Employee Experience

Listening to the voice of your on-site and frontline workers

April 7, 2020 // 11 min read

As many employees shift to remote work, we’re learning to adjust to this new way of working. While it’s not easy to make the switch to virtual teams, having the option to work from home is a privilege many do not have.

There are many people who have to be physically present to do their jobs. It’s these roles in healthcare, postal service and delivery, education, public service, utilities, manufacturing, pharmacy and supermarket—to name just a few—that we now value more than ever. We need on-site and frontline employees to continue showing up to ensure our basic human needs are met—and even more importantly—to keep our communities safe and healthy.

Ensuring these workers are safe, healthy and have the support and resources needed to get their job done is emerging as the number one priority across the globe—as this group of people will carry us through this crisis while many of us stay at home.

Employee wellness programs are typically focused on creating environments for optimal health, productivity and engagement. But right now, HR professionals and leaders alike are pivoting back to the basics of managing core psychological and safety needs of employees.

Having an employee listening strategy—and one that’s uniquely positioned to respond to the needs of on-site and frontline workers—is critically important to the well-being of your people and the long-term success of your business.

That said, even organizations with well-established employee-listening programs are grappling with how to pivot how they listen to employees and act of feedback during times of disruption. We’re seeing companies that have mechanisms and governance to connect with employees challenged to gather the real-time insights needed to inform quick decisions and tailor communications for their employee segments during uncertain and rapidly changing contexts.

Many organizations today are able to divide their employees into 2 categories:

  1. Remote: those now working from home
    Connecting with remote workers is generally easier, as they tend to be on a computer or connected digitally in some way. The things we ask should change though, as the experience of these employees during the COVID-19 crisis results in increasing challenges to stay connected, healthy and engaged.
  2. Non-remote: those that have to physically show up to do their jobs
    In contrast, non-remote, on-site, or frontline employees are less likely to be in front of a computer, and their work intensity is likely to be at its highest right now. Therefore a traditional employee survey is likely not the best option at the moment. Yet seeking to understand and respond to the experiences of these employees has never been more important—as their day-to-day feedback will be the information needed to keep them safe, resilient, and enabled to do their jobs.

For companies with listening programs in place, there are a few crucial adjustments needed to get this right. For others who don’t have established employee feedback channels, there’s no time better than now to start.

So what should organizations be thinking about when designing their on-site employee listening program?

We believe there are 3 key areas to keep top of mind when listening to and gathering feedback from this unique employee segment:

  1. Communication
  2. Leadership
  3. Resilience

Read on below for guidance on how to adjust or quickly start your on-site or frontline employee listening program.

1. Listen & communicate thoughtfully

During times of change communication is crucial. But how you communicate is particularly important. Show them that you’re not only listening to their feedback, but hearing and acting on their concerns.

Tip #1: Keep it short and to the point.

Your on-site workers are probably very stretched, so it is more important than ever to keep communication with them concise.

When asking for insights, keep the number of questions low, easy to complete and specific to what you really need to know.

When sharing critical information, avoid lengthy messages, reserve repetition for critical information only and keep the communication succinct by highlighting the key points. If possible, stagger the communications into bite-sized pieces over time (for example, short daily rather than long weekly updates).

Connecting people to the overall purpose of what they’re doing, and showing your appreciation, will go a long way to support them through such a difficult time

Tip #2: Increase the frequency of communication with employees.

During turbulent times, often the demand for information can outpace the rate in which leaders can provide it to their employees. However, it’s critical leaders share updates, no matter how small, on a regular basis.

Tip #3: Show empathy and appreciation.

It’s important to recognize that many on-site or frontline employees are putting their health—and the health of their family—at risk in order for them to deliver the tasks required from them on a daily basis. Connecting people to the overall purpose of what they’re doing, and showing your appreciation, will go a long way to support them through such a difficult time.

Tip #4: Ensure employees are aware of the support available to them.

With things moving so fast, it’s challenging for organizations to connect with each individual to ensure their unique needs are being met. In your communications, provide all employees with clear information on where they need to go and who they need to reach out to when they require support.

Furthermore, by putting in place an employee-listening strategy, you are able to scale reaching out to each individual employee for feedback on the resources and support they need.

2. Demonstrate leadership action

During turbulent times employees look to leadership more than ever for direction and security. While many leaders may not always have all the answers to the questions people have, they should still keep the following in mind to further support their employees.

Tip #1: Be accessible.

Ensure your people are aware of how they can reach out to leaders if needed. Whether this is increased visibility of leaders who are already on-site in worksite or field locations, or it is increased awareness to employees of the feedback channels they have available to them that enables them to reach out.

Use the feedback to tailor your communications—no one wants to hear the same message over and over

Tip #2: Ask for feedback.

Be sure to ask for their feedback, then show how their experiences and well-being are being factored into the decisions and actions that are taken by leadership. By reaching out and directly asking for information on on-site employee experiences, you don’t have to wait for someone to have the courage or find the time to speak up.

Tip #3: Act on feedback.

It’s more important than ever for leaders to listen and act on the feedback from employees. Leaders don’t have to have all of the answers, but if employees are flagging issues in their day-to-day work environment, then it’s leadership’s top priority to help remove those barriers so they can feel safe and productive.

You may not be able to follow up 1:1 with the large amount of data you receive, but make a visible effort to factor in employee insights as an important data point for your decisions.

Tip #4: Tailor your communications.

Use the feedback to tailor your communications—no one wants to hear the same message over and over, so pivot your communications to reflect real-time employee sentiment. And be transparent about how the feedback has been useful in navigating the organization during this time.

3. Build on-site employee resilience

On-site or frontline workers generally push through “when the going gets tough.” But these are unprecedented times—and for many—this reservoir of resilience will be running low. Having the ability to listen to your employees, gather feedback on their sentiment and share updates with employees transparently will go a long way in building resilience.

Tip #1: Monitor & support physical and mental health.

People who are physically and mentally healthy may bounce back quicker and display better productivity. Therefore, it is important to solicit feedback on employees’ physical and mental health so they can be provided with the support they need quickly as issues arise.

The role leaders play in navigating through this time is a critical component of fostering employee resilience

Tip #2: Empower employees.

Workers who feel they have autonomy over their situation and can make decisions that impact them, feel a much greater sense of control. Enabling them to make choices over how and when they do their work may enhance this. Show on-site employees how their feedback and suggestions influence leaders’ decisions, the direction of the company and allocation of resources.

Tip #3: Continue to foster a sense of purpose.

When employees feel connected and understand how their work contributes to the organization's overall goals, they’re likely to feel greater levels of motivation.

Tip #4: Encourage a sense of connection.

It’s the organization’s responsibility to create social support networks across the business and departments, so employees have connections and people to turn to during challenging times.

The ability to share results and feedback from all on-site or frontline employees at a team meeting may help many feel connected to others, knowing they share the same sentiment or have similar concerns.

It’s clear that now more than ever organizations must stay closely connected with on-site and frontline employees—yet, it’s increasingly hard to do this well. However the role leaders play in navigating through this time—including the delivery of impactful communications—is a critical component of fostering employee resilience.

In the coming days, we’ll provide a more in-depth discussion and guidance around how to specifically listen for and act upon on-site employee needs related to health and safety.


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Cecelia Herbert // Lead Employee Experience Scientist

Cecelia Herbert is the Lead Employee Experience Scientist for Qualtrics in Asia Pacific. A Doctor of Organizational Psychology, Cecelia has 20 years experience as a practitioner, academic and consultant in Employee Experience. Coming to Qualtrics from Employee Engagement at Google, her focus is to create workplaces that work for everyone, by empowering organizations across the globe to measure and take action on employee feedback.

Laura Harding // Employee Experience Consultant

Laura has experience working across a range of talent management disciplines. Today, she spends her time advising organizations on how to bring their Employee Experience programs to life by aligning it with the business strategy and purpose.

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