A Conversation with DHL:
DHL’s Journey in Developing its People

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"Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes."

DHL Express Singapore continues to keep its people focus on the forefront, but the journey in doing so did not happen overnight. Recognized as a leader in the logistics industry, it holds the accolade of ranking top in the Great Place to Work® Singapore’s Best Workplaces™ list in 2020 and 2021. The company also has achieved an employee engagement rate of 99 per cent last year. How did the company weather the storm of Covid-19, remain agile to developing its people while keeping a robust growth figure? DHL Express Managing Director, Mr Christopher Ong shares with Raymond Teo, Senior Consultant for Great Place to Work® ASEAN and ANZ, key steps that the company implemented during the pandemic to ensure its employees remain upbeat and positive about the workplace.

1. A belief that People equals Growth and Quality.

DHL Express believes that employees drive service quality which in turn delivers growth to propel the company forward. It has a Certified International Specialists (CIS) program which was created in the midst of the last crisis the company went through in 2009/2010. This investment of resources into a people program during crisis represents DHL’s commitment to people.

This program was meant as a training program but it transited into a cultural change program that teaches about values and gives employees, especially its frontline team leads and supervisors, technical and soft skills. Leaders themselves facilitate the CIS program which involves teaching employees how to lead and how to engage with their peers and the people that work for them. Mr Ong acknowledged that motivated employees go the extra mile to solve the problems for the customers and when employees are engaged, it brings about engaged customers. 

“Once you have this great service quality, the loyal customers will keep coming back … loyal customers will basically drive our profitability. We preach what we call the virtuous cycle, because once we make the money, we commit to reinvesting back into our people so that this cycle keeps going. If our employees are completely disengaged, there is no way our customers will feel engaged with the organization. Motivated people deliver that great service quality,” he shared

2. Placing our people first in everything that we do.

When the Covid-19 pandemic occurred, DHL Express put together a dedicated taskforce to implement Covid-19 safety measures, some of whom were experienced colleagues who dealt with the SARS crisis earlier. They were pre-emptive and involved in securing scarce protective gears and supplies for employees.

“We rolled out things that would support both our employees as well as our customers, be it contactless payments or contactless deliveries to minimize the risk of contact with asymptomatic COVID individuals.”

One of the most important things the company did was to commit to a no-layoff and no pay reductions to give employees the psychological safety and an environment of trust and security.

Another initiative that the company implemented was in response to the Singapore-Malaysia borders closure in March 2020. The company engaged and communicated with 210 of its staff who were Malaysian employees, most of whom were operators on the ground and customer service agents that cross the border daily. 

“Because of our swift response, we made sure that they had a roof over their heads by securing accommodation across a few hotels for those who chose to stay in Singapore during the initial period of the borders closure. We set up an alternative worksite in Johor Bahru, Malaysia to cater to a better working environment and to focus on the business growth opportunities. We shipped IT equipment across and did everything we could to allow them to continue to work and to get paid.”

The company also gave a one-time necessities allowance and daily allowance for a period to defray day-to-day expenses.

3. Communicating with clear intent and engaging its people in a time of change and disruption.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, DHL Express transitioned to remote working arrangements for its non-frontline employees. The decision was made to keep the ‘Safety First’ principle in mind. It also communicated with its employees the company’s pro-family stance and acknowledged the challenge of juggling caregiving and working from home, making it clear that family duties come first.

Mr Ong also cited how the company’s 200 seat call centre had to pivot completely to remote work within 24 hours. The managers and supervisors of the company brought the necessary equipment such as desktop computers to the homes of the staff. 

“When we realized that there was going to be even more remote work, we converted all the desktops into laptops. It was a small investment that went really deeply into the hearts of the customer service advisors as it meant more flexibility and convenience for them. We equipped them with the best technology so that they could do their work well.”

The company also showed appreciation to its staff through different creative ways such as care packs and bento food appreciation weeks or Grab food vouchers for its employees.


4. Encourage open communication, feedback mechanisms and the ability to share concerns.

At the company’s town hall and small team meetings, the company leveraged on technology such as Zoom and Skype which gave employees the ability to ask questions anonymously.

“We commit to be fully transparent. With oil prices going up, people commented: 'Oh, you know, our transport allowance hasn't changed. Can we get more money?' Employees were informed that the transport allowance they received was higher in proportion to what most other companies gave. But when we found that there was a gap in our medical, we made sure that we increased that significantly,” he shared.

Employees appreciated the company’s transparency and consistency in their responses that were guided by company values. When they recognized that the company answered their concerns honestly, it enabled them to trust the company and it made the communication more effective.


5. Creating a purpose for the company and its employees.

“To be truly unique as an organization, you need to give your people a purpose.”

Mr Ong affirmed that DHL Express believes that wholeheartedly. DHL Express was the chosen logistics provider of a major vaccine manufacturer and help delivered more than 2.5 billion doses of vaccine around the world and in over 175 countries and in Singapore, over 11 million vaccines were delivered. 

“Our purpose as an organization is to connect people and improve lives. And in many of these cases, we're actually saving lives. Be it the personal protective equipment gear to the vaccines and the sanitizers, the company even sponsored masks together with Temasek foundation.”

He added that employees also worked with the Singapore Red Cross in 2020 to support the delivery of customized care packages to local vulnerable groups.

“Our people were so proud to be able to do this and as an organization because we're able to do what we do, there is a huge amount of pride in our purpose. I do believe that if our people really believe in that purpose, they will find this to be a great place to work.”

You can access the full webinar: Emerging Stronger in Covid-19 as #1 on the World’s Best Workplaces™ List, here

Daphne Lee

Daphne believes in building community-relatable content, telling stories through narratives that add value in today’s workplace and in culture-building. Her idea of a great workplace is one that thrives on openness, support and inclusivity while building trust and working towards a common business growth and purpose. A journalist, she spent 15 years writing for trade publications, lifestyle magazines and broadsheet supplements. Daphne was also active in the Parent Support Group of her daughters’ school, chairing the volunteer-run committee for 3 years. A mum of two teenagers and two adopted dogs, she enjoys riding on her trusty bicycle to discover new sights and sounds in Singapore.

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To be eligible for the World’s Best Workplaces list, a company must apply and be named to a minimum of 5 national Best Workplaces lists within our current 58 countries, have 5,000 employees or more worldwide, and at least 40% of the company’s workforce (or 5,000 employees) must be based outside of the home country. Extra points are given based on the number of countries where a company surveys employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index©, and the percentage of a company’s workforce represented by all Great Place to Work surveys globally. Candidates for the 2017 Worlds Best Workplaces list will have appeared on national workplaces lists published in September 2016 through August 2017.