams who are making progress

Research shows that one of the biggest contributors to motivation at work is progress in meaningful work. Use recognition and reward to highlight individuals who are contributing to achieving your company’s mission, displaying your values and accomplishing their individual goals.

Don’t wait for monthly or annual award nominations

Create opportunities for employees to thank each other anytime, anywhere. Increasing the frequency of being recognised and thanked for your efforts not only boosts dopamine for the giver and receiver of recognition, it can help illustrate the link between a person’s individual contribution and your company’s success - a double booster for productivity!

Model recognition from the top

Encourage leaders to use recognition and reward to reinforce the behaviours they want to see repeated. Need a nudge? Create a recurring calendar invite - 15 minutes each week - so you, your managers and executive leaders make the time to recognise someone in the organisation.

Increase the visibility of your unsung frontline heroes

Use recognition and reward to boost the visibility of the unseen, unsung contributors in your organisation. Create a physical or digital recognition wall (or both!) where you can post shout-outs to the individuals who deserve thanks but rarely see their name in lights. The upside of a digital recognition program? Frontline employees can recognise their peers on the go, teams can see the wins from different departments in real-time and managers get alerted each time their team members are recognised.

Keep checking in on your frontline workers

Give your frontline employees the opportunity to provide regular feedback about the R&R experience at your organisation. Run a pulse survey and check employee satisfaction with your recognition and reward offering and other elements of the employee experience.

Want to understand more about the power and impact of a recognition and reward program? Download our eBook: 6 Steps to Boosting Employee Recognition ROI.


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Hend Dabash

Based in our Melbourne office, Hend spends most of her day speaking to HR professionals, and loves discovering what they are most proud of and how she can add value and help make an impact to the initiatives that are on top of their people priority list. Being human and pushing the boundaries is what she does best, along with sharing how Reward Gateway takes steps to making the world a better place to work.

Employee Engagement Specialist

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