From highlighting the importance of every individual’s role, to sharpening focus on employee engagement and internal communication, here's how Regine Buettner, Global EVP HR, DHL Express keeps employees at the heart of the business.

For HR leaders across the world, 2020 has been relentlessly challenging, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing uncertainty and forcing priorities to shift. During such unprecedented times it can be easy to lose focus on being a great workplace. However, for so many businesses like DHL Express, it is the people that will see us through this pandemic and enable us to continue to thrive well into the future. That makes it more important than ever not to lose focus on core values and, with people being the first pillar of our strategy at DHL Express, they have remained our number one priority.

Connecting people to purpose

As a business operating a vital frontline service - delivering goods so that the public can stay home and moving essential items like PPE for healthcare workers - we have had to physically protect our people whilst also keeping motivation levels high. Doing that during the pandemic has meant having to do things a little bit differently – allowing for large scale remote working and social distancing in our operations. So far, our efforts are working. In this unprecedented year we have succeeded in being named the #2 World’s Best Workplace according to Great Place to Work and Fortune Magazine – and that is something we are incredibly proud to have achieved.

I believe one of the key factors in achieving this was the fact that, incredibly, the pandemic has enabled us to bring everyone closer to our corporate purpose of ‘connecting people and improving lives’. Our purpose became truly tangible as we delivered goods and services that kept the world moving and kept people safe.

By highlighting the importance of every individual’s role, and how it is contributing to the global effort to tackle the pandemic, we have been able to maintain motivation and instill a sense of pride for the work our people do, and for the company.

Staying connected in a crisis

People have always been at the heart of what we do, however, 2020 sharpened our focus on employee engagement and internal communication. Traditionally, we have a culture of coming together and celebrating, but this year has forced us to find new and innovative ways to retain our sense of ‘DHL family’. We needed to ensure that whilst we may be working in a physically distant way, we did not allow anyone to feel alone in their personal or professional challenges. From the very beginning we were open and upfront about the challenges COVID-19 presented to us as a business, our plans for tackling those challenges, and the role our people would play in that. That openness provided our employees with a greater sense of security – something which was crucial as the world endured these uncertain times.

Equally important has been ensuring communication could continue to be two-way, which meant finding new and alternative ways to communicate. From Zoom calls, to video messages and WhatsApp voice messages from our senior management – we increased the frequency of our communications and adjusted the methods. At the start of the crisis we were in the early stages of developing our new employee app, Smartr. Its purpose is to provide both frontline and backline employees with easy access to HR services whilst also enabling us to communicate quickly and effectively – especially to our frontline operations colleagues, many of whom do not use corporate email. As the pandemic heightened and remote, distant working became prolonged, we quickly recognised the need to accelerate the rollout of Smartr and now, with the app already available in more than 100 countries, it has become an invaluable channel for us.

As many countries endure a second wave of local lockdowns, maintaining connectivity and engagement is an ongoing priority. By approaching this creatively and through multiple channels, rather than relying too heavily on video conferencing, we stand a better chance of keeping people both engaged and energised to deliver a great service for our customers.

The value of recognition

During country lockdowns around the world, the role of logistics providers was one of the essential services that was spotlighted and there was genuine public appreciation for our people. This was a feeling which swelled across our organisation.

Heartfelt messages of thanks from senior management were recorded and shared, while local teams clapped for couriers as they headed out on their shifts. We used internal channels and social media to share personalised #TapForPride thank-you videos for our staff around the world, letting them know that they are valued and appreciated, and at the same time boosting the sense of community.

We also ensured that our regular celebrations, which are typically in person, continued in alternative forms. From our virtual AsOne Appreciation Week celebrations, which saw virtual parties with live DJs and live-streamed yoga classes, to taking our DHL’s Got Heart awards ceremonies – where we award our employees substantial donations for causes they are actively involved in outside of the workplace - digital for the very first time. We recognised that events and celebrations such as these should not be put off, but should instead continue to take place with adjustments.

Feeling valued is a crucial factor in employee satisfaction and retention. With uncertain times still to come, recognition will make a big difference in terms of workforce stability and loyalty. We were incredibly proud to be able to pay all of our employees a one-off 300 euro bonus, in recognition of their efforts and dedication during these difficult times. We want our employees to remember that, as an employer, we supported them during one of the most difficult periods the world has faced.

As a community, HR has been tested in more ways than we could have imagined. However, what we have learned through these challenging times is the value of keeping the focus on the people.

By prioritising people’s mental and physical wellbeing, and being understanding of the circumstances, we have maintained the support and commitment of our workforce and can proudly say that DHL Express remains a great place to work (in fact, the best it has ever been as the #2 Best Workplace in the World) even during the toughest of times.


Photo / Provided [Featuring Regine Buettner, Global EVP HR, DHL Express]

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