Issue Date: October 21, 2013
Vitae Pharmaceuticals, Dow Corning, And Johnson & Johnson Share Their Policies For Attracting And Retaining The Best Employees
Imagine working in an environment where you’re encouraged to share your ideas openly with the company’s top brass, enjoy a flexible work schedule and e-mail-free weekends, compete in office Ping-Pong tournaments, or volunteer for your favorite charity. Some people don’t have to use their imagination; for them those kinds of perks are an on-the-job reality.
Many companies strive 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.
That’s certainly true of the three companies highlighted here for C&EN’s annual profile of the best companies to work for. These companies—Vitae Pharmaceuticals, Dow Corning, and Johnson & Johnson—were chosen from among those that made three annual lists in 2013: Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” The Scientist’s “Best Places to Work in Industry,” and Working Mother’s “100 Best Companies.”
Creating an employee-centric culture was an early corporate goal for Fort Washington, Pa.-based Vitae. This small, clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company develops novel, small-molecule compounds aimed at tackling big medical problems including those related to chronic kidney disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, and autoimmune diseases.
Not long after Vitae’s labs opened in 2003, its management team asked employees to “come up with a core set of company values that would make Vitae a successful, pleasurable place—a best place to work,” says Jeffrey S. Hatfield, the company’s president and chief executive officer. Employees responded to the challenge, determining that Vitae should focus on innovative drugs to satisfy unmet medical needs, operate with urgency, and promote a positive and fun work environment, he says.
In support of those values, employees—who now total 50—are free to communicate openly across functions as they design therapeutics and guide them to a point where they’re ready for clinical trials.
Molecular modelers, medicinal chemists, and structural biologists “interact closely so that they understand and respect each employee’s contribution to a project,” notes David A. Claremon, the company’s vice president of chemistry. There are no layers of bureaucracy between people, “something many of us saw as scientists in our former lives in big pharma,” he observes. “So when we walk out of a modeling session, people are psyched to do their part to push a project forward.”
At Vitae, all employees can interact daily with senior managers, who include highly accomplished scientists who carved out distinguished careers in big pharma, Hatfield says. Claremon, for example, was senior director of medicinal chemistry at Merck & Co. before joining Vitae. Frequently, small groups of employees meet with Hatfield over lunch to ask questions and share concerns, says Susan Little, Vitae’s head of human resources.
The company also hosts regular town hall meetings, during which managers update employees on the status of various projects and keep them apprised of how the business is doing.
“Our employees love that they can see the entire business and contribute in a tangible, measurable way to our progress with discoveries that can lead to making a difference in the world,” Hatfield says.
Vitae employees also embrace the speed with which decisions can be made at the company. “We don’t want to wait around for weeks to get a conference room and have a committee meeting to make a recommendation to the next committee, so that three months later we get the green light to do something,” Hatfield says. Instead, “when we get a piece of data, we can make a decision in the hallway, so that five minutes later, the entire organization is acting upon new knowledge. That is very exciting to employees.”
Acknowledging that Vitae may be made up of a disproportionate number of workaholics, Hatfield says the company looks for ways to help its employees to occasionally relax at work. Each year, the company hosts on-site barbecues, a Halloween party, a Ping-Pong tournament, and a luncheon to celebrate Chinese New Year. On any given day, employees can retreat to Ping-Pong and pool tables set up in the facility.
Although much larger than Vitae, Dow Corning has built a collegial corporate culture that allows it to maintain a “small-town feel,” according to Laurie A. Shell, a work-life specialist in the human resources department at the company, which employs 11,000 people globally.
“The best part about working for Dow Corning is the people,” says process engineer Ayesha Soares Wenzloff, who joined the company just after earning a chemical engineering degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 2006. “This company has great and talented employees who are willing to share their knowledge and expertise,” she says. New employees entering the workforce may find that “the learning curve can sometimes be high. Having a supportive group of peers and leadership helps ease the transition from school to the workforce and creates a nurturing environment to learn and grow.”
Dow Corning works hard to foster communication up and down the chain of command and across functions, Shell notes. At the corporate headquarters in Midland, Mich., for example, people’s offices don’t have doors, she says. That’s true for everyone, including Robert D. Hansen, Dow Corning’s president and CEO.
In keeping with the small company mind-set, “employees are encouraged to meet with senior leadership who readily make time for one-on-one discussions,” notes Mukund Parthasarathy, vice president of the company’s Business & Technology Incubator.
The company also hosts regular employee forums to provide insight into leadership priorities and direction, Wenzloff says. “Collaboration and information sharing among technically and geographically diverse teams are enabled through Web-conferencing tools and software programs,” she adds. And internal blogs are increasingly used for informal communication, Parthasarathy says.
The firm’s Technical Exchange Society holds frequent meetings and social events to promote awareness of new technologies and provide networking opportunities for technical colleagues.
Employees also socialize by working together on corporate-sponsored community service projects. The company encourages employees to do volunteer work for organizations of their choice, even if it means they need to leave their office or job site during regular business hours to do so. For example, many Midland employees have helped build or repair homes with the local Habitat for Humanity program. In many locations, employees regularly participate in science outreach efforts at nearby schools, Shell says.
Another plus to working at Dow Corning: The company has set up numerous programs to help employees balance work and personal responsibilities. For example, employees benefit from subsidized in-home backup care for children and dependent adults.
A majority of Dow Corning’s employees enjoy some type of flextime schedule, including compressed workweeks, which allow employees to work longer days and take off every other Friday or every Friday afternoon. “Work-life balance is not just talked about here, it is actively encouraged,” Parthasarathy says.
At health care giant Johnson & Johnson, supporting employees is a priority that fits with its credo to help people live longer, healthier, happier lives. Not surprisingly, programs that help employees achieve work-life balance and build satisfying careers abound at the New Brunswick, N.J.-based company, which employs 128,000 people worldwide.
The company offers employees a broad slate of health-oriented programs and services, including some that provide confidential, personalized health assessments. Other programs promote exercise and healthy eating or help employees manage stress.
J&J’s “Do Good, Be Well” initiative encourages employees to do something to benefit others by staying active. Its purpose is simple: to link like-minded fitness enthusiasts who volunteer their time to plan and participate in charitable activities that make a difference in local communities.
At several of its locations, J&J has also established an “e-mail-free weekends” policy, which discourages employees from sending or answering online messages between Friday afternoon and Sunday night.
J&J offers several other family-friendly policies. Seventy percent of its employees telecommute, and a whopping 95% use a flextime schedule. Through the company, employees have access to resources that help them find care for their children or elderly relatives or educational options for kids with special needs. By virtue of these programs, the company has landed on Working Mother’s best companies list every year since it was initiated 28 years ago.
The company also strives to help its employees enrich their careers. Given its global reach across an array of industries, the company can offer employees opportunities to work in different regions or businesses including pharmaceuticals, consumer products, medical devices, and diagnostics, notes Peter M. Fasolo, worldwide vice president of human resources.
Through Bridges, the company’s midcareer rotational program, scientists and engineers can take on two one-year assignments in areas outside their home department, explains Paul McKenzie, vice president of manufacturing and technical operations for J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals business. The program allows employees to gain broad experience to help accelerate their careers and prepare them for leadership roles, he says, noting that more than 70% of Bridges participants end up in a new department after completing the program. Roughly 70 employees are set to participate in the program in 2014, as J&J expands it to include other departments outside its pharmaceutical sector.
The company believes that its effort to provide employees with a wealth of benefits and career-bolstering programs pays off. “By encouraging employees’ optimal well-being, we ensure that they become more engaged and productive,” Fasolo says. This in turn “delivers a competitive business advantage to J&J.”
“In today’s fast-paced, intensely competitive business environment, our companies depend on employees who are prepared, capable, confident, and committed to the work we do to change people’s lives,” Fasolo adds. “It is our belief that when employees excel, so do our businesses.”
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