Employee Engagement

Keeping frontline employees motivated and connected to their work

At Crew, we believe employee engagement is absolutely critical to the success of any business, especially ones involving distributed, frontline teams. That's why we've collected this resource covering everything you need to know about the role of employee engagement with a frontline workforce, and how to strategically and effectively engage your employees. The BLS estimates that nearly 60% of the U.S. workforce falls into the category of ‘frontline workers’ and without them, our society would quite literally cease to function.However, in spite of their majority status and the critical work they do, frontline workers are frequently misunderstood and, as a result, often wholly overlooked by the leaders who employ them. Read on for a breakdown of what you need to know to successfully engage your workforce. 

Defining employee engagement

Engage for Success, a UK-based organization which aims to promote awareness and understanding of the role that engagement plays in the workplace, defines employee engagement as follows: 

“Employee engagement is a workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of an organisation to give of their best each day, be committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being.” 

In the case of consumer-focused services businesses with distributed - or sometimes called ‘deskless’ - workforces, one of the biggest challenges is getting them to feel connected to and engaged with the company. This issue is reflected in the overwhelmingly high turnover rates  - sometimes over 100% - seen in many industries relying on a workforce that is predominantly on the frontline. Being able to truly connect and engage with these employees is critical to the success and longevity of your business. 

According to data from a Gallup poll, the bulk of employees in the US and Canada report growing disengagement with their work; 54% self-identify as "not engaged," meaning that they lack motivation and are thus less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes. Worse, 18% identify as "actively disengaged," indicating they are unhappy and unproductive at work and - potentially liable to spread that negativity to coworkers. That means only 29%, less than a third of employees, report feeling engaged at their jobs. Clearly this is a chronic problem that desperately needs to be addressed.

How engaged are workers in the US/Canda?

This problem compounds even further when narrowing the focus to hourly employees and the levels of engagement they report. HBR reports that frontline workers as a category exhibit among the very lowest levels of motivation among all categories of U.S. workers. A staggering 85% of frontline workers report not being engaged at work. And the result of all of this is incredibly high turnover and heavy costs to your business (see ‘How does effective employee engagement impact your bottom line?’ below for more on this topic). 

It’s also important to keep in mind that employee engagement is not the same thing as employee satisfaction. This distinction is critical, because “satisfaction” is often a one-way road. People may feel content when their expectations, needs, and desires are met. However, even if your employees are satisfied with a raise, an opportunity to earn extra hours, or simply an easy commute, they can still feel distinctly disengaged with the work they’re doing, the company’s leadership and ultimately, the service they deliver to customers. Ignoring this vital difference can have tremendous ramifications for your bottom line. 

Why engagement matters

The data shows that companies with engaged employees are far more likely to deliver on their financial objectives than those with disengaged staff. TDn2K’s research notes that restaurant managers with engaged teams report 41% lower absenteeism, 70% fewer accidents, a 24% decline in turnover and, conversely, much higher productivity (24%) and sales (20%). Translating this into the actual cost to a business demonstrates just how damaging this can be for those in retail or restaurant industries, where margins are already razor-thin. According to a Forbes report on a 2019 Gallup poll,

“When [complacency around employee engagement] translates into dollars, you’re looking at the cost of 34% of a disengaged employee’s annual salary, or $3400 for every $10,000 they make.”

Engaged employees are those who thoughtfully participate in their jobs, who feel as though their work is both valuable and valued. When employees feel engaged with the organization’s mission, they go above and beyond because their job becomes more meaningful than simply a paycheck. People show up for their shifts, serve customers happily, and contribute more to every aspect of store operations.

Creating engaged employees

Where is this overwhelming disengagement coming from? And how to overcome it? 74% of polled employees report that they want a job where they feel like their work matters. In this section, we’ll outline some of the critical areas of focus and best practices that will impact your employee engagement. 

Culture is playing an ever-bigger role in the engagement of employees and the success of a business. When employees feel that they’re working for a company that has distinct values and goals that they’re working towards, they are motivated to work harder and feel more deeply engaged with the work they do. 

A recent study showed that 61% of employees don’t know what their company’s mission statement is. Especially with a predominantly millennial workforce, feeling personally tied to a company’s mission is deeply powerful for retention. In fact, recent research from LinkedIn’s Workplace Culture report indicates that nearly 90% of millennials would take a pay cut if it meant working for a company whose mission and values aligned with their own.

It’s important to say that we are by no means advocating for lower wages for your employees - we cite this stat to instead really illustrate just how important a defined and strong company culture is. And while company culture is important for employees, it also ultimately translates into stronger business outcomes as well. A survey of roughly 40 digital transformations by Boston Consulting Group found that organizations that focused on cultural change as part of their digital transformation projects had a much higher rate of financial success (90%) than those that neglected culture (17%).

If culture comes first, performance will follow.

44% of employers agree that employee recognition is important. But as the list of competing business priorities grows - particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis - it can be easy to let employee appreciation fall to the bottom. However, there is compelling research that shows why recognizing employees is a crucial piece of employee and engagement - and vital to companies’ overall success. 

:: Read more: How employee recognition can boost your most critical metrics :: 

Employee recognition is a key driver in motivating employees in the workplace, with 78% of employees reporting they would work harder if they were better recognized, according to Globoforce. And research by economists at the University of Warwick back that up. They found employee happiness led to a 12% spike in workplace productivity. To put it simply, happy, engaged employees are productive employees, leading to a more efficient workforce overall.

An  important - and often overlooked - part of seeking and cultivating positive attitudes among your workforce is modeling that yourself. In a position of authority, Cathy Blankman, Growth Leader at K-Mac Enterprises said that recognizing the extra effort people put in or the exemplary job they do on different tasks cascades down, until the act of recognizing good work and spreading positivity is across every level of the organization. Crew makes this easy to implement and encourage with the use of Gold Stars, a powerful recognition tool that is both engaging and motivating for team members.  

Learn more about how to build a strategic approach to recognition with insights from other Crew customers - watch our free webinar replay on Building a Recognition Culture

Learning & Development
Demonstrating to your employees that you are investing in them and care about their future with the company will in turn encourage them to invest their own energy and effort in the business. 

Since K-Mac Enterprises, a franchisee of Taco Bell with over 300 locations and 6,000 employees, prefers to promote from within, having additional exposure to standout employees is key to helping to identify employees who demonstrate the passion and skills to move up in the organization. For example, when a shift lead or general manager posts a person’s photo to Crew’s digital workplace with a comment about their performance, employees realize that their contributions are important and valued, and above-store management can more easily identify promising talent. Hear more from Cathy Blankman, Growth Leader, and her team about how K-Mac Enterprises uses Crew to grow talent across their organization

Give your employees the chance to take on more responsibilities, transition to new roles within the company, and get promotions. To reflect this increase in responsibility, make sure to recognize this with increased pay raises and new titles. One Crew customer even uses the Gold Star leaderboard as a way to identify top performers and potential talent.

Learn three ways that Crew customers are successfully engaging their team members in our blog post: Is employee engagement a lost cause? 

Measuring engagement

As with any other metric that impacts your bottom line, measuring employee engagement is an important part to honing your strategy, making incremental improvements and keeping track of your progress. 

Conducting regular pulse surveys are a quick and simple way to get a read on how employees are feeling as well as identify areas that need more focus. Whether you send out a short, one or two question survey on a weekly basis or send longer-form surveys with more detailed questions - or both! - this will allow you a view into how engaged employees are and what is working to accomplish that goal. 

Understand your rate of retention 
To understand how well any of your employee engagement efforts are working, you need to first understand your starting point. To do so, designate a period of time to drill into. Next, determine how many employees were working for you during this timeframe - let’s say that number is 200. Next, determine how many of these employees left during this timeframe - let’s say that number is 20. Finally, do a bit of simple math: Divide the number of employees who left by the number of employees, and then multiply by 100. In this case, the equation would be 20/200 x 100 = 10. That means that you had 90% retention of your employees during this timeframe.

For more tips on this topic, read 4 steps to understanding and improving employee retention. To build a robust retention plan, check out our post on reducing employee turnover. 

Track the reach of your communications 
Marie Wagner, the Human Resources Supervisor at Brown’s Super Stores, talked about how she and her team use Crew’s Command Center to keep track of the reach of their top-down broadcast Announcements. 

“With Crew’s Command Center, I can keep an eye on who’s engaging with our conversations and content, or who’s frequently volunteering to cover shifts. We make note of these folks for future opportunities, so Crew has turned into a great tool for identifying potential leaders.” 

With a digital workplace tool like Crew, you can send out important information to your employees and understand how many have seen, reacted to and taken action on the information. This will make it easy to understand how your communications are resonating and just how engaged your team is.