Debunking the Myths of Frontline Work

AskNicely Team

Since COVD-19, our perceptions of frontline workers have dramatically shifted. Most of us have a newfound appreciation for supermarket workers, hospitality staff, bus drivers, sanitation workers and all of the other incredible people who serve us every day. Yet despite this shift, untrue generalizations about frontline workers still exist. These myths block companies from tuning into the frontline experience, which ultimately damages their customer experience.

So, let’s debunk some myths, and reveal the truth about frontline work.

Myth 1: Frontline workers are a cost, not an asset.

Too often, companies view their frontline employees as a cost when in reality, they’re one of the most crucial parts of the value creation process.

“The standard model sees humans now as a cost, not as a co-creator of value in the system. And this I think is really, really dangerous and fatal.” says Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of the Ogilvy & Mather Group and guest at the Global Frontline Experience Summit 2021.

We all know the indisputable link between customer centricity and profitability. But what many people forget is, there’s also an indisputable link between the frontline, and customer experience. You can’t be customer centric, if you’re not frontline-centric first.

Your frontline team are the people responsible for blowing your customers away, therefore they should be coached, supported and empowered as the precious assets they are, rather than being undervalued, underpaid and undertrained.

Case in point: the Royal Mail UK. A recent case study looked into which metrics best coincided with people’s love for the brand of the Royal Mail. The results debunk the myth that workers are a cost in a heartbeat. The single best predictor of someone’s attitude to the Royal Mail, by a long shot, was whether they liked their postman.  

When you tap into the experience of your frontline, and begin to treat them as your greatest asset, you unlock a whole new world of customer loyalty, repeat business and referrals.

Myth 2: Frontline Demotivation is Unsolvable

A recent report by Gallup found that only 36% of employees feel engaged and motivated in the workplace. That’s not because employee demotivation is unsolvable, but because many businesses are taking the wrong approach to frontline support and empowerment.

Here are the do’s and don'ts when it comes to motivating frontline teams:


• Recognize achievements, big and small.
• Provide employees with customer feedback.
• Focus on learning, not pressure.
• Provide workers with the tools and technology they need to succeed.
• Listen to the frontline, ask what they need to feel empowered in their work.
• Connect your frontline to a wider purpose.
• Provide a clear path of career progression.


• Set unrealistic goals and KPIs.
• Rely on annual performance reviews.
• Disconnect the frontline from the bottom line.
• Micromanage.
• Implement processes without first listening to the frontline.

Need some further guidance on motivating your frontline teams? Laurie Reuttimann has your back.

Myth 3: AI Will Replace All Frontline Work:

“Anything that humans can do, robots can do better.” That’s until you've spent a stressful portion of your day trying to communicate with an automated bot, or cursing at the self-checkout as it tells you to ‘remove items from the bagging area’ for the 6th time.

The need for human connection will never go away. In fact, in the era of AI, humans as differentiating problem-solvers are likely to become more important than ever.

Let’s take a look at the role of a doorman at a 5 star hotel, to debunk this myth. When you look at a doorman’s role in a functional way, their role is to simply open the door. Yes, they could easily be replaced with an automatically opening door, or in fact leave guests to open the door for themselves. However, the doorman’s role is not just about opening the door. Not only is his role about guest recognition, hailing taxis and offering security, but at the core, his role is to say, face-to-face, as a human, “It’s good to see you again, Bob”. His role is about forming relationships with guests, helping them, providing a service to them. A service that an automatic glass door, no matter how hard it tries, simply cannot provide.

Myth 4: Frontline Work is Unskilled Work

The term ‘unskilled work’, is often interchangeably used with the term ‘frontline work’. Not only is this offensive, but it’s also completely untrue.

The coronavirus crisis has revealed that those who are often deemed as ‘unskilled’ are absolutely crucial to our society - and deserve not only more respect, but better pay, more support and improved conditions.

As Will Hayes from the Tribune magazine so rightly asks, what even is skill? “Take one job generally considered highly replaceable: is it not skilful to dash tirelessly between scores of impatient diners, a dozen plates delicately balanced in muscle memory along your forearms and knuckles – all the while exuding the simultaneous auras of cheeriness, empathy, composure and servility?”

We think it is.

We have a funny feeling that most people that deem frontline work as unskilled, have never worked in a frontline role.

Frontline work is difficult, and requires the ability to work under immense pressure, to communicate effectively with customers, to multitask and to work in a team.

Myth 5: Performance Reviews Are Enough.

Spoiler alert: they’re not.

While performance reviews are better than no feedback, they’re not enough to support the frontline. Think more: ongoing recognition and coaching over impersonal performance reviews.

Ever since we were in kindergarten and got gold stars for doing well, we’ve known that human behavior is best motivated by frequent positive feedback. It turns out that there’s a whole field of research (“positive psychology”) that supports the idea. Recognition for good work releases dopamine in the brain, which creates feelings of pride and pleasure. Better yet, that dopamine hit cements the knowledge that more of that behavior will create more praise, which motivates people to continue to achieve.

However, if recognition is not regular, research shows that the effect wears off within a week, so frequency is important, meaning, annual performance reviews aren’t really moving the needle.

The solution? Customer feedback presents an efficient and repeatable way to ensure that frontline staff hear a regular ‘heartbeat’ of appreciation for a job well done. At a company level, managers can monitor trends and themes and provide occasional praise where improvements have been made or goals have been achieved.

To recap:

• Your frontline workers are an asset, not a cost.

• You can create a team of motivated, empowered frontline workers, you just need the right approach.

• Robots are not always better than humans, many fields need real humans to deliver real experiences.

• Frontline work is hard! Teams must have the support, tools and technology they need to succeed in their roles.

• Catching people doing things right wins over performance reviews.

Want to learn more tools and techniques that will empower your frontline teams to deliver exceptional results? The Global Frontline Experience Summit is back in Feb 2022! Brought to you by AskNicely in partnership with our community Frontline Magic. Learn everything you need to know here.

AskNicely Team
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AskNicely Team

AskNicely Team
About the author

AskNicely Team

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