How to Strengthen Relationships With Frontline Workers

April 2022
Share this article

Nurses, teachers, manufacturing line workers, transportation, retail and restaurant employees risked their safety to earn a paycheck and keep society functioning during this global health crisis. They didn’t have the luxury of staying home. 

Now, these same employees are looking for ways to feel seen and heard by management — perhaps there’s even talk of joining a union. Workers in all industries and workplaces have reported feeling exhausted and, in some cases, underappreciated by management during the ongoing pandemic, leading to the widely reported Great Resignation.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to escalate to this point, as long as your internal communications team is paying close attention to employee engagement and ensuring that all workers are being heard. 

Here are five ways an internal comms team can bolster relationships between frontline employees and corporate:

1. Create a culture of transparency. 

When a company is open and honest with employees about its plans and operations, workers will also be open and honest — with one another, with management and with customers. A lack of transparency results in a secretive environment in which employees don’t know who to trust. And when workers stop trusting the company, the real problems start. 

Too often, corporate secrecy is an approach taken by management to “protect” employees from bad news. For example, the global shipping crisis and consequent components shortage caused many manufacturers to cut hours for line workers. 

But if the company never bothers to explain the “why” to its workers, it can create distrust. It’s not easy to break this kind of news to your employees, but it must be done. This is an opportunity to explain to your employees how the shipping crisis affects all companies in your industry. 

2. Practice active listening. 

Does your internal communications team conduct regular surveys or send invitations for employee feedback? And more important, when employees take the time to respond to your calls for feedback, does anything change?

An employee listening program helps communicators understand the frontline employee experience and share these learnings with management. When gathering feedback from frontline workers, it’s crucial for internal communicators to ask questions about policies and procedures that can be changed realistically. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Most of all, you must be able to demonstrate that corporate has heard their frontline workers’ concerns and are going to take action.

3. Give a voice to the most vulnerable workforce segment. 

As an internal communicator, you have an opportunity to provide a platform for frontline workers who have been toiling away over the last two years of challenging circumstances. While our research shows that nearly half (48%) of frontline employees are still engaged at work, there is still a great deal of room for improvement in regular communication. 

Recent research from Axonify shows that 50% of frontline workers are preparing to leave their current jobs, with 58% citing burnout as the top reason. That number is even higher with Gen Z workers (63%). These employees are exhausted and have likely experienced some COVID-19-related trauma, either on the job or at home. They need a place within the company where they can voice their concerns and frustrations and, if necessary, ask for help. 

4. Lean into employee socialization. 

Shutting down employees’ ability to converse freely with one another is never a good strategy — and it’s likely to backfire. Not only should internal communicators encourage frontline workers to interact, but they should provide them a place to connect. 

5. Talk to every employee. 

The first thing that should happen when frontline workers express their discontent is for management to show their faces. Our research shows that even though the pandemic has prevented regular in-person meetings, nearly 57% of frontline workers prefer to receive face-to-face communication.

Now more than ever, internal communicators must serve as a conduit between frontline workers and leaders. They need to enable supportive conversations with employees about their well-being, job expectations, growth/development goals, benefits and pay, and more. These conversations can uncover risk factors for union organization or staff turnover. They can also show employees that management truly cares about them as human beings. 

Through these one-on-one conversations, leaders can learn more about what motivates employees and make their work experience better. In turn, leaders can make informed changes that improve their holistic employee experience — and, ultimately, earn employees’ loyalty and commitment.

The bottom line is, transparent communication with employees that results in positive change in the workplace can truly foster strong employee relations. 

Return to Current Issue Employee Communications | April 2022
Share this article

Subscribe to Strategies & Tactics


*Strategies & Tactics is included with a PRSA membership