12 November 2019

Frontline Workers: Exploring the Nuances of Better Performance

Karina Freitag
Research Lead


  • Insights on the culture and performance of frontline workers
  • 3 issues organizations face with frontline workers
  • Key performance practices proven to be effective

With the all the recent talk on challenges organizations face when it comes to their frontline workforce (i.e., turnover, reskilling, and empowerment), how organizations manage those on the frontlines and their performance has become a critical issue. You may encounter these frontline people directly at coffee shops, a customer service help line, or indirectly through the products you currently buy or use. So, their performance matters.

Culture Is Key for Frontline Workers

In our recent report, Frontline Workers: Creating a Performance-Driven Culture, we explored the nuances of performance management (PM) for frontline workers and examined the specific practices that organizations use to help them perform better.

This research is a continuation of our recent study, The Makings of Modern Performance Management. We conducted a thorough lit review of roughly 40 academic and business articles, reports, and book chapters, along with a quantitative survey of 623 respondents (more than half being frontline workers). From all of this, we found some interesting insights on culture and frontline workers’ performance:

  • Frontline workers are generally more satisfied with their PM experience, as compared with other workers, especially when it comes to having clear goals and expectations
  • Frontline workers feel they have less autonomy, and don't feel that their managers enable the same degree of autonomy as their desk and knowledge worker counterparts
  • Of the 3 levers that organizations can use to drive employee engagement and organizational performance, culture provides the greatest opportunity

Overall, we found culture to be a key performance lever for frontline workers, particularly because having a strong culture helps organizations address some of their biggest challenges with this segment of the workforce.

In fact, a study of blue-collar workers showed that those in supportive organizational cultures – which promote people’s strengths, capabilities, and functioning – performed 27% better than those in unsupportive cultures.1 They were also 89% more innovative and 79% more committed to the organization. This means that organizations can use culture as a lever to better performance, greater innovation, and stronger commitment.

Specifically, an organization’s focus on providing a fair and consistent evaluation process, its ability to provide a broad range of feedback, and its focus on developing skills that'll serve individuals and help the business strategy in the future, all help to mitigate some of the challenges which organizations often face.

Learn More

For more information on each of these practices in high-performing organizations and examples of companies that create a performance-driven culture, we encourage you to download and read the full report.

Karina Freitag

Karina is a Research Lead for RedThread Research. She is passionate about understanding the individual and organizational elements that help people thrive at work. Karina completed her undergraduate education at Penn State University and received her Ph.D. and M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.


  1. “Thriving in the Workplace: Toward its Measurement, Construct Validation, and Theoretical Refinement,” Porath, C. L., Spreitzer, G., Gibson, C., & Garnett, F. S., Journal of Organizational Behavior, 2012.


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