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Topic: Leadership

How to help frontline employees during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Whether it’s helping patients, driving supplies across the country, stocking shelves, fulfilling take-out orders, delivering packages, or working on the factory floor to make crucial products, your frontline employees are in the direct line-of-fire during the current pandemic. The risks of getting sick, becoming burned out, or losing their jobs is high. Fear and anxiety are high. But you can help these everyday heroes to thrive. Here’s how:

Better social distancing

Most frontline employees can’t work from home. So help them stay safe at work. Beyond sanitation and personal protective equipment, changing up the way you work can help. Gary Peterson, Executive Vice President of Supply Chain and Production at O.C. Tanner, modified how his teams worked together during the crisis dramatically. Here’s how:

Instead of having employees switch teams throughout the day—which was a normal practice to help employees build skills, improve collaboration, and combat fatigue from doing the same task for 8 hours a day—Gary broke up his team of 200 employees into smaller groups and had them stay with their same group, and assignment, for the entire week. That way they only interact with the same 5 or so employees each day to limit the risk of infection. In the cafeteria, workers are asked to sit one per table to further enable social distancing. But they are still encouraged to interact with one another from a distance. These temporary measures are a change from how Gary’s teams normally work, but the process is helping us to keep employees safe while also maintaining productivity.

Communicate daily

Gary’s teams also communicate daily through huddles, something they did even before the pandemic hit. Every morning each team gathers to share the goals for the day, performance from the day before, recognition for great work, and any new information or messages from the company. Post-pandemic, new smaller groups still meet daily, standing a little further apart, with leaders and other team members who can now participate via virtual conference call.

Companies can also support and encourage frontline employees by communicating more often. Our VP of HR, Mindi Cox, sends daily updates with inspiring thoughts, information on how the company is doing, client updates, and any new changes in policies and procedures. The information is transparent, honest, and detailed, but also funny and lighthearted at times. Stories and pictures from employees are shared. Most of all, communication from the company is calm, reassuring, and hopeful, something frontline employees desperately need in times of uncertainty.

Reinforce purpose

While your company’s purpose may not have changed because of the pandemic, employees could use a reminder of why they come to work, especially when being asked to do so may place them in harm’s way. Grocery workers are not just stocking shelves, they are helping feed families. Manufacturing employees may be creating something families need to survive. Truckers and delivery personnel are helping vulnerable people stay home and be safe. And healthcare workers are saving lives by helping individuals recover and return home to their families.

When hospitals first saw their providers burning out many years ago, they started focusing on more relationship-based care rather than the number of patients flowing through. And what they found was that nurses and doctors who focused on the patient as a person felt more fulfilled in their work and less burned out than those who thought of the patient as a project. So communicate your company’s purpose, over and over again. Tell employees how their specific work contributes to that purpose. And remind them that what they’re doing is making a difference and improving the world, which is especially crucial right now.


Employee recognition has never been so important. Your frontline people are stepping up, coming into work in dangerous conditions, and getting the job done. Show your appreciation for them. Whether it’s a personal thank you note, a special gift when a job is done, public recognition, or providing meals or other things they need, just do it. Showing you care and value your people is essential and impactful during times of crisis.

Employee recognition can inspire people to achieve, give work meaning, create a sense of belonging, and connect employees to their leader, organisation, teams, and purpose. Most of all, it can give them a reason to come to work, every day. We are grateful for those who are doing all they can to make sure our families are safe, healthy, and have what they need. Let’s be sure to tell them. 

For more advice on helping your frontline employees, listen to our webinar

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