Speaking at the ORC’s Annual Employee Engagement Conference, Graham started her 'Engagement Against All Odds' presentation by admitting that her current sector is the "toughest" she's ever worked in, and that the business has recently faced challenging times.
“In 2015 we were very nearly at breaking point. We lost a lot of money... The market changed significantly both with new technology coming in and Amazon building its own delivery capability, which took away millions from organisations such as ourselves,” she said.
“We’re coming out of it, but the resilience we’ve needed to have as an organisation has been astonishing," she added. "I’m a hardened HR person with decades of business experience behind me, but this is still the toughest industry I’ve worked in.”
Graham reported that she'd sent out 2,500 dismissal and rehire notices in 2016. This followed changes to contracts, with workers refusing to accept changes to their terms and conditions when Yodel scrapped extra pay for weekend working.
Despite these redundancies employee engagement still stands at 61%, Graham said. As many as 62% said they were proud to work for Yodel, and when asked if they felt respected by managers 79% responded positively.
Explaining her strategy behind maintaining engagement in tough circumstances, Graham said the organisation worked to deliver a set of values that could be understood across the business.
She added that employees also felt that Yodel was a compassionate place to work, thanks to its Yodel Foundation that fundraises for charities. The Foundation also has an Employee Distress Fund for staff going through hardship or illness.
“It may surprise you that in a company where there have been losses and redundancies that our employees still see us as compassionate," said Graham. "But colleagues know there is a safety net, and that when the chips are down we look after each other.”
Graham said she hoped that such engagement figures would help combat the negative press and perceptions that enlisting gig workers frequently attracts.
“In a nutshell our colleagues, whether employed or self-employed, love their jobs," she said. "They get a huge amount of personal satisfaction from delivering parcels to their neighbourhoods. There are networks of people who have an interest in you and your community, and who notice if a vulnerable person they would normally deliver to isn’t home – they care.
“Maybe our [engagement] figures will make [people] think a little differently about the headlines saying that if you’re self-employed you’re automatically discriminated against,” she added.