Frontline employees have difficult jobs. Since their job involves dealing with customers day in and out, frontline workers have to deal with the immense responsibilities of bringing in new business for the company while also managing and assuaging dissatisfied customers. Very often, the frontline staff is held responsible for any roadblock, ambiguity, or delay in the company’s services, and the constant pressure on them in such situations can put their mental health at risk. This is why mental exhaustion, burnout and high job turnover are common in such roles.
If you are an HR leader whose company or industry relies heavily on frontline staff, managing their wellbeing is a key responsibility for you and your team. This article will give you tips to ensure the wellbeing of your frontline employees. But before that, let’s explore the causes of stress among your customer-facing staff.
Causes of stress in frontline employees
These are the times of customer delight, not just satisfaction. Front-line employees have to demonstrate negotiation skills, become subject matter experts on customers’ queries, provide assurances on business or service aspects that are beyond their control, and patiently listen ear to customers’ issues, even if the latter’s language or tone is not civil.
From call center agents to waiters, frontline employees are thrown various kinds of personalities and situations to deal with. Most of the time, the customer-facing employees are young and emotionally strained due to unruly situations at the workplace. The mental burnout of frontline employees got worse in Covid times, because people didn’t have other channels to take out their frustrations and the world was dealing with uncertainty and panic.
The importance of focusing on the mental health of frontline employees
While there’s (obviously) a strong business case for supporting your frontline workers’ mental wellbeing — viz., that they deal with your customers — it’s also important to recognise their struggles as professionals and individuals.
Many jobs, like those in emergency services, aviation, manufacturing etc., come with occupational hazards and frontline jobs are no different.
In order to ensure good mental health for frontline workers, your organisation needs to focus on culture, work processes, and leadership attitudes. Here are some specific frontline worker wellbeing initiatives you can implement.
Mental health support initiatives for frontline workers
Business and HR leaders can take various measures to ensure the well-being of their frontline employees. Here are some of them.
Get the induction right
Create a great onboarding or induction programme and make sure that the frontline staff is well prepared for their job responsibilities and aware of stress-coping mechanisms. A well-defined induction programme will not only build a foundation of success for your employees; it will also keep frontline staff motivated.
Use stress measurement and management tools
HR managers can further support the mental health of frontline workers by using stress management tools and gadgets such as ‘Best Practice Checklist’ for standardised processes, Standard communication tips for frontline employees, Pressure Situation Profiling Tool, Stress Management Competency Indicator Tools, Quality of Working Life (QoWL) Tools, Affinity Health at Work Output etc.
You can also opt for a wellbeing assessment for your team to get a snapshot of their current emotional health status, which paves the way for remedial measures like counselling or other forms of mental health support.
Continuously take feedback from your employees. Provide channels to report abusive or rude customers and establish models to deal with demanding or difficult ones. For example, the difficult customers (red category) can be allotted to senior frontline staff and junior ones can be allocated only routine requests.
Offer mental health support facilities at work
The wellbeing of the customer-facing employees must be prioritised and a special helpline number must be provided to support their issues and to report violations of integrity or ethics. Employee wellbeing must be made a priority and HR leaders must invest in mental health counselling, support groups, resources, motivational workshops, etc. to support their teams’ mental health.
Provide financial support
Many organisations today are providing reimbursements for services such as recreational classes, fitness equipment, relaxation spa or massages, etc. This tells frontline employees that they are being taken care of, and encourages them to work on their mental and physical well-being.
Create an empathic work culture
Frontline managers must avoid a ‘gate-keeping’ attitude. It is very important that the frontline workers have managers who score high on empathy. Sending emails late at night or keeping a strict watch on employees’ minute-by-minute whereabouts creates unnecessary trauma for employees. Employee wellness must be made a priority and goal for the managers supporting the frontline workers.
Leaders, engage with your frontline staff
Senior leaders of the organisation must reinforce well-being at regular and frequent intervals. For example, your CEO can send out a “Your Well-Being Matters” newsletter every two weeks to frontline employees, or speak to them via a virtual town-hall where (s)he emphasises the importance of workplace well-being and the facilities available to customer-facing employees to deal with stress.
Show them the bigger picture
Most importantly, make sure your customer-facing employees see the value in their work and relate to ‘the bigger picture’. The frontline staff must see how they are contributing to the bigger goals of the organisation. Leaders must foster a sense of purpose in frontline staff and promptly acknowledge and reward good work.
What leaders must do to support frontline staff’s wellbeing
Managers who lead by example and prioritise their own wellbeing also ensure the well-being of their frontline staff. Managers must be seen advocating healthy practices (such as speaking out against tobacco or alcohol abuse or encouraging people to use meditation or exercise as healthy ways to deal with stress). This provides comfort to frontline staff and they begin to mimic these healthy behaviours and attitudes.
Managers must also openly communicate about wellbeing – both emotional and physical – and encourage people to speak about their struggles rather than bottling up their feelings. Rather than merely being target-driven, such managers should have empathy and a high Emotional Quotient (EQ). This will enable them to inspire and empower their teams to deal with the stress inherent to their jobs.
And finally, leaders and managers must create an environment of meaningful interaction and promote engagement within the team so that members become each other’s pillars of support. Group activities like team outings, office-based celebrations, and gratitude exercises are critical to enhance the bonds between the employees.