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How DHL Express has taken care of its workforce in a time of crisis

29 May 2020 By Regine Buettner

Regine Buettner shares how her team has approached HR during a pandemic, including personalised ‘thank you’ videos and letting internal talent step into stretch roles 

Businesses in almost every sector are feeling huge pressure at the moment, across every aspect of their operations. For many businesses with a frontline workforce such as ours, the crisis has highlighted that there’s no such thing as a support function – every team plays a crucial part in maintaining the business through the crisis and it’s no different for HR teams. During this time of unprecedented disruption, HR plays a crucial role.

For those that rely on the knowledge and the passion of their people, taking care and keeping hold of them will be a crucial part of business recovery. So what does this mean in the short, medium and long term? 

First and foremost is the health and safety of your workforce. This is a priority under any circumstances but one that has taken on a new urgency. As a business providing an essential service, many of our people are out on the frontline, and that’s something we take very seriously. Keeping employees safe relies on much more than just operational changes. It requires a mindset shift, which is why communication and leadership are critical. For us, having an open leadership team and a frequent flow of communication helps ensure our people operate with a safety-first approach.

Proactive and two-way channels of communication also help reassure and support employees. It’s an uncertain time so it’s important to be open about how your business is managing the impact of the pandemic – and minimise that uncertainty as much as possible. Employers can be a vital support system for people during this time. Even if management doesn’t have all the answers, we know people value honesty and upfront information. 

Continuing to live out your company culture, despite these new and unusual working conditions, will play a huge part in defining this experience for employees. Companies with employees who suddenly find themselves working in different locations, away from colleagues, will need to find ways to ensure people still feel part of a team. It’s important to keep in contact with and keep recognising colleagues. It is often during the most difficult times that you really see people pull together. International businesses should think about bringing together dispersed teams virtually, and building on the sense of connection everyone feels to the business. 

Reminding employees of the business’s purpose, and the contribution they make in fulfilling that, will be a strong motivating factor. We’ve focused on keeping people connected to our purpose of ‘connecting people and improving lives’, and highlighting the role everyone plays – while particularly recognising our frontline essential workers. We want people to feel pride in the work they’re doing.

At the same time, it’s important to keep an eye on the business as usual. While many employees may find themselves having to adapt to new roles or change the way they work, to retain your people once the crisis is over it’s important they continue to see a future in your organisation. This means  continuing to support their career aspirations. 

Finally, a programme of recognition and reward must remain front of mind, and existing schemes should be adjusted so they are still effective remotely. It’s important not to pause recognition during this time, but instead amplify it. For example, we’re using internal channels and social media to share personalised ‘thank you’ videos. 

However, even if HR teams take these steps, of course some turnover can still be expected, and some industries will be hit harder than others. Now could be the time to take smart risks – for example, allowing internal talent to step into roles they might not be quite ready for.

When it comes to attracting new people, sharing inspirational stories during this time will help you show another side to the business. In the future, businesses should expect to be judged by prospective employees on how they managed this pandemic. So it’s important to act now in a way you can be proud of later.  

There is a lot for business leaders and HR teams to think about, but reacting quickly while taking a long-term view will put them in the best position to cope with the changing face of the working world. No one knows quite what the future holds, or what the new normal will look like. But we do know that once the world starts to recover, a workforce that has been well looked after will contribute to ensuring your business keeps its place in tomorrow’s world. 

Regine Buettner is global EVP HR at DHL Express

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