Issue Date: October 13, 2008
Investing In Employees
HAVE YOU EVER WISHED you could shoot hoops, enjoy the services of a concierge, or even pet your dog, all at your workplace? For some people, those kinds of perks are an on-the-job reality.
Many companies are striving to provide exceptional and unique benefits and career opportunities as a way to recruit, motivate, and retain the strongest talent in an increasingly global and competitive marketplace.
To get a snapshot of cutting-edge employee perks, C&EN contacted four chemistry-related companies of various sizes that this year made Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For," Working Mother's "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers," or The Scientist's "Best Places to Work in Industry." Those firms—AstraZeneca, Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Co., Genomic Health, and Wyatt Technology—were singled out for going the extra mile to help their employees manage both work and life demands.
AstraZeneca, which appeared on all three of these lists this year, provides a broad range of employee-centered benefits, including exemplary programs aimed at helping its 12,000 U.S. employees improve their health. "As a health care company committed to improving the lives of people all over the world, our job starts here—at AstraZeneca—with our own employees," says Simon King, vice president of human resources for global discovery. "Our philosophy is that if you treat employees well, you actually get repaid many times over in a more productive workforce."
As part of its support of employee wellness, AstraZeneca has set up a health incentive program, in which employees earn points for participating in a variety of company-sponsored health and fitness activities and for engaging in healthy behaviors and programs. Employees can redeem points for more than 2,000 items available in a merchandise catalog. In 2007, a whopping 98.6% of its employees participated in at least one of these programs.
At the company's U.S. headquarters, in Wilmington, Del., AstraZeneca employees can choose to stay fit via a walking path, fitness center, and tennis and basketball courts.
In addition to making it easier for employees to exercise, AstraZeneca offers tobacco cessation programs and nicotine replacement therapy to those who are trying to kick the habit. It also provides on-site breast, prostate, and skin cancer screening programs. The breast cancer screening program has detected more than 35 cases of cancer in its employees, most of them in early stages, since the inception of the program in 1989, according to the company.
AstraZeneca also provides an annual and confidential Mayo Clinic Health Assessment that identifies specific steps employees can take to improve their health. As part of the assessment, the company has set up an interactive online program for managing cholesterol and hypertension and a pilot program focused on diabetes treatment that is offered to employees and their family members.
The company has also instituted many family-friendly policies, including adoption assistance and insurance coverage for fertility treatments. It has a child care facility at its headquarters to accommodate roughly 350 children and provides backup child care and elder care on short notice through a referral service. The company also offers flexible hours, telecommuting, and part-time work. What's more, it treats its Wilmington-based employees and their families to an annual day at a local theme park, King says.
As part of its commitment to improving people's lives, the company also allows its employees to participate in many different community service programs. It partners "with nonprofit organizations to achieve the shared goal of helping people to live longer, healthier lives," King says.
In addition to providing a wide range of perks and benefits, AstraZeneca "has a strong commitment to enabling employees to do innovative and leading-edge science," King says. "Our best scientists can receive the same compensation and benefits as some of our most senior line managers. So you don't have to sacrifice your science to progress within your career. I think that's a fundamental aspect of what keeps our R&D staff here."
Another plus is that the company makes it possible for employees to develop their careers on a global basis. "You can choose to spend all your time in one particular location or move across the world, between disease areas, or from research to development," King says. For example, the global head of the company's oncology division started out as a bench chemist, he adds.
Besides supporting individual career development, the company emphasizes teamwork. Working on teams with cross-disciplinary experts and world-class scientists allows employees, including chemists, to broaden their exposure to the sciences, says Jim Empfield, AstraZeneca's director of central nervous system chemistry. It also contributes to a supportive work environment, where colleagues often go the extra mile to help other employees succeed, he says. For example, a colleague might take the time and energy to produce extra quantities of an intermediate to share with chemists who are working to synthesize development candidates, he says.
The team structure also allows chemists and other scientists to stay engaged with a drug as it moves from the early stages of discovery to become a commercial product that could potentially treat millions of people, Empfield says. "We have a great group of colleagues who are committed to improving patient health. And that commitment is infectious in creating an environment where people want to come to work and be a part of a team that is developing great medicines for patients," he adds. "The ability to make a difference is one of the elements that make AstraZeneca a great place to work."
AT MILLENNIUM: The Takeda Oncology Co., in Cambridge, Mass., employees have a similar attitude. They are "extremely passionate about what they do and motivated by the opportunity to make a difference in patient's lives," says Pam Saras, the company's senior director of human resources. Like the scientists at AstraZeneca, they enjoy working in a cooperative, team-structured environment that allows them "to see the fruits of their labor move downstream. Collaboration is huge at Millennium," Saras says.
With about 1,000 employees, she notes, "we are small enough to allow people to have a pretty strong voice here, and we want to hear what employees have to say. We provide the kind of environment where individual employees definitely can have an impact."
The corporate culture—which is defined by openness, enthusiasm, strong science, and a reputation for treating employees well—is not likely to change in the wake of Millennium's purchase by Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical in May, Saras says. "Takeda recognizes the unique culture we have here and is committed to preserving it," she adds.
Millennium's management team will continue to emphasize two-way communication with employees. The senior leadership hosts monthly town hall meetings to update employees on the state of the business; a lunchtime speaker series, which focuses on subjects such as molecules in the company's pipeline or government affairs; and a company-wide annual meeting, which is held off-site.
The top management team is "quite approachable and accessible," Saras says, noting that it is not uncommon for Millennium's president and chief executive officer, Deborah L. Dunsire, "to come up to you in the cafeteria and ask if she can sit and eat lunch with you."
Likewise, the company's chief scientific officer, Joseph Bolen, strives to connect with scientists at the bench. Recently, in an exercise he calls "Take Joe To Work Day," he began visiting different discovery labs throughout the company each Friday. Following his visits, he writes a sometimes-humorous weekly internal blog entry sharing his experiences with others in the company.
Millennium's top managers also seek employee feedback through regular employee surveys, which cover a wide range of topics. After analyzing responses, they often implement changes or institute new policies that may help employees balance their work and personal lives as part of Millennium's "Simplify Work, Simplify Life" initiative. For example, the company recently installed an ATM in the lobby, began offering pet health insurance, set up a concierge service to assist employees with vacations and restaurant reservations, and decided to shut down operations between Christmas and New Year's Day.
At the same time, "managers routinely solicit opinions on how to operate on a daily basis," says Tricia Vos, a senior scientist in Millennium's medicinal chemistry group. "I really appreciate the fact that my opinions count on every level within the company—from an interdepartmental level to a corporate level. There's always somebody willing to listen and implement proper change when appropriate."
Vos says she also appreciates the "atmosphere of camaraderie" that exists at Millennium. "Coming to work every day is a pleasant experience because my colleagues are my friends. I enjoy spending time with them both inside and outside of work," she adds.
One way Millennium fosters this kind of sociable atmosphere is by encouraging employees to become involved in corporate-sponsored community service projects. The company's Millennium Makes a Difference organization, which is run by employees, coordinates company initiatives and volunteer projects throughout the year.
In one such project, called Community Service Day, Millennium employees pitch in on community projects such as painting or landscaping and then reconvene at the end of the day for a reception. On this day, all employees are encouraged to serve their organization of choice without losing a vacation day. In another effort last year, more than 250 Millennium employees participated in Light the Night Walk, in support of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, for which employees raised $22,000.
Employees can bond, too, during the many festive celebrations that Millennium hosts to mark important milestones within the company, Saras says. For example, in June, when the company received Food & Drug Administration approval to use its oncology product Velcade (bortezomib) for injection in patients with previously untreated multiple myeloma, it hosted a Mexican fiesta dinner for employees on its front lawn. "It was a way to celebrate the hard work people do here on an everyday basis," Saras says. "Although there's a lot to be done here, we also take time to smell the roses. That's a big part of who we are."
By staying in touch with employees and taking action to meet their expectations, Millennium believes it is well positioned to retain "highly talented people for whom there is probably more demand than supply," Saras says. This is especially true in the Boston area, which is home to many companies and institutions. "People joke that you don't have to change your parking space if you change companies because we are all so close together. So, obviously, we want to have happy, productive, and dedicated employees," she adds.
AT GENOMIC HEALTH, in Redwood City, Calif., "it's patients first, then employees, then shareholders," says Jay Snable, the company's director of systems engineering, as he describes the firm's order of priorities. A six-year employee, Snable says he enjoys the collegial atmosphere at Genomic and looks forward to walking through the doors each day.
Founded in 2000, Genomic is a life sciences company that conducts genomic research to develop clinically validated molecular diagnostic tools. The company's first product, Oncotype DX, was launched in 2004 with the purpose of studying 21 different genes in early-stage breast cancer tumors. The test generates a recurrence score that correlates to how likely a woman's cancer is to return and whether the patient will benefit from chemotherapy.
And it's the excitement each worker feels about the common purpose—creating an innovative product for cancer patients—that is evident to those who enter Genomic's doors, says Emily Couey, associate director of human resources. "It's gratifying to see the work you put in come to fruition and have people make very important decisions based on that work," she says.
With a staff of almost 400 people, the firm employs a few engineers, biochemists, and others with chemistry backgrounds who work in cross-functional teams where they have the opportunity to broaden and enhance their scientific skills. At the same time, new employees benefit from internal and external training and mentoring programs designed to help them integrate into the company.
But training and a sense of purpose are not the only things that make Genomic attractive to employees. The company offers a weekly happy hour, the opportunity to participate in sports leagues, and bright orange bicycles that can be used for transportation between campus buildings.
"We put a lot of focus and effort toward creating programs and an environment where employees can thrive throughout all points in their career," Couey says. As part of that effort, the company tries to "take into consideration the whole individual, not just the individual that's here contributing to Genomic," she adds. "We recognize that our people help us to achieve our goals. They are part of our competitive advantage."
AT WYATT TECHNOLOGY, "the well-being of our employees" is a top concern, says Philip J. Wyatt, the current CEO who founded the Santa Barbara, Calif., company in 1982.
The company currently develops, manufactures, and markets laser-based analytical instruments primarily used for the development of new polymers and copolymers, new materials, and new pharmaceuticals. Wyatt's staff of 80 U.S. and 20 international employees includes the founder's two sons: Geof is president, and Cliff is executive vice president.
The privately owned company works hard to foster a positive work environment, which is critical to its success. "Our primary focus is on our customers, and if they're not delighted, then we can't be successful. Thus, our staff, to be fully supportive of our customers, must be supportive of one another," Philip Wyatt says. Many of Wyatt's staff members teach its Light Scattering University course, a three-day training class for purchasers of the company's equipment, which is one of the cornerstones of the company's customer service.
One tool the company uses to keep its finger on the pulse of the workforce is a program known as Keep the President Informed (KPI). Under this program, employees are required to submit a short weekly report to the company president or CEO explaining what they did the prior week, describing what they plan to do in the coming week, and relating any concerns or problems they might have. "Although most of the KPI concerns are benign, it's nice for employees to be able to communicate and clarify those feelings before they begin to affect their performance," the CEO says.
Direct communication with top management is not the only unique aspect of the firm's environment, says the company's human resources director, Diane Miranda. In addition to providing health, dental, and physical wellness benefits, including paying for memberships to a national health club, new employees enjoy welcoming parties that Wyatt instituted in lieu of parties for outgoing staff members. Within the first week of hire, all new employees are treated to lunch—with the entire company.
Wyatt also allows its employees to bring their dogs to work, and dogs are often shared with coworkers who might need a break. "A few pats on a dog's head or a quick walk around the building on a sunny day usually provides just the right pick-me-up to regenerate an employee's batteries," Miranda says when explaining the company policy.
As part of other benefits at the company, employees may participate in company-sponsored poker tournaments or softball, volleyball, Frisbee golf, and bowling teams. They may compete for the employee-of-the-month award, attend annual picnics, and celebrate at the company's formal holiday party.
Employees also share directly in company successes. Each time an instrument is sold, employees are notified on the public broadcast system. They receive quarterly cash bonuses whenever the company is profitable, in addition to merit increases and other special awards.
"The importance of each employee's personal contribution to the company's ongoing success is measured quarterly," Philip Wyatt says, citing a policy that is central to its designation as a top company to work for. "Each employee is recognized for his or her contribution or for the value they have added."
- Chemical & Engineering News
- ISSN 0009-2347
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