An employee at American food delivery company DoorDash made headlines and sparked debate last December after they uploaded an anonymous post raging over the company reinstating its WeDash programme.
The company policy — implemented in 2013 but paused since 2020 due to the pandemic — requires DoorDash’s executives and C-suite to do at least one food delivery run, help out in the kitchen or customer service department once a month.
This would allow everyone in the company — from its software engineers to its chief executive officer — to experience the impact of its services first-hand. Ultimately, this helps their team better design products and services for customers.
Should food delivery companies in Singapore emulate this model too?
There were mixed opinions on WeDash
One reason DoorDash reinstated its WeDash policy is because of its dominance in the US food delivery space. According to Bloomberg Second Measure, it accounted for 57 per cent of food deliveries in the US in November 2021.
While some employees were unhappy with the WeDash model and threatened to leave, others saw value in it.
Among the 2,000 comments under the anonymous post on Blind, some felt it would provide them more understanding in performing their role.
Interestingly, DoorDash users also took to social media to voice their support of the initiative. Most felt the move would help improve user experiences for riders, restaurants and users.
One common word that kept popping up in this debate? Empathy.
Currently, efforts to better protect the rights of gig economy workers are largely centred around governmental action.
Last July, China mandated for food delivery drivers to be paid above minimum wage, be allowed to unionise, as well as have access to social security. It also disallowed platforms from placing “unreasonable demands” based on algorithms on its drivers.
Separately, the European Union also proposed requirements for gig economy platforms to provide its gig workers employment rights such as minimum wage and sick pay in December 2021.
In Singapore, food delivery drivers are not protected enough
Singapore is no stranger to the debate about improving protection for gig economy workers.
During the National Day Rally last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong singled out food delivery drivers, describing them as “for all intents and purposes just like employees”, yet they are lacking in employee benefits.
Despite the growing number of Singaporeans joining the gig economy — self-employed persons made up 14.7 per cent of Singapore’s workforce in 2020, up from 13.5 per cent in 2019 — they are not eligible for Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions.
Being classified as self-employed persons, they do not have employment contracts with food delivery providers and are hence excluded from protections under the Employment Act. They also do not have union protections, PM Lee highlighted.
While not being formal employees gives them additional liberties to choose when they want to work, delivery drivers are often penalised if they do not meet certain quotas.
They are also not required to be granted health benefits. However, a quick search on the websites of Grab, foodpanda and Deliveroo revealed that they do offer insurance coverage for drivers when they are actively delivering.
Execs should walk on the ground to better empathise
Grab’s chief executive officer, Anthony Tan, has openly shared his experiences walking the ground — from working in a kitchen to shadowing a veteran delivery driver from the company.
During the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit last September, Grab CEO Anthony Tan shared that his experience as a kitchen runner made him realise that some kitchen staff had trouble handling order slips with English instructions.
Hence, he came up with the idea to auto-translate order slips when it is printed out.
With first-hand experience on the ground, employees can get a better understanding of the impact their work has on others. By helping out, be it from the merchant’s or delivery driver’s point of view, nuances that may have otherwise been missed can be quickly identified and solved.
While asking for feedback may help, empathy from having first-hand experience can drive employees to be more passionate in their work and come up with improved products.
From a consumer standpoint, a company with empathy for its frontline workers is also a plus point. In 2020, intelligence company Morning Consult found that 90 per cent of consumers said it is important for companies to treat their employees well.
For now, change might be on the way for delivery driver benefits as the Singapore government announced the formation of an advisory committee for platform workers in September 2021.
But beyond governmental policy, perhaps food delivery companies in Singapore ought to take a page from DoorDash to better protect its gig workers who are arguably the backbone of their company.
While it may be difficult to implement right from the get-go, company policies requiring its executives and C-suites to walk the talk would serve to better improve their company’s services for its customers, delivery drivers and merchants.
Featured Image Credit: AirAsia food / GrabFood / foodpanda / Retail News Asia