On November 11, 2019, we released our newest book titled “Being Present: A Practical Guide for Transforming the Employee Experience of Your Frontline Workforce. Below we share the introduction to the book, written by book editor Joyce Maroney, Executive Director of the Workforce Institute.
So, what does the title of this book mean, anyway? Is this another one of those mindfulness books? Well, not exactly. When we talk about “being present” we’re referring to those jobs where employees must be present – every day, in the flesh – to do their jobs. Think of that barista at the coffee shop where you go every morning who always gets your order just right, the airline ticket agent who somehow got you on that last minute flight so you wouldn’t miss your best friend’s wedding, the preschool teacher who took your crying 3-year-old’s hand on that first morning and somehow knew to take her directly to the block area where she immediately settled down to happy building, or the home healthcare worker who enabled your grandmother to keep living independently in her beloved home.
Throughout this book, we’ll refer to these types of jobs where presence is required as “frontline” jobs. Frontline workers make up most of the workforce around the globe, yet their jobs are often not considered in discussions about work/life balance, career growth, employee experience, creative benefits, etc. Nurses, firefighters, truck drivers and mechanics are just a few examples of workers who must be present in a specific place and at a specific time to perform their jobs. However, much of the common wisdom intended to boost employee experience at work assumes jobs that can be done remotely via a laptop. In this book, we’ll share insights that can work for those whose jobs require presence as well as those with “laptop” jobs that can be done virtually anywhere.
Why this book now? We spend a significant portion of our waking time at work. If that time is spent in a workplace culture where employees feel respected and valued, they are more productive and satisfied at work. They benefit, their families benefit, and society benefits. Conversely, if people spend their days at work feeling disrespected and unsupported, that poor experience can fuel a downward spiral of burnout, depression, and poor health. They suffer, their family and friends are affected, and the larger society around them is somewhat worse off.
This book is a collection of chapters that can be read in sequence, or according to your specific interests. Our authors all share a commitment to improving people’s lives at work, while coming at this challenge from many different perspectives. They are business leaders, consultants, HR practitioners, authors, teachers and futurists.
We have organized the chapters according to three major themes.
Section One – Work Your Way
As this book is being published, unemployment is at record low levels in the United States, and many employers are struggling to find and keep critical workers. In this supply side labor market, workers are being lured away not only by better wages and benefits, but also by cultural factors that encourage employee autonomy, wellbeing and work life balance. The Millennial and Gen Z workers who make up the majority of the workforce expect their employers to support them in achieving that balance, and will avoid those who don’t.
“Working your way” doesn’t mean not working, but it does mean having more control over when – and if possible – where one works. Having control over one’s schedule is one critical driver of worker satisfaction irrespective of job type, and one that strategic leaders will seek to provide. A 2018 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research revealed that people would give up a 9% wage increase in favor of having the ability to set their own schedule versus working a schedule set by their manager. In 2019 research we conducted among Gen Z respondents worldwide, 35% were unlikely to tolerate being forced to work when they don’t want to. These and many other sources of data underscore the strong preference workers have for employers who’ll support their need for flexibility by investing in processes and technology that boost their mobility and self-service options.
In this first section of the book, our authors describe techniques leaders can leverage to understand what matters most to frontline workers when it comes to improving their experience. They remind us that those Millennial and Gen Z workers have different expectations for their work lives than the generations that came before. And they share practical advice on how to balance frontline workers’ desire for flexibility with the need all organizations have to meet the needs of their stakeholders by having the right people, in the right place, at the right time.
Section Two – Work Smarter
This section of the book focuses on how data analytics, artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies are fundamentally changing the workplace by helping us work smarter. By “working smarter”, we mean leveraging available technology to alleviate the amount of repetitive and transactional work done by people so that they can spend their brainpower on work that machines can’t do as well such, as creativity and relationship building.
Realizing that vision requires leaders to understand both the technical and human impacts of these tools, our authors talk about effective ways to design and deploy new technology without losing sight of how to care for your people while doing so – through training, performance management and recognition.
This section will also explore ways to prevent technology from backfiring in the workplace. Many workers are already feeling the adverse effects of being “always on”. The same mobile phones that deliver tremendous convenience can also lead workers to feel like they never have a chance to rest and recover from the stresses of work. Legislative examples are cropping up around the world that attempt to help people switch off by prohibiting employer demands on people’s time “outside of work”. But what does “outside of work” mean when it’s always possible to engage?
Section Three – Work Inspired
This brings us to the final section of the book in which we focus on workplace culture. Without a healthy culture, centered on values that matter to employees, there is no way to have employees who “work inspired”. This is an expression we use at Kronos to capture the essence of our employment brand promise: that everyone has the right to have a great boss, in a great workplace, that helps them deliver great results. The authors in this chapter share that belief and will provide ideas and examples on how to make this promise a reality.
We devote a significant part of this section to development strategies for frontline employees and their leaders. Younger workers are beginning to question the value of a four year degree and are turning to alternative means of acquiring the skills they need to make a living. Employers need to be similarly innovative and flexible when it comes to evaluating potential candidates and developing them on the job.
Throughout this part of the book, we emphasize the investments that should be made in leadership development. Without great leaders, employees will flounder at best and desert you at worst. We believe that in most cases, leadership skills can be developed and measured. And we discuss how leaders can be held accountable for those measurable skills, just as they are for other critical business results.
Focus on the Frontline
We’ve provided five “Focus on the Frontline” takeaways for every chapter in this book. As I wrote at the beginning, we want to make sure that the reader can connect the advice provided to practical applications for frontline workers. We hope that these summaries will help you do so.
As you read through this book, I hope you will keep in mind those folks I talked about upfront – the barista, airline ticket agent, teacher and home healthcare worker who may have had an impact on your life and the lives of those you love. Think about all the people whose lives touch yours every day, most of whom show up at work ready to do their best if their leaders let them. May they all have jobs that are big enough for their spirits.
 Nicole Maestas, Kathleen J. Mullen, David Powell, Till von Wachter, Jeffrey B. Wenger, “The Value of Working Conditions in the United States and Implications for Structure of Wages”, The National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 25204 (October 2018)
 “Meet Gen Z: The next generation is here: Hopeful, anxious, hardworking, and searching for inspiration”, Workforce Institute at Kronos, https://workforceinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Meet-Gen-Z-Hopeful-Anxious-Hardworking-and-Searching-for-Inspiration.pdf
If you’d like your own copy of this book, it is available on Amazon.com for purchase. You can find more information about this book, as well as the three prior books we’ve published here.