In this article, we explore what it means to be an essential or frontline worker. We also provide tips on how to support your frontline workers by creating a positive workplace environment.

Table of contents
  1. What is an Essential Worker?
  2. What Is a Frontline Worker?
  3. Who Are Frontline Workers?
  4. How to Support Your Frontline Staff
  5. Summary

Key Takeaways

  • Essential workers are employees whose jobs are required to maintain essential services even in a crisis or emergency.
  • Frontline workers are a subset of essential workers. They provide services directly to the public.
  • Companies that support their frontline workers see higher employee engagement and customer satisfaction.
  • You can support your frontline staff with better training and tools. You can also do this by recognizing workers’ achievements and maintaining a positive workplace culture.

The COVID-19 pandemic shone a spotlight on frontline workers in the global workforce. They’re the unsung heroes deemed essential in keeping our society running even amid a global crisis. But really, what is a frontline worker? How do they differ from essential workers?

In this article, we’ll define essential and frontline workers and discuss why frontline staff members are vital in almost every industry. From healthcare workers to grocery store employees, we’ll examine the crucial roles these workers play in our communities and the challenges they face in their day-to-day work. We’ll also outline how you can better support your frontline workers.

What is an Essential Worker?

An essential worker is an employee whose job is necessary to maintain essential services and functions during a crisis or emergency

Essential workers are considered vital because their work is necessary to sustain public health, safety, and welfare. They keep vital supply chains running and are often at a higher health risk in emergency situations such as pandemics.

Maryland and California executive orders define 12 essential industries. These employ over 55 million workers in the US. They are:

  • Chemical sector
  • Communications and IT
  • Critical manufacturing
  • Emergency services
  • Energy sector
  • Financial sector
  • Food and agriculture
  • Government and community-based services
  • Health care
  • Industrial, commercial, and residential facilities and services
  • Transportation, warehouse, and delivery
  • Water and wastewater management

Over 50% of these essential workers are employed in the agriculture and healthcare sectors.

What Is a Frontline Worker?

A frontline worker is an essential employee who provides direct services to the public. 

Frontline staff members are often in positions that require face-to-face interactions. These workers are deemed critical to maintaining essential services during a crisis or emergency.

However, not all essential workers are frontline workers. The main differences are how much they interact with people and whether they work in public-facing roles. Frontline workers typically interact with customers more than essential workers, who may not work in public-facing positions.

While some essential workers can perform their duties working from home, frontline workers usually need to show up in person to fulfill their job duties. 

In a 2021 research summary, researchers defined frontline workers as “a subcategory of essential workers in occupation groups where a large majority of workers (over 70%) cannot feasibly work from home.”

Nonetheless, both essential and frontline workers ‌help keep society running and drive the economic progress of their communities.

Examples of frontline workers

  • Healthcare workers. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who provide direct care to patients.
  • Emergency responders. Police officers, firefighters, and paramedics who respond to emergencies and provide immediate assistance to the public.
  • Grocery store workers. Employees in grocery stores, supermarkets, and other food retail outlets.
  • Public transit workers. Bus drivers, subway operators, and other workers who provide transportation services to the public.
  • Postal workers. Mail carriers and postal employees who deliver mail and packages to homes and businesses.
  • Teachers and school staff. Educators and support staff who work in schools. They provide essential education and support services to students.
  • Janitorial and cleaning staff. Workers who provide cleaning and sanitation services in public spaces, hospitals, and other facilities.
  • Social workers. Professionals who provide direct services to vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
  • Utility workers. Employees who maintain and operate essential infrastructure, such as power grids and water systems.
  • Delivery drivers. Workers who deliver goods and packages directly to customers. These workers include food delivery drivers and package couriers.

Who Are Frontline Workers?

In 2020, the Center for Economic and Policy Research analyzed the wages and demographics of frontline workers. They found that of frontline workers:

  • 64.4% are women.
  • 41.2% are Black, Asian-American, Hispanic, or of some race other than white.
  • 17.3% are immigrants.
  • 33.9% are over age 50.
  • 35.9% have at least 1 child living at home.

How to Support Your Frontline Staff

Your frontline workforce is the backbone of your company. Frontline workers interact directly with your customers, clients, and stakeholders. How frontline employees feel about their work has a significant long-term impact on the success of your business.

By supporting your frontline staff, you help them deliver excellent customer service. This leads to increased customer satisfaction, loyalty, and employee retention. In turn, this helps your business grow and make more money.

Supporting your frontline staff can also help improve employee morale and job satisfaction. When employees feel appreciated and supported, they’re engaged, motivated, and productive. Good employee engagement strategies can lead to better job performance, lower turnover, and a positive company culture.

Below are 6 ways you can support your frontline staff.

Set SMART goals

Set clear goals and expectations for your frontline staff, and communicate them regularly. Goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound

These can help them understand what’s expected of them. Having goals to reach also motivates them to perform at their best.

Provide ongoing training

To ensure your frontline staff members have the skills and knowledge they need to do their jobs effectively, provide them with ongoing training and professional development opportunities.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Identify training needs. The first step in creating a successful employee training program is identifying what your employees need training in. This can include technical skills, customer service skills, and product knowledge.
  • Develop a training plan. Once you’ve identified the training needs, create a training plan that outlines the goals, objectives, and timeline for the training.
  • Use a variety of training methods. Different training methods keep things engaging and effective. Effective training programs include in-person training, online courses, on-the-job training, and mentoring.
  • Provide regular feedback. This helps your workers understand how they’re progressing with training and how they can improve. You can share feedback via email or message, or in a one-on-one meeting or discussion.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the training. Once training is complete, see if it has achieved the desired outcome. For example, a successful outcome of safety training would be all workers following updated safety protocols during their next shift. You can determine its effectiveness this way. Then, you can adjust training as needed for future sessions.

Give frontline staff the tools they need

Start by identifying the tools your workers need to perform their job effectively. This includes equipment as well as access to information and support. 

Equipment can include computers, phones, and specialized equipment required for their specific role. Information and support can include training materials, product information, and customer data. You can provide this in an employee handbook or digital knowledge base. Workers will have easy access to it so they’re never out of the loop.

Also, consider investing in technology that helps your frontline staff work more efficiently and effectively. This includes things like content management software and inventory management software. It also includes communication tools like team chats and company newsfeeds.

Gather employee feedback

Ask your frontline workers to share feedback on the employee experience and the working environment. They can also offer thoughts on how to improve your products, services, and processes.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Create opportunities for feedback. Develop and send out surveys, create suggestion boxes, and set up regular check-ins with employees. 
  • Provide a safe space for feedback. Create a supportive environment where your frontline staff feels comfortable sharing their feedback. Encourage open and honest communication. Also, ensure that feedback is treated with respect and confidentiality. You can even consider making feedback anonymous.
  • Act on feedback. After your workers provide feedback, follow up on their suggestions and take action where appropriate.
  • Communicate changes. When you make changes based on feedback, communicate this to your workers. This way, they can see that you value their feedback. 

Recognize and reward their efforts

Show your frontline staff that you value them by recognizing and rewarding their efforts. You can create employee of the month awards, write a personal thank-you card or email, or shout out workers during team meetings. 

You can reward employees by offering bonuses, regular pay raises, gift cards, or extra benefits like more paid time off (PTO). Or, consider non-monetary rewards like team events or time off for volunteering.

Also, offer opportunities for growth and development, such as training programs or promotions, to frontline staff who perform well. This helps them see a future with your company long term. Thus, it can motivate them to continue working hard.

Recognizing and rewarding your frontline staff’s achievements helps build a positive and supportive workplace culture and can motivate staff to continue performing at a high level.

Foster a positive workplace culture

You can create and maintain a positive workplace culture by:

  • Communicating clearly. This helps avoid misunderstandings and fosters a sense of trust and transparency.
  • Encouraging teamwork and collaboration. Encourage cooperation and collaboration among your staff with an excellent internal communication strategy. This helps build strong working relationships and increases productivity and innovation.
  • Recognizing and rewarding positive behavior. Recognize and reward positive behavior, such as going above and beyond or demonstrating exceptional teamwork. 
  • Prioritizing employee well-being. Offer wellness programs, flexible work arrangements, and support for mental health. This helps employees feel valued and supported. In turn, this increases job satisfaction and productivity.
  • Fostering a learning culture. Offer training and development opportunities. Encourage employees to share their knowledge. And provide opportunities for employees to take on new challenges and responsibilities.
  • Leading by example. As a leader, model the behavior you want to see in your workplace. Treat all employees respectfully, be open to feedback, and prioritize work-life balance.


Frontline staff members are a type of essential employee. They provide direct services to the public. Therefore, they interact directly with customers, clients, or patients. They are often the face of the company and play a critical role in maintaining customer satisfaction and loyalty.

To succeed, your business needs to provide enough support and resources for your frontline staff. This includes offering ongoing training, providing the tools and equipment they need, and seeking feedback and suggestions to improve the work environment. 

Additionally, recognizing and rewarding positive behavior and fostering a positive workplace culture helps to improve employee morale and satisfaction. This leads to improved customer service and better business outcomes.

In this article, we’ve defined what a frontline worker is and provided strategies for your business to support its frontline staff. By following these steps and investing in your employees, you can create a more positive and productive work environment. This will lead to increased employee satisfaction, better customer service, and a more successful business overall.

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