Want to motivate frontline employees? Think beyond higher pay (you likely already have to)

Want to motivate frontline employees? Think beyond higher pay (you likely already have to)


Want to motivate frontline employees? Think beyond higher pay (you likely already have to)

As much as we’d like to think service industry employees wake up each day and do their jobs for the noblest of reasons, like the desire to expand their horizons and help create a better world, let’s be real for a second. For many, that’s only a small fraction of the equationif it’s part of it at all.

These are people. People living in our current global economy. And while studies confirm pay isn’t everything, it does tend to drive the motivation to “rise and grind” more than other factors. This is especially true for frontline employees.

The thing is, not all managers are in a position to dictate wages, which can put them in a bit of a jam with current and prospective employees in search of bulkier paychecks.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help motivate frontline team members when higher pay isn’t an immediate possibility … or an option at all.

Try these ideas on for size.

Recognize, reward, and celebrate

Many service industry tasks are both difficult and thankless, so it’s important you acknowledge employees—both your shift leaders and your front lines—for a job well done as frequently as you can. Consider this an imperative if managing millennial and Gen Z workers, who are known to place significant value on recognition.

 “Employee of the month” and similar programs are a good start, and who doesn’t enjoy receiving shout-outs during team meetings or within an internal newsletter? Make a point to celebrate great service and create an easy way to facilitate peer-to-peer recognition.

SMG’s employee experience (EX) team also knows from years of research that even a plain old “thank you” can go a long way. Don’t sleep on the power of gratitude.


Want your frontline teams to ooze confidence on the job, especially when working directly with customers? Here’s the simple recipe: give them all the information and training they need to be successful in their roles, and then enable them to make decisions.

From our work with brands big and small, we’ve learned how impactful it is when employees feel permitted to help solve guest complaints without having to consult a manager. The data we gathered with one quick-service restaurant showed customers were also more pleased when issues could be solved by working directly with the frontline team.

Develop a culture of learning

When financial incentives aren’t in the cards, prove you care about employees by investing in their future. Find opportunities for growth outside of their day-to-day tasks. Serve as a mentor or encourage your long-time employees and shift leaders to do so.

Hey, those seasoned team members could make great managers themselves one day. Don’t forget to continue training them, too. Hint hint.

Even if an employee doesn’t stay long term, wouldn’t it be nice if they leave your organization better than when they arrived? It directly benefits them, it can help drive positive employee and customer reviews, and if nothing else it’s good karma.

Get real + get connected

Scheduling regular time to meet individually with team members—especially new hires—is one of the easiest and cost-efficient ways to build trust. And while you can and should use these opportunities to discuss important work matters, don’t let shop talk fill the entire agenda. Get to know employees on a personal yet work-appropriate level.

Want to really knock your connection game out of the park? Help your employees bond with each other, too. (Team outing, anyone?!) A 2021 SMG study revealed “Liking the people I work with” was the number 1 reason employees found their work fulfilling. This was the case across every industry surveyed, which included restaurants and retail.

Keep the conversation flowing

If team members feel like they don’t have a voice, motivation and output will certainly dip. And then so will employees themselves … right out the door. But a robust employee feedback ecosystem can put you on the path of continuous improvement.

Through regular pulse surveys, annual surveys, and/or always-on feedback collection, you can maintain a constant feel for what’s going right and what needs work from an EX perspective.

Motivating your people takes planning and creativity

This isn’t a TV sitcom conversation between a parent and a child, so please, please, please excuse this tired cliché: Money doesn’t grow on trees.

Frontline managers are intimately aware of this reality, and need as many tools and tactics as possible to keep their people both motivated and satisfied while working within the confines of their company’s budget.

SMG’s employee experience team can help your organization create a proactive employee engagement program for your frontline teams, which will lead to better customer experiences (CX) and, ultimately, business outcomes. Contact us today.