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Now more than ever, employee engagement and appreciation should take center stage

Whether you run a small business or manage projects for a large corporation, you know that motivated, engaged employees are critical to your success. Now, as we all confront unprecedented financial and operational challenges in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, keeping employees inspired - and above all safe - is more important than ever.  Across the country and around the world, anxiety about health and wellness, along with concern about job security and the future, are at all-time highs. The task of keeping calm and carrying on is made more difficult by one simple and widespread reality: Many offices are still closed and remote work is in high gear, which means that showing appreciation and support must take new and creative forms.

There is no doubt that strong employee engagement programs boost productivity, reduce turnover and improve overall business profitability. But in the time of COVID-19, engagement and appreciation initiatives do something even more valuable: They provide a lifeline to employees, and they serve as a reminder that our experiences with this terrible pandemic are shared, even though we may be physically distanced. For this reason, it’s vital that organizations prioritize regular communication with employees in multiple forms, including visual messages, along with efforts to recognize and reward them on a consistent basis.

At DHL, we know something about connecting with a workforce that’s operating in physically diverse locations; under regular circumstances, our teams can be found in offices, service centers and hubs, airports, warehouses and on the road across the Americas and around the globe. During the coronavirus outbreak, like most companies, we moved to a remote setup for our office staff. Our experience both before and during COVID-19 suggests some important elements for employee engagement and appreciation in these difficult times:

Broaden and Reinforce Communications

For most organizations, Zoom and other videoconferencing tools have become a mainstay of COVID-19 separation. Video calls are important; while they can’t replace face-to-face meetings, they help create a deeper connection between colleagues, along with an important visual engagement in the most pressing matters of the day. Regular video check-ins, updates and meetings with staff are critical to keeping everyone involved and in step with the business, its goals and its success. It is vital to allow team members to contribute to discussions, add ideas and suggestions, and engage in some of the more personal interactions they may have in an office environment.

(Image: DHL)

But in addition to phone calls and videoconferencing, keeping employees connected and inspired requires reinforcement. At DHL, we send regular video messages updating employees on the state of the business, helping allay concerns and build confidence. It adds to a sense of inclusion and camaraderie, and keeps everyone on the same page. Part of our message to employees revolves around what we call the three C’s, asking everyone during the current challenges to remain Calm, Confident and Courageous. We also deliver regular email updates with specific information for particular teams, along with messages of encouragement and support, and we recognize individual work on a company-wide basis.

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Amplify Recognition and Incentive Programs

Most companies have some form of employee recognition program that’s designed to encourage and reward excellence. The goal is to inspire team members to go above and beyond, to take ownership of their work, and to become entrepreneurs within the greater organization. During the COVID-19 crisis, these programs should not only be continued – they should be strengthened. 

To accomplish this, companies need to take some creative steps to make the whole process digital. At DHL, for instance, for the first time in our history we launched a virtual Employee Appreciation Week at the end of June – replacing our annual in-person events. Each day featured a different online event, including interactive sessions and classes. We also launched a microsite to allow every employee across the Americas region to learn more and get involved. In addition, we are continuing our Employee of the Quarter / Year program, recognizing outstanding team members and broadcasting their accomplishments to the company.

(Image: DHL)

Organizations should consider implementing additional recognition programs that highlight the work of an employee, specifically as it relates to COVID-19.  Perhaps an individual team member has developed a unique program to help the business survive the pandemic; or perhaps an employee has done something extraordinary outside of work to help others.  Any expression of appreciation is welcome and sends a message to employees that you care.

Continue Community Involvement

Another way to bring employees together is through community involvement. Business-sponsored volunteer programs strengthen teams, while sending a message to employees that the company is united and committed to the greater good.  In current times, community involvement must by necessity take a different form than in the past. 

At DHL, we are taking an approach that promotes community work while also recognizing employees.  The DHL’s Got Heart program recognizes and celebrates all employees who give their free time to causes close to their hearts.  Winning entries receive financial donations to the charitable organizations they support, and we publicize their good work across the company.

In the current climate, it is easy for business leaders to be sidetracked by new, daily challenges and the overarching crisis that we are all encountering.  But we must not forget those at the heart of our mission – the people who drive our organizations into the future: our dedicated employees.

Published: December 2020

Images: DHL

Mike Parra

CEO, DHL Express Americas

With over three decades of transportation and logistics experience, Mike Parra leads the second largest region within the DHL Express network, the Americas, as CEO. His strategic direction of 56 highly-diverse countries and territories encompassing approximately 27,000 employees has contributed to the organization’s enormous success in growth, quality and employee satisfaction. As a member of the DHL Express Global Management Board, he also has direct oversight for the company’s best-in-class training and development program (Certified International Specialist), as well as its portfolio of global sponsorships. Mike exhibits his passion for social responsibility by building housing for needy families, biking for MS, and being active within his church.

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