Why has stress among frontline workers become so prominent?
When we talk about working in public-facing work without specifying more, it can give the impression that we are talking about a single job and, therefore, a single professional profile that always requires the development of the same technical and psychological skills. This post discusses why stress among frontline workers is so common and how it sometimes wears us out so much, even to the point of developing compassion fatigue. It can have a severe influence on the psychological well-being of some professionals, for example, in terms of healthcare workers’ mental health.
What do we mean when we talk about frontline workers?
When we think of professionals who have to work with the public, it is likely that the first thing that comes to mind is the image of a person behind a counter or a sales clerk in some establishment.
However, there are many types of frontline work in different sectors: civil servants who attend to citizens who come to a public body to carry out paperwork to a front-desk attendant who sells you a theater ticket. This includes customer service, telephone salespeople, a person working as a flight attendant, a health professional, a teacher, or, why not, the quintessential public-facing job: actors in the theater and other performing arts and, of course, waiters and waitresses.
Not all frontline jobs are the same
All the roles mentioned above (and those we have not mentioned) have in common that the person who performs them performs their functions face to face (or voice to voice) with their direct customers.
These professionals are dedicated to providing services in different ways, selling different products, solving a wide range of problems, informing, explaining, accompanying… However, there are also significant differences between them in several parameters: the level of closeness they have with the public, the depth and duration of the interaction with customers, the professional skills required to perform their functions, the degree of responsibility of the task, the level of difficulty of the task and the type of decisions associated with it.
These differences greatly influence the psychological effects of public-facing work for them, as all these professionals are subjected to different stress levels depending on their position.
Stress among frontline workers
In psychology, there is a great consensus around the idea that the human being is the most complex stimulus that exists, at least for another human being. Perhaps this has something to do with the widespread belief that people “are complicated”.
Of course, this is not the place to disprove it. Indeed, it sometimes seems a miracle that we can understand each other and coexist in relative peace and a relatively understandable, coordinated, and efficient manner when working in front of the public or when being served.
It is not easy to cope with customers’ frustrations. Everyone who works or has worked in front of the public knows how psychologically draining it can be. It can be very stressful because you always have to try to help them in a good way, even if their manners are questionable. This causes demotivation, a bad mood, or even fear of the possible aggressiveness of the person in front of them, leading to a case of stress among frontline workers.
Frontline workers: a complex interaction
Whether a miracle happens (or not) depends on specific unconscious or, at least, automated processes that structure our communication. Both when we have to work in front of the public and when we are in front of them: what to say, how to act, what to interpret from what the other person does or says.
It is also a function of many conscious and deliberate efforts to be patient with the person in front of us, not to misinterpret what they say, to show some empathy if we are willing and able to do so. There are so many things in our relationships that promote their success, but so many factors wear us out mutually when interacting!
Therefore, despite the impression that most of our interactions are simple, innocent, and effective, any human interaction, especially those that occur when working face to face with the public, are complicated exchanges.
We are affected by each other’s energy
When we relate to each other, we establish a very complex set of exchanges or transfers that nurture that situation and go beyond the many or few words that we verbally transmit to each other.
In a certain sense, we would say that we receive the energy of the other: we mutually awaken thoughts, physical sensations, and emotions that give a certain color to our relationships, regardless of whether our encounters are short or of little relevance. This is why we sometimes feel uncomfortable, overwhelmed, or neglected in front of someone or perceive having been understood, welcomed, and respected. And this happens both to those working in front of the public and to your customer.
Emotional well-being program for companies
At ifeel, we are experts in well-being at work, and that is why we strive to help companies take better care of the people who make their mission possible.
To accompany them in achieving this, our team of psychologists has created an emotional well-being program for companies, which can help you improve the skills required to work on issues such as stress among frontline workers.
Visit our Resources section to find podcasts, HR Guides, or Interviews with top HR managers. In addition, you can access a Psychosocial Risk Factors Template, which will help you comply with the requirements of the Labor Inspection.
With our emotional well-being program, your company’s HR managers can receive personalized, data-driven advice on improving the psychological well-being of their teams. In addition, this program offers employees a 360º mental health care service structured at different levels according to their needs. Try our program today to see how it could help you.
We hope you found this post on stress among frontline workers interesting. Contact us to learn more about how our emotional well-being program for companies works. Get in touch, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.