Welfare conditionality is both ambitious and ambiguous for the frontline workers who put policy into practice. Since January 2017, the Norwegian frontline service should require social assistance benefit recipients under the age of 30 to participate in some sort of work‐related activation, so‐called mandatory activation. Drawing on qualitative interviews with frontline workers at local offices in the Norwegian Public Welfare Service (NAV), we investigate how the requirement is implemented in a context of a professionalised social welfare service. Mandatory activation is arguably a paternalistic measure. Drawing on Bernardo Zacka’s concept of moral dispositions and Laura Specker Sullivan’s concepts of maternalism, our findings indicate that at the frontline, mandatory activation policies are implemented by maternalistic decision making, emphasising the interpersonal relation between trained caseworkers and clients. The caseworkers use their discretionary powers in the implementation of conditionality and sanctions by emphasising care and support as embedded in the strict rules.