Frontline Managers: Are they in your blind spot?

Frontline Managers: Are they in your blind spot?

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While articles about evolving leadership practices and the changing needs of employees abound, much less has been said about the frontline managers or first level supervisors who bridge the gap between these two groups. Great Place to Work® recognizes the important role frontline leaders play and will shine a spotlight on their workplace experience based on data collected on our proprietary Emprising™ survey platform in this series on Frontline Managers.

“Engage your employees.” “Connect with employees on the shop floor.” “Walk the ground to engage your people, hear from them, understand their challenges and concerns…” We have all heard advice like these in one form or other, recognize its importance and acted on it. Especially through the Covid pandemic where leaders are expected to be more visible and engaging, there are clear quantitative and anecdotal accounts of leaders being more accessible to employees and caring for their well-being. Amongst our Great Place to Work-Certified™ community, we have seen leaders step up to the challenge, demonstrate compassion, reach out to employees in a variety of ways, and show authentic care and support these past two years.

The Covid pandemic has added pressure on a group of individuals – frontline managers or first line supervisors. Otherwise known as the sandwich group, our data shows that their workplace experience tends to be the weakest, even before the pandemic struck. Sandwiched between senior leaders and staff, this group of individuals has had to juggle between achieving targets amidst resource constraints, operational issues, and people matters.

They are the individuals whose daily interactions, decisions and behaviors make the difference between an employee having a great day at work, or… A Really Bad Day. They are expected to motivate their teams, bolster morale, and drive employee contributions in line with the company’s strategy. They are responsible for cascading workplace culture initiatives, live out corporate values (or not), and are the linchpin for the success or failure of policies, programs and initiatives being implemented. Yet, they tend to fall into the blind spot in many companies, and struggle with a very different workplace experience from what top management perceives.

Based on our analysis of data and engagements with leaders in our Culture Coaching1 sessions, we identified three key experience gaps between senior executives (the CEO/President and the C-suite executives who report to the CEO) and frontline managers.

1. Clarity in Communications

More senior executives than frontline managers tend to believe that their expectations have been made clear, and that questions asked are effectively addressed. Less positive experiences in these areas are felt more acutely by frontline managers. They are expected to cascade directions from senior leaders down to their team members, be able to defend the decisions made, and respond to questions and challenges from the ground. Unsurprisingly, when this information is not clear to them in the first instance, information gets lost in translation as it moves down the hierarchy – a case of the broken telephone. Oftentimes, without effective communication platforms and a psychologically safe workplace environment, many employees will not be comfortable raising questions or sharing their concerns at ‘All Hands’ meetings or townhalls; it is usually left to frontline managers to deal with their questions and concerns afterward.

Management makes its expectations clear.

No Data Found

I can ask management any reasonable question and get a straight answer.

No Data Found

2. Consistency of words and actions

Another common experience gap between senior executives and frontline managers is in the consistency between what they see and hear. Working with clients, we find that what tends to be perceived as inconsistency between what has been said and the final decision/action taken is attributable to a gap in communication flow. Oftentimes, frontline managers are not involved in policy decisions or told the rationale behind changes made along the way. This becomes a barrier when they subsequently need to update their team members on changes from what was previously shared by top management, or explain the thinking behind decisions made.

Management delivers on its promises.

No Data Found

Management's actions match its words.

No Data Found

3. Perception of equity

One of the biggest experience gaps between executives and frontline managers is their perception of being fairly rewarded for their contributions. The perception of being fairly paid for their work and receiving a fair share of the profits impacts an individual’s experience of financial wellness, and this is one of the key aspects of overall employee well-being at work2. Often, frontline managers experience the same dissatisfaction around pay and bonuses as many of their team members, but as leaders of their teams, they are expected to represent the company professionally. However, team members can usually sense their frustration and this has a detrimental impact on the rest of the team.

People are paid fairly for the work
they do.

No Data Found

I feel I receive a fair share of the profits made by this organization.

No Data Found

Happily, this is not happening in every company. Data from our Trust Index™ survey comprising 60 core statements showed that among companies on the 2021 Singapore Best Workplaces™ list (“SG Best”), the experience gap of 4% between senior executives and frontline managers is much smaller, as compared with the 13% gap for other organizations (“SG Rest”)3.

Overall Trust Index Score

No Data Found

No Data Found

SG Best companies have successfully built a culture of trust, enabled employees to maximize their potential, and demonstrated exemplary leadership effectiveness with a purpose-driven, people-first mindset. And importantly, they have done this across all levels in the organization to create a great place to work For All™. Unsurprisingly, 89% of frontline managers in SG Best say that they want to work there for a long time, compared with 75% among SG Rest.

This article is the first in a series spotlighting the workplace experience of frontline managers. In the next article, we will feature practices Great Place to Work-Certified™ companies have introduced to support and enable their frontline managers to lead their teams effectively and thrive at the workplace.

Keen to learn how your frontline managers are experiencing your workplace?

Click here to find out more.

1.  After reviewing results from Trust Index© employee survey, a Great Place to Work® culture consultant works with the client to understand and interpret the survey results, quantify linkages to the strategy and performance, identify high-impact focus areas, and make suitable recommendations, drawing on insights from Best Workplaces™.

2. Researchers at Great Place to Work and Johns Hopkins University partnered on study that reveals key insights in promoting employee well-being. Click here to download the report on Employee Well-Being in the New Workplace. 

3. This refers to other companies, including Great Place to Work-Certified™ companies, that participated in this year’s survey. Not all Certified companies appear on the 2021 Best Workplaces list.

Evelyn Kwek

Evelyn is the Managing Director for Great Place to Work®️ in ASEAN and ANZ. Heading the expansion of Great Place to Work®️ offices in ASEAN, Evelyn is convinced that just as the region is growing exponentially on the economic front, the work of building great workplaces FOR ALL™ must go in tandem with economic growth.

A proud mother of 3, Evelyn takes parenting very seriously – she is strict yet giving, result-focused yet generous. Together with husband Roland, they relish exploring new cultures and beautiful places of the world, usually on leisurely self-drive holidays, before the days of Covid.

Pamela Sng

Pamela is our Senior Consultant and Research Lead for Great Place to Work® ASEAN and ANZ. She has over two decades of consulting and policy experience helping organizations in their journey to become fair and progressive employers. She believes that every organization has the potential to be a great workplace, and works with data to distil insights and develop resources to help them. When she’s not burrowing down the rabbit hole of numbers and words, she’s probably immersed in a new K-drama or catching up with friends over a virtual drinks session.

Raymond Teo

Raymond is a talent-builder, having trained and coached hundreds of leaders and staff in systematic problem-solving skills. He is also a Certified Gallup Strengths Coach and a LEGO® Serious Play facilitator, using these tools in strategy development, team building, problem solving, visioning and leadership development. Today, as a Senior Consultant for Great Place to Work®, Raymond brings in his extensive coaching, business performance management, and team development experiences to help clients build stronger workplace cultures and employee engagement that is pivotal towards business success.

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To be eligible for the World’s Best Workplaces list, a company must apply and be named to a minimum of 5 national Best Workplaces lists within our current 58 countries, have 5,000 employees or more worldwide, and at least 40% of the company’s workforce (or 5,000 employees) must be based outside of the home country. Extra points are given based on the number of countries where a company surveys employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index©, and the percentage of a company’s workforce represented by all Great Place to Work surveys globally. Candidates for the 2017 Worlds Best Workplaces list will have appeared on national workplaces lists published in September 2016 through August 2017.