An employee at American grocer DoorDash made headlines and sparked debate last December after uploading an anonymous post raging about the company's reintroduction of its WeDash program.
Company policy — introduced in 2013 but paused since 2020 due to the pandemic — requires DoorDash executives and C-suite to deliver groceries and help in the kitchen or customer service department at least once a month.
Photo credit: Blind
This would allow everyone in the company – from the software developers to the chief executive officer – to experience the impact of their services first-hand. Ultimately, this helps her team better design products and services for customers.
Should delivery services in Singapore also emulate this model?
There were mixed opinions about WeDash
One reason DoorDash reinstated its WeDash policy is its dominance of the US grocery delivery market. It accounted for 57 percent of US grocery shipments as of November 2021, according to Bloomberg Second Measure.
While some employees were dissatisfied with the WeDash model and threatened termination, others saw value in it.
Among the 2,000 comments under the anonymous post on Blind, some felt it would give them more understanding of how their role was being performed.
Interestingly, DoorDash users also took to social media to express their support for the initiative. Most felt the move would help improve the user experience for drivers, restaurants and users.
A common word that keeps popping up in this debate? Empathy.
Photo credit: Jeremy Goldman on Twitter
Currently, efforts to better protect the rights of workers in the gig economy are largely focused on government action.
Last July, China ordered food delivery drivers to be paid above minimum wage, be allowed to unionize and have access to social security. It also banned platforms from making "unreasonable demands" on their drivers based on algorithms.
Separately, the European Union also proposed requirements for gig economy platforms to give their gig workers employment rights like minimum wage and sick pay in December 2021.
In Singapore, food delivery drivers are not adequately protected
Singapore is no stranger to the debate about improving protections for workers in the gig economy.
Photo credit: PMO
During last year's National Day rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong singled out food delivery drivers, describing them as "just like employees in every way" but lacking in employee benefits.
Despite the growing number of Singaporeans joining the gig economy – self-employed accounted for 14.7 percent of Singapore's workforce in 2020, up from 13.5 percent in 2019 – they are not eligible for contributions to the Central Provident Fund (CPF).
As they are classified as self-employed, they do not have employment contracts with food suppliers and are therefore excluded from protection under the Labor Code. They also have no union protection, PM Lee stressed.
While not formal employees, they have additional freedom to choose when they want to work, but delivery drivers are often fined if they don't meet certain quotas.
They are also not obliged to provide health services. However, a quick search of the Grab, foodpanda, and Deliveroo websites revealed that they offer driver insurance coverage when they are actively delivering.
Leaders should walk on the floor to empathize better
Credit: Anthony Tan
Anthony Tan, Grab's chief executive officer, has openly shared his experiences — from working in a kitchen to escorting one of the company's experienced delivery drivers.
During the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council Summit last September, Anthony Tan, CEO of Grab, said his experience as a kitchen hand made him realize that some kitchen workers had trouble handling order slips with English instructions.
So he came up with the idea of automatically translating order forms when they were printed out.
With first-hand experience in the field, employees can better understand the impact their work has on others. By helping, be it from the point of view of the retailer or the deliverer, nuances that might otherwise have been overlooked can be quickly identified and resolved.
While asking for feedback can be helpful, empathy through first-hand experience can drive employees to be more passionate about their work and create improved products.
From a consumer perspective, a company with empathy for its frontline employees is also a plus. In 2020, news service firm Morning Consult found that 90 percent of consumers said it was important for businesses to treat their employees well.
For now, changes to delivery driver benefits could be on the way, as the Singapore government announced the formation of a Platform Workers Advisory Committee in September 2021.
But beyond government policy, Singapore food suppliers might want to look to DoorDash to better protect their gig workers, who are arguably the backbone of their business.
While difficult to implement from the start, company policies that require their executives and C-suites to walk the talk will help their company better serve their customers, delivery drivers, and vendors improve.
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Photo credit: AirAsia food / GrabFood / foodpanda / Retail News Asia