How to connect and engage with your frontline colleagues

Sharon Cooper, our Senior Inclusion & Diversity Consultant, explores what a frontline colleague is, the importance of supporting them in the workplace and how to effectively do this.

Keep reading to learn more.

What is a frontline colleague?

My first thought when I started to write this blog was, what is a frontline colleague? And who are classed as frontline workers? And, when you start to think about it this phrase covers lots of different roles! 

The Cambridge Dictionary definition is:

“Used to describe an employee who deals directly with customers, or who is directly involved in making a product.”

Cambridge Dectionary

Looking at this definition, it really stopped me in my tracks and made me realise this includes a real range of diverse professions, such as (but certainly not limited to):

  • Manufacturing
  • Police officers
  • Teachers
  • Refuge collectors
  • Supermarket workers
  • Nurses/doctors/healthcare workers
  • Trades people
  • Housing officers
  • Delivery drivers
  • Servers in restaurants

No wonder this can feel challenging at times.

How to start the process of supporting your frontline colleagues

The first thing you need to do is think about who your frontline colleagues are in your organisation. There is no hard and fast rule as to who this term relates to.

Once you are clear about which roles you are talking about you can then consider:

Why is it important to support frontline colleagues?

If you have a mix of colleagues who work on your frontline, at home and in an office environment, a one size fits all approach to engagement and inclusion will not work. These colleagues have different preferences, needs, working hours and environments. 

Don’t just assume the standard approach will work, and be understood by everyone.  The danger of this thinking is that it can create a “them and us” culture, especially if colleagues don’t see and hear themselves in the narrative, or believe others are being treated differently from them.  

I have seen this happen so many times where you are likely to hear phrases like “it’s alright for them in the office”, and “suits at the front, boots at the back”. 

Not only are these colleagues having an impact on each other as teammates, but these colleagues are also often in customer and/or client facing positions and have a massive influence on how your customers/clients experience your organisation. 

So, getting this right is vital not only for your culture, but also for the success of your organisation. A truly inclusive organisation will be flexible in its approach to engaging with its frontline colleagues and take the time to understand what works for them, provide different options and listen, respond to and involve the diverse range of voices within it.

How to support and empower frontline staff in the workplace

Once you’ve identified your frontline colleagues, you need a plan of action. Here are some tips on supporting, connecting and empowering frontline staff in the workplace:

Look at engagement surveys

Explore your engagement surveys and ask, what are your frontline colleagues telling you? Analyse the responses and understand what can be done better.

Have truly open conversations with your frontline colleagues

Conversations are crucial to inclusion, and by having open conversations, you can directly find out what things should be changed or what issues are arising.

Ask your frontline colleagues what works for them and involve them in any changes.

Remove technology as a barrier

Don’t just rely on email, Microsoft Teams and intranet communications.

Consider other methods which offer accessibility options and recognise different learning styles such as:

  • Posters and leaflet
  • Guides for managers so they can facilitate a conversation during team meetings
  • Text messages
  • Podcasts
  • Short videos
  • Let’s not forget to utilise face to face opportunities, which many of these colleagues have never stopped having.

Think about timings

Make sure to consider when you are sending out messages or holding inclusion training and initiatives.

Many frontline colleagues have different working patterns or don’t have the flexibility to always attend events at short notice.  Be mindful of this and make sure there are as many options as possible – a great way to showcase inclusion.

Do your frontline colleagues recognise themselves in the messages? 

Think about the stories you are sharing and images you are using in your communications, are your colleagues represented there?

Remember engagement is two ways

Engagement works both ways, and you need to consider how your colleagues can give feedback to your organisation.

If this is just via email, consider introducing other ways, even a simple suggestions box can be highly impactful.

Create trust

To create trust, make sure you respond and feedback to your colleagues.  Even if a proposal or suggestion cannot be implemented, have an honest conversation explaining why.

Look at what is going on externally

Have a think about which inclusion stories are on the news and in the media that you can use to help colleagues see it as something that relates and resonates with them. This may even help them with conversations they could be having within their own homes.

Closing thoughts

My biggest piece of advice is to not assume frontline colleagues are not engaged or not listening to your organisation’s messages.  As with all things inclusion, taking the time to fully understand your colleagues, build trust and have a flexible approach will benefit all your colleagues, not just those on your frontline.

Sometimes it can be disheartening when you have not received the response you were expecting or hoping for following an inclusion initiative, but it doesn’t always mean that the message hasn’t landed. 

In a previous role, I had carried out a large awareness campaign around a number of LGBTQ+ topics, which included awareness webinars open to all, a local conference, reviewing policies and setting up a network group, but I had received little response from my frontline colleagues. 

A few months later, a colleague approached me who worked in one of these roles and shared with me that they were transitioning and would like my support in having the appropriate conversations internally. 

They shared that one of the reasons they felt able to do this at that time was all the work they had seen about LGBTQ+ within the organisation, so it had landed, just not in the way I had expected. 

It reminded me not everyone responds and reacts in the same way or that colleagues might not want to have an active involvement in every initiative!  Sometimes we need to be kind to ourselves and keep the conversations going.

If you are interested in keeping this conversation going, finding out more about connecting with frontline colleagues and joining others in sharing experiences and best practise, sign up for our webinar on the 12 July 2022.

If you’re a member, take a look at our factsheet on connecting with frontline colleagues. If you’re not yet a member, get in touch today to see how Inclusive Employers can help.