Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Build layers of support systems for your employees: RS Subramanian, DHL Express

With logistics employees at the frontline during the pandemic, the last two years were a test of DHL Express' mettle, and they came away with flying colours

Manu Balachandran
Published: Mar 3, 2022 11:13:47 AM IST

Build layers of support systems for your employees: RS Subramanian, DHL ExpressRS Subramanian, senior VP and MD (left) and Sunjoy Dhaawan, VP for human resources
Image: Neha Mithbawkar for Forbes India

For nearly two years, people on the frontline have had it difficult.

Massive health risks and emotional stress caused by the Covid-19 crisis have made them the most vulnerable. Downsizing and salary cuts at the workplace further affected employee morale amidst the uncertainty.
That is why, for a company with a significant portion of its workers on the frontline, the past two years have been a test of DHL Express India’s mettle. With over 1,800 employees, one of the country’s largest logistics providers had to quickly adapt to the fast-evolving scenarios on the ground, especially as lockdowns became the norm. DHL Express India is the logistics, parcel-delivery, ecommerce shipping and international supply chain management unit of Deutsche Post DHL Group.

“There has to be a backup to a backup to backup. That’s classic DHL,” says RS Subramanian, senior vice president and managing director at DHL Express India. “You have a plan A, plan B, plan C and plan D so that you are able to meet any challenge. We built layers of support system that worked extremely well.”

Over the past two years, DHL Express has not had a salary cut, but has raised salaries, hired more employees, and even given a one-time Covid bonus in addition to the regular bonuses. The company also spent a significant amount of time over the past year, especially during the disastrous second wave of Covid-19, in ensuring the wellness of its employees.

“We removed all the limitations on our insurance coverage,” says Sunjoy Dhaawan, vice president for human resources at DHL Express India. “There was no limit on Covid-19-related expenses. It has not only given us goodwill and trust, but also confidence to our people.”

The company boasts a remarkable employee engagement index of 92 percent, up by 9 percent than its score last year, and continues to be far ahead of its competitors in the industry, according to consultancy firm Kincentric.

Build layers of support systems for your employees: RS Subramanian, DHL Express“The kind of support systems we built in the early stages of the pandemic gave confidence to all the employees to be able to battle,” adds Subramanian. “We maintained our entire reward and recognition programme, compensation, and benefits cycle, as though there was no pandemic. Salary increases, appraisals and bonuses happened as clockwork.”

“The organisation has been sensitive to the education aspirations of its employees and their families,” Kincentric says in its report. “It has been a major draw for them to establish themselves as a well-meaning and caring employer. To their credit in spite of the massive investments in the digital distribution space, they have managed to keep the attrition rates at 4 percent with very high engagement scores.”

Among others, the company continued with two key programmes to help frontline workers. With Umang, it offers fellowships to frontline employees that ensures their career progression. “Seventy to 80 fellowships are given in a year,” says Kincentric. “These benefits employees who had to leave their education at an early age.” DHL also offers a scholarship to the children of frontline employees for some 1,000 euro per year and has already supported 80 students. “Any employee, whether he is a frontline employee or manager or supervisor, cannot take three steps forward without at least two more people walking with him behind, because in our line of business, everybody is connected,” adds Subramanian. “We are a network business. Somebody is picking up, somebody is processing, somebody is delivering.”

Now, as the economy returns to normalcy, DHL is also glad that it did not resort to any layoffs. “We thought we could pull along and, in our experience, when supply chains get disrupted, the disruption cannot stay for long. And when the mending process starts, people like us get far more demand than anybody else.”

“When employees realise that there is growth potential for them in the organisation and can reach out to anyone in the company for mentorship or guidance, a community gets created not only within but outside work too,” says Aditya Narayan Mishra, director and CEO of CIEL HR Services, a recruitment and staffing services company. “This kind of atmosphere helps companies attract and retain their talent. It also helps in improving their productivity and ensuring the mental wellbeing of their employees,”

Much of DHL’s low attrition rate, the company reckons, is due to easy communication, link between different hierarchies and levels, and a competitive pay. “The organisation comes across as fairly caring and compassionate,” Kincentric says. “During Covid-19, it has managed to run its operations and serve its customers while ensuring employees are looked after with some special schemes making the employees reciprocate.”

“Almost all our higher-up roles, whether it is team leaders or supervisors, we always fill from within,” Subramanian says.  “Nearly 50 percent of all positions are filled from within. If you look at managerial positions, 80 percent are filled from it, which basically means people are progressing in the organisation, they are performing well, and they are getting the opportunity to progress to the next level during their tenure.” 

(This story appears in the 11 March, 2022 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)