4 Practices to Keep Your Frontline Employees Engaged with Laurie Reuttimann

Susanne Axelsson

We all know by now that there’s a clear correlation between happy and engaged frontline employees, and the output of an organization. It’s indisputable — if your employees feel motivated, engaged and fulfilled, the value they create is incomparable to that of an employee who feels demotivated, disengaged and unhappy in their work. 

The tricky part is, how do we keep frontline employees engaged? How do we foster an environment where looking for another job is the last thing on their minds? 

Laurie Ruettimann, a panelist at the Global Frontline Experience Summit has the answers you’ve been searching for… 

Laurie has almost thirty years of experience helping companies, leaders and HR departments fix work by creating policies, processes and programs that value the inherent worth of people. 

She’s a respected author, podcaster and speaker, teaching hundreds of corporate companies how to create a work environment optimized on employee engagement and organizational output. 

Laurie knows from experience that if companies put energy into the following four buckets, they’ll see engagement levels amongst their frontline employees soar...

#1 Teach Self-Leadership

We’re constantly hearing about leadership in business settings. How to become a great leader, how to lead with compassion, how to become a respected leader,  it’s all useful stuff. But what we don’t hear a lot about is another form of leadership. A form that Laurie argues to be absolutely essential for keeping frontline employees engaged —  self-leadership. 

Employee engagement activity #1

Laurie describes self-leadership as the ‘art and science of individual accountability’. She says a self leader is someone that’s the boss of their feelings, thoughts and behaviors, no matter who is in charge around them. Self leaders don’t act because someone told them to do something, they act out of initiative, self-motivation, and a genuine desire to perform well in their job. 

Because self-leadership comes from within, we can’t just say “everyone, practice self-leadership!” and suddenly you’ve got a team of self-disciplined, engaged and motivated frontline employees. Managers must foster an environment where self-leadership is rewarded. 

“The idea that you can just preach self-leadership without rewarding, both success and failure is a non starter.”

To properly teach self leadership, managers must focus on positive reinforcement, communication and feedback. In a Harvard Business Review study, it was found that receiving feedback, both positive and developmental was one of the key things that made employees feel valued. Employees that feel valued, are more engaged, and are more likely to become self-leader examples for your team. 

Laurie also stresses that self-leadership isn’t just for when the stakes are high and deadlines are approaching. Self-leadership is a holistic attitude which is practiced and rewarded in the small moments, as well. 

You can not tell someone to be a self-leader, you must create a work environment where they want to become a self-leader. When you successfully create this environment, you create a team of frontline employees who are engaged, committed and motivated. 

#2 Invest in Wellbeing 

‘Wellness’ & ‘wellbeing’ have become trendy, Instagrammable buzzwords that involve scenes of luscious bubble  baths, face-masks, massages, and meditation. While we’re always up for a massage, what Laurie is talking about is wellbeing, without the fluff. She says that  wellbeing is ‘the state of feeling comfortable, happy and healthy’, and she believes the more businesses invest into the wellbeing of their frontline employees, the more engaged they become. 

Employee engagement activity #2

Laurie recommends focussing on three key pillars —  physical, emotional and financial wellbeing. 

Investing in physical wellbeing is particularly important for frontline teams. If your workers are commuting long hours, working in  demanding conditions (particularly with COVID) and dealing with customers on a daily basis, it’s particularly important that they feel good in their bodies. A healthy physical wellbeing is fueled by basic human needs, which are often overlooked by managers. Effective employee engagement activities must encourage good sleep, healthy nutritious meals, regular breaks, and exercise. 

“We need to implement the tools, policies, and practices to make sure we're doing our part so that when we demand self-leadership, when it comes to wellbeing, employees can answer.”

Doing your part may look as simple as providing a free fruit in the staff room, running a team lunchtime nature walk or encouraging workers to have restful breaks. 

The second pillar Laurie recommends investing in is the emotional wellbeing of your frontline employees. This is about providing a space for your frontline employees where they feel safe. This could involve implementing a safe process for workers to raise issues around harassment or bullying, for example. It could involve providing counseling services to employees, or workplace support groups. It could involve regular check ins between managers and employees where work-related and personal issues can be discussed in a safe environment. 

Finally, Laurie stresses the importance of investing in financial wellbeing. As we know from our interview with Rory Sutherland, it is within the hands of our frontline employees that ultimate value is created. So, we should pay our frontline employees accordingly. As much as top management tries to avoid it, a part of valuing and engaging our employees revolves around paying them their worth. 

When you invest in your frontline employee’s physical, emotional and financial wellbeing, you create an engaged and motivated team who are healthy, happy and comfortable in their work.  

#3 Continuous Learning 

If you want to keep your frontline team engaged they need to be learning every day. 

Employee engagement activity #3

When people stop learning, they lose curiosity, drive, motivation and ultimately become disengaged — which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid. 

Learning is rewarding. It broadens one’s horizons, encourages self-development and positively impacts the output of organization. According to Laurie, businesses that fail to invest in continuous learning fail all-together. 

Laurie recommends investing in tools and technology platforms that assist in frontline employee learning. 

“Just because your frontline workers are out there and don’t sit in front of a computer, doesn’t mean you shouldn't invest in technology, tools, and platforms that help them with their learning”. 

As well as coaching tools and technology, activities such as role playing, individual assignments, group training, workplace practice and peer to peer learning are all valuable exercises to keep your frontline team engaged. 

#4 Encourage Risk Taking

The fourth and final practice to keep your frontline workers engaged is to create an environment where calculated risk taking is encouraged. In order to successfully do this, we must teach our teams that failure (to some degree) is okay. If your team is scared of failing, they become stagnant and retcitive in their thinking, which leads to disengagement. 

While we can reinforce to our teams that failure is okay, we can also teach them to de-risk things themselves to ‘remove element of failure, or at least drive it down’. Laurie shares an exercise called the “pre-mortem”, which she recommended managers of frontline teams make time to do. 

She breaks it down into three simple steps: 

  1. Think of an activity that your frontline team would fail at. Not might fail, but would fail.
  2. Set a timer for 60 seconds, and write down all the ways your team will fail, all the ways they would let you down.
  3. Observe your notes — this is your roadmap to success. Address these points, teach on these points and work to mitigate the risk involved. 

You can get your frontline team to complete this activity and compare notes on the challenges you see along the way. According to Dr Gary Klien - completing a pre-mortem improves your chances of success by over 30%

The Top 4 Employee Engagement Activities in Conclusion

To recap, in order to keep your frontline teams engaged you must: foster an environment where self-leadership is encouraged, invest in your employees' physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing, make time for continuous learning with a great experience management platform, and encourage your team to take calculated risks. 

Employee engagement activities

Laurie stresses that by focusing on the four employee engagement activities above, you help improve the lives of your workers as human beings first. 

Subsequently, they become better, more engaged workers. 

“When you focus on the human being, and focus on the human heart, on the soul, you create people who are then secondarily good workers”.

By investing in these pillars you improve the livelihood of your team, while simultaneously improving the output of your organization. 

It’s a win/win for all.

Susanne Axelsson
About the author

Susanne Axelsson

Susanne is the Frontline Community Evangelist as well as the Author and research for Frontline Magic Handbook. She believes happy customers are born out of great experiences. Great experiences are delivered by motivated frontline people.

Susanne Axelsson
About the author

Susanne Axelsson

Susanne is the Frontline Community Evangelist as well as the Author and research for Frontline Magic Handbook. She believes happy customers are born out of great experiences. Great experiences are delivered by motivated frontline people.

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