When Sunjoy Dhaawan, Vice President of Human Resources, DHL Express (India), joined the logistics major in 2013, its business in India was limited to less than Rs 3,000 crore in annual sales and women workers made up less than 10 per cent of its employee strength. Fast forward to now and DHL Express’s annual revenue in India has grown to over Rs 5,000 crore and the share of women employees has increased to 17 per cent—because of the consistent efforts that Dhaawan and his team have put in. And despite spending nine years with DHL, his tenure falls short of the firm’s average tenure for an employee—which is 10 years now!
That pretty much sums up the company’s success in managing its people—some 4,000 of them—in India. At a time when high attrition plagues most logistics and delivery companies and difficult working conditions of gig workers make news frequently, DHL Express has managed to not only retain talent but is also focussing on making its workforce diverse.
While the average attrition rate in the industry is around 14-15 per cent, at DHL the number is just 4-5 per cent. And at the level of frontline workers, it is even lower—at 2 per cent. This is in spite of the hiring spree all around, especially by e-commerce giants and the thousands of flourishing digital commerce start-ups. “If you look at the past 6-7 years, the Amazons and the Flipkarts of the world, or be it Snapdeal or Zomato… everybody else has hired hundreds and thousands of gig workers. But at DHL Express, the attrition rate in the past five years is less than 5 per cent. So, we are at a third of the industry. The reason why we haven’t lost people to them [e-commerce and digital players] is because of the kind of connect that we have with our people, the engagement levels and the working conditions [that we provide],” says Dhaawan.
While poor working conditions, long hours and stressful situations haunt most gig workers in the country—leading to higher attrition and low job satisfaction—Dhaawan credits his company’s unique position to its “four pillars”. The first is the company’s vision to become “the logistics company to the world”. Second is its two guiding principles—respect and results—where respect for its employees and stakeholders comes ahead of the results it aspires to achieve. Third comes three building blocks that he calls the “three cornerstones of the company”: “How can we be an employer of choice for our employees, an investor of choice for our investors and a provider of choice for our customers?” The fourth pillar is about motivating its people, which the management believes will lead to greater customer satisfaction.
To begin with, unlike most other logistics firms, DHL Express relies heavily on providing comfort to its frontline workers by offering them air-conditioned four-wheelers for last-mile deliveries, instead of two-wheelers, as is common in the sector. According to Dhaawan, this, coupled with a dedicated driver and automated scanning machines, not only reduces stress on the frontline workers but also helps the company retain talent.
Following the global standards on bringing diversity in its workforce, the firm has grown the share of women employees in the workforce by one percentage point each in the past three years. Dhaawan says the target is to increase the share of women employees to 25 per cent by 2027 and to 40 per cent in the long run. A change in perception about the logistics sector and the overall societal and economic factors in recent years make him confident about achieving this target. “Five years ago, to get women to do logistics jobs was difficult. But in the last three years, we have made decent progress on that front,” he says, explaining how DHL Express has grown its share of women employees. Also, of seven professionals in top management, two—its chief financial officer and the head of customer service—are women.
That’s not all. The firm is also trying to attract a younger workforce. “We ensure that we are not only geographically diverse, but also culturally. Because we believe a multi-generational organisation will be able to assimilate and work together. That’s how you get different perspectives on the table and that is healthy for an organisation... [so that it is able to take the correct] decisions,” says Dhaawan. While the average age of employees is 37 years now, it may come down later, he reasons.
DHL Express also ensures it grooms its managers well. The importance of direct line managers is immense in implementing its “respect ahead of results” approach and its principle of keeping the workforce motivated. The firm has a certified international manager programme in place to not only groom future top leaders but also to ensure that first line managers are dedicated towards implementing the firm’s four pillars. With these measures in place, DHL Express is confident of continuing its success in managing people.
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