Employer Brand and Employee Engagement in a Crisis

The concept of engaging your people is not just a theory. Nor is it rocket science. But it does require belief from a strong leadership.

Employer Brand and Employee Engagement in a Crisis

The concept of engaging your people is not just a theory. Nor is it rocket science. But it does require belief from a strong leadership.

Employer Brand and Employee Engagement in a Crisis

The calendar of Christmas related events includes Family Cinema days, Fastest to Dress as Santa, Christmas Lunch and Eddie Rockets on site, Wonka Bars with a golden ticket, Speciality Coffee Cabin, CEO for the Day, Lunch time Musical Bingo, a DJ and Games in the Hub. To top it all off, there is an opportunity to win a €1,000 Holiday Voucher.

Now if I told you that this was a string of Christmas events organised by a professional events team aimed at customers, you wouldn’t be shocked. But what if I told you that it was an initiative organised by an in-house HR team for its own people and their families? And all this at a time when this company has its biggest spike in business, starting with Black Friday and continuing all through December?

DPD Group is Ireland’s largest dedicated parcel delivery company, with 33 depots throughout the country handling in excess of 19 million parcels per year. In 2012, the business added home deliveries to its proposition. Before C-19, the split between B2B and B2C was 50/50. Since March, that has swung dramatically but not surprisingly to 90% B2C.

The lock-down has caused a temporary migration to on-line shopping from home. Global research by McKinsey suggests that we will see a permanent spike in on-line sales of between 3-6% when we return to normal. I also believe that due to social-distancing and cautionary shoppers, a hybrid shopping model that merges on-line with physical shopping will see a continuation of home deliveries. So this trend will continue for some time for DPD.

In the meantime, it is making the most of the situation. Challenged with the sudden spike, DPD hired an extra 350 people to cater for the demand. Some of their own sales people have switched roles temporarily and the company also collaborated with Europcar at Dublin Airport, to get qualified and proven drivers quickly. It strikes me that its very strong employer brand would have eased their recruitment pains in any event.

Tips for improving your employer brand in a crisis

In my thirty years hopping around the world, consulting with organisations of all size and speaking at conferences, I have never come across an organisation with such a strong employee engagement agenda. This is the most impressive collection of great ideas I have ever seen in one company.

1. Activities calendar

Not satisfied with an in-house social committee that might meet only now and then, DPD has created a calendar of activities in advance. It is project managed by Mary Gaffney and it ensures that ideas transfer to action. It’s apparent that budget has been allocated to this but many of their ideas don’t cost a cent. So don’t let budget stop you.

2. Engagement surveys

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of conducting annual engagement surveys. Just like a thermometer, they are essential for checking the morale and the specific strengths and weaknesses in a business. During C-19, I think it’s even more important. Home-working, anxieties about health, loneliness, mental health, finances, the future, should all be a concern for every employer.

One of my clients is reluctant to do a full-blown survey, so we helped them with a ‘pulse-survey’ instead. We identified a handful of really key questions that are asked of teams on a weekly cycle, a different department every week. This enables the employer to be proactive and to proactively respond to emerging issues quickly.

3. Communications

Zoom and other platforms enable us to include our people daily. Even if we don’t have business issues to communicate, it’s good to make sure people feel part of the wider community. DPD has all sorts of ideas such as communal coffee breaks for home-workers. Slido is a great app for making your own quizzes.

Don’t allow a gulf to emerge between top brass and the front-line. Leaders, be seen on the Zoom calls and participate. Perhaps you should show your lighter side and let the team see your dog jumping up on your lap.

4. Training

One of my clients is up and running with a culture refresh programme. Each month, we have a different theme linked to the new values. That also presents opportunities for upskilling the global teams on common business challenges. During the month of May, I conducted several 90m bite-size training sessions that embraced the new values. Once again, Zoom was our friend.

And I notice that people are very forgiving about video-conferencing. We know there are best practices around positioning of the laptop, backdrops, and no interruptions from kids or dogs. Well we had all of that in our training, and it still worked very well. I’m quite chilled about it, just during this crisis.


The concept of engaging your people is not just a theory. Nor is it rocket science. But it does require belief from a CEO like DPD’s Des Travers and strong leadership from HR leaders like Siobhan Lennon and Mary Gaffey. The impact it has on all significant business metrics has been proven many times over. 

This crisis has brought unprecedented changes to our social and business models. Never before have we been challenged so much with the necessity to include our people, those we have had to lay-off temporarily and indeed our contract workers. And never before have we had such a collection of tools to enable us to do it. The only thing stopping you is probably in our own heads.

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Culture & Change management expert

Enthusiastic and down-to-earth, Alan can share his hard-won insight from helping global giants to grow profit.