On March 23, 2022, Ritse Erumi, Program Officer for Future of Work(ers) at the Ford Foundation, moderated a conversation between Daryl Brewster, CEO, and Katherine Bostick, Senior Advisor, at the Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP).
Together, Daryl and Katherine expounded on data from CECP’s recent report, Frontline Worker Well-Being in a Time of Crisis, which examines corporate support for critical roles during the pandemic and beyond, and shared insights and recommendations for leaders to better protect and support essential workers going forward. Here are our five takeaways from what they shared.
1. Communication, especially during crisis, is key.
As Katherine stressed, “that’s communication not just to frontline workers, but hearing from them as well.”
“Communication not just to frontline workers, but hearing from them as well.”
Communication was proven to build and maintain trust between workers and employers during the pandemic. Katherine and Daryl referenced this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer survey that showed among all institutions, trust in business—in comparison to government and media, for example—grew the most over the past year, and clear two-way communication is largely to thank for that.
2. Wage growth is crucial, but a sense of purpose and values is, too.
Katherine shared some tangible, and therefore relatively straightforward, ways to support frontline workers: increase wages, offer paid time off, ensure pay stability, on top of the non-negotiable of ensuring health and safety onsite.
But more importantly, Katherine noted that CECP’s survey and other studies have revealed that “a sense of purpose and dignity come out as really important factors” for frontline workers. She continued, “We heard a lot from our interviews about the importance of communicating clearly with workers, or potential workers, about what your corporate employee value proposition was for those workers,” again emphasizing the impact of intentional communication with those on the frontline.
3. Some of the best ways to support frontline workers are not things you can check off a list.
Continuing on the topic of showing workers they’re valued, Katherine shared that, in interviewing employers for this year’s survey, it was some the most subtle actions that companies and individual leaders made that left the biggest impression on their frontline workforce.
For example, she mentioned that one employer surveyed realized their workforce, comprised largely of non-native English speakers, was having difficulty understanding when local schools and daycares were open, so that employer kept track of and translated closure information to lessen that burden for working parents.
Daryl also noted that a number executives and headquartered staff showed up onsite on the frontline to support, assist, and fill in for frontline workers, balancing the load and relieving a critical and invaluable part of their companies.
“The checklist on paper of what companies do to keep their employees safe is one thing, but there are these more subtle things they did in terms of the role of the employer in helping workers navigate this complex space shouldn’t be underestimated,” Katherine stated.
3. Just like your marketing and development departments, frontline workers need integration and investment to thrive.
Daryl offered the sentiment that in corporate structures, frontline workers are oftentimes undervalued compared to their white collar peers within the same enterprises:
“Sometimes, in companies we think of frontline workers as just objects, and the term is ‘headcount’—how we have to reduce headcount or change headcount. And Jim [Donald, the former CEO of Starbucks] had a great line: ‘This is not about headcount, it’s about making the heads count.’”
“This is not about headcount, it’s about making the heads count.”
One of the ways Katherine and Daryl mentioned companies could begin to do that is creating a career progression plan for frontline workers in the same way as what is done for corporate workers.
Daryl also suggested creating more bridges for communications between departments, including between frontline staff and corporate offices: “Integrate and innovate on an enterprise-wide basis so that each of the departments are really connecting and working together around that overall corporate sense of purpose.”
This is particularly crucial for our conscious community—ensuring all internal stakeholders are aligned around a corporate Higher Purpose is a vital part of Conscious Capitalism.
4. Bear in mind the intersectional challenges facing workers of color and women on the frontline.
It’s clear that frontline workers have faced some of the most unique and difficult challenges during the pandemic. The same can be said for women, who’ve disproportionately carried the responsibility of childcare across the U.S., and people of color, who have faced stigma, racism, and acts of violence.
There are a number of workers bearing the compounding burdens of working on the frontline while also facing unique obstacles based on their race or gender. And this is a consistent issue addressed in CECP’s recent survey.
“Covid-19 exacerbated the existing inequalities across society related to race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status … so corporate support measures for workforces during the pandemic were so important for these individuals,” Katherine said.
“Companies have a moral imperative to act responsibly and I also believe, and have seen evidence, that doing good in this way can be good for business.”
Katherine and Daryl shared unique benefits, like increased mental health resources and work flexibility, as examples of ways employers can step in to help workers of color and and women on the frontline, with Katherine concluding: “Companies have a moral imperative to act responsibly and I also believe, and have seen evidence, that doing good in this way can be good for business.”
5. Learn from the challenges of crisis.
Finally, Katherine closed the conversation by encouraging employers to look back on the past two years to identify what worked well and what fell short in terms of supporting their workers as we begin to enter the post-pandemic times:
“As we’re opening up, it’s tempting to say, ‘OK, great. We’re moving past this,’ and just move forward but I think it is really important to look back … and review the efficacy of [your] pandemic health and safety protocols … it’s a good time to be doing a little bit of a retrospective there.”
To get the full conversation, watch the recording of this virtual gathering.
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