Three actions to boost frontline engagement and retention

Across most industries, frontline employees are the human interface between the customer and the company. As a result, we typically see significant value creation and value capture happening disproportionately at the frontline.

However, the current experience for frontline workers is challenged, particularly with respect to their social capital—the presence of networks, relationships, shared norms, and trust among individuals, teams, and leaders. According to our research, 55 percent of U.S. frontline workers are dissatisfied with the number of and quality of relationships within their professional networks. Additionally, 72 percent say that they have low sponsorship, and 69 percent report low mentorship.

In turn, it comes as no surprise that 45 percent of frontline workers plan to leave their job in the next 3-6 months.

What can leaders do to increase frontline employee engagement, help strengthen networks, and ultimately retain their workforce?

Current state of frontline networking and engagement strategies

According to our social capital research, 80 percent of frontline employees say that their company provides few connection opportunities at work. However, when asked how frequently they network, almost two-thirds (66 percent) report networking less than once per month or never since the start of 2022.

When we examine frontline worker engagement across specific activities, it’s a similar story:

  • Over half (55 percent) engage with internal corporate communications (e.g., townhalls) fewer than once a month.
  • One-third (36 percent) attend watercooler talks with coworkers less than once a month.
  • Over half (55 and 60 percent, respectively) attend work-related events and gatherings or employee resource groups less than once a month.

Despite this lack of engagement, there are two critical groups with whom frontline employees frequently connect, albeit for work-related reasons: their direct supervisor and coworkers on their team. Fifty-seven percent of frontline workers report going to their direct boss or manager and 83 percent to coworkers on their team for work-related information at least once a week.

Leadership approaches to strengthen networks and improve engagement

We’ve identified three steps that leaders can take to support frontline employees by improving their engagement and strengthening their networks:

  1. Take stock of current frontline employee engagement channels and efforts. Leaders should first evaluate the current channels and strategies they use to engage frontline employees. This may involve assessing attendance or participation in town halls and work events or examining open rates of company-wide communications, for example.
  2. Get input from the frontline on their preferences. While seemingly obvious, a great way to better engage frontline workers and help them strengthen their networks is to get their input. This can be done through formal (e.g., surveys, focus groups) or informal mechanisms (e.g., raising in a team huddle or stand-up, asking folks during lunch).
  3. Invest in frontline managers and peer networks. While frontline workers regularly engage with their managers and coworkers, roughly half say they seek out career advice or guidance and engage in social activities with their colleagues less than once a month. There is a real opportunity to empower frontline managers and peers to create community and build each other’s network. Doing so requires investment in building capabilities, resources to support local events and efforts, and incentives to encourage folks to dedicate their time.

Frontline employees drive significant value for organizations, but our research suggests they are struggling—in terms of engagement and building and maintaining networks at work—more than others. Leaders who effectively support these employees can see tremendous improvement in their ability to attract, mobilize, and retain their frontline talent.

Learn more about our People & Organizational Performance Practice