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Managing human resources through the pandemic


By Krzysztof Wróbel, board member of Freightliner PL
Header kwrobel


This is the story of how a specialist rail transportation company became one of Poland’s top employers, built by an award-winning team of ‘the strongest people’.

Who we are

We are Freightliner PL, a rail freight operator running cargo trains in two of Europe’s largest rail freight markets: Poland and Germany. The main commodities moved by us are aggregates for large infrastructure projects (motorways, roads, railways, airports, metro systems), agricultural products, steel, coal and intermodal containers. With its historical routes going back to British Rail’s containerised cargo business, FPL was established by Britain’s Freightliner in 2007 and belongs now to an American Genesee & Wyoming Group, owned by equity funds Brookfield Infrastructure Partners, Canada and GIC, Singapore. Key numbers for the Polish company: annual revenue of 300m zlotys; 40 locomotives and 1,300 wagons in use; 300 people in Poland and in Germany. Half of our staff are locomotive drivers.

2018 – a year of change

In September 2017 Freightliner PL celebrated its tenth anniversary and at that time we could already feel a wind of change in the rail sector. In 2018 we realised that Poland was no longer a place of cheap, easily available skilled workforce. The employee market developed rapidly over the preceding year following dynamic growth of the entire country. Companies were fighting to attract and keep employees. In the rail sector there were 16,000 train drivers in Poland of whom 35% were due to retire within the next 10 years. It became a real issue given increased demand for their work and a very low number of new joiners in the sector. A competition between employers went way beyond salary and benefits. In early autumn of 2018 during a strategic session held by the FPL Management Board we decided that we had to respond to a higher staff turnover. Inspired by Maciej Wiśniewski, a coach and the CEO of Inspire Leadership,  we concluded that a well-prepared employer branding (EB) campaign would be a right weapon of choice. We partnered with an experienced Polish agency OK Super to create and implement an EB strategy. The goal was to lower staff turnover, retain the best people and attract new candidates to fill vacancies and to enable growth.

Step 1 – What do the Polish train drivers think? How do our people feel?

The first step of the project was to audit our internal processes and to run an anonymous, independent, externally managed online survey focused on our drivers and also on train drivers working for other rail companies. The survey questions covered salary and benefits, work-life balance, stability of the employment, employer quality, employee satisfaction, brand recognition, first-choice employer ranking and interests and hobbies. Key outcomes from the survey conducted in late 2018 were that 47% of FPL employees were satisfied with their job and 42% of them would recommend FPL as an employer. 60% of drivers in Poland did not plan any job changes, however 25% were planning or considering a change of job in the nearest future and further 15% were not sure if they wanted to change their jobs.

Step 2 – Employer Value Proposition. #NAJSILNIEJSI

The survey and also interviews with our and external drivers helped us to define a right EVP (Employer Value Proposition). It came out that FPL drivers believed that they were strong, tough and special, and that FPL locos were the strongest. The people compared themselves to task forces. “A man and a machine in one”. These findings resulted in building the EB campaign around the catchword “NAJSILNIEJSI”, which means “THE STRONGEST”. “The real power comes not only from a machine but also from a character and experience of a man” – that was a lead motive of the campaign.

Key visual of the campaign #Najsilniejsi

Step 3 – Employer Branding strategy. Execution.
Implementation of the EB strategy included:

•    Launch of an internal project Power of Change with the goal of improving internal communication and to trigger departmental discussions around work-life balance

•    Review of our Compensation and Benefits model with a market benchmarking;

•    Launch of a dedicated website najsilniejsi.pl with many articles, pictures and movies presenting FPL as a first-choice employer that takes care of people and that equips them with the best rolling stock and technology;

•    Launch of new social sites (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram) and development of existing social sites (Twitter, LinkedIn);

•    Launch of new initiatives: a volunteering programme “#Najsilniejsi z #pomocą” and a programme supporting the hobbies of our employees “#Najsilniejsi i #pasja”

The campaign has been very well received by FPL employees – it increased motivation and willingness to stay with the company. The turnover ratio went down significantly. External activities attracted public attention – there has been a lot of coverage in press and in social media. One of the FPL YouTube productions is now approaching 500,000 views!  Candidates have been calling our HR department much more frequently than before – dozens of new, quality candidates have applied for train-driver jobs since December 2018. FPL is back on a right track again, beating the 2019 budget and despite Covid-19, is close to meeting the 2020 budget.

What a Great Place to Work!

Today 86% of our employees at Freightliner PL say we are a Great Place To Work as per an anonymous survey conducted by the Great Place to Work® Institute in October 2020. Yes, eighty-six! Truly amazing! The current average for Poland (national survey) is 48% and an average for the Top 15 Best Employers having fewer than 500 employees in Poland is 81% – both measured by the Great Place to Work Institute with the same tool. It means that... Yeah! Most likely we are in the top 15 Best Employers in Poland in the category <500 employees! The next official ranking will be published in spring 2021.
In February 2019 when we did the GPTW survey for the first time just after the kick-off of the #Najsilniejsi campaign the result was 56% – that’s how many employees said we were a Great Place To Work. Several months later, in October 2019, we asked the Institute to repeat the survey to verify the effectiveness of our actions and the results were stunning – the ratio went up to 73%. Now, a year later, it’s 86%. What progress!
Other selected findings from the most recent survey: 96% of drivers and technical staff believe that our customers would describe our services as perfect, 96% of employees feel that everyone is treated equally at Freightliner PL, 94% say the firm ensures a safe working environment, and 89% love the way we interact with the society.

Award-winning campaign

Our efforts have been recognised by our staff and the rail sector and also by independent experts. #Najsilniejsi campaign received four national awards in 2019-20:

•    Employer Branding Excellence Award 2019

•    Magnet Award 2019 (for attracting people)

•    EB Stars Award 2019

•    and the newest one: a silver Effie Award 2020 in the ‘PR-Led and Employer Branding’ category in November 2020.

We have proved that it is not the brand itself that determines the strength of the company – it is strong people with character and experience with the help of strong machines and investment in modern technology that allow you to reach the top.

A neverending story

Effie Awards is the most important competition in the world of advertising, the industry’s equivalent of the ‘Oscars’. But the #Najsilniejsi campaign is not an advertising campaign. It is a story. A story about our wonderful people and the most powerful machines. A story about how we constantly change our company so that it becomes a better and better workplace. Once again, we were appreciated for the truthfulness, freshness and consistency of our actions. The Effie statuette is an award for all employees of Freightliner PL for showing how to build together a company where 86% of employees say it’s a Great Place To Work!

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