As a science and technology company, we are always looking for new solutions and constantly working to evolve our approaches. Motivated, curious employees are key to our ability to innovate, and therefore also to our success. However, we also need a corporate culture that broadens our employees’ knowledge and skills, one that creates exciting opportunities and encourages them to take a proactive role in shaping the development of our company. Open feedback from every individual helps us pinpoint the areas where we can do better.
Our approach to engagement
We strive to create a work environment that empowers our employees to truly think outside the box. An environment that is conducive to developing ideas, seeking creative solutions and discovering new market opportunities. To better engage employees, we have set clear goals and defined the steps necessary to achieving them.
We seek to understand the needs of the people who work for us and therefore regularly conduct employee surveys, either Group-wide or within individual countries, businesses or projects. These surveys help to facilitate communication between leaders and employees and show us ways we can improve. Moreover, they are paramount to a company culture that values dialogue and employee input.
How we engage our employees
Engagement and Inclusion, a unit within our HR organization responsible for areas such as employee engagement and diversity and inclusion, creates and oversees our employee surveys.
In addition to conducting employee surveys, we regularly include local employee representatives in our decision-making processes. Within Germany, 13 of our subsidiaries have employee representation, while in Europe 27 of our subsidiaries have employee representation bodies across eight countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland). In addition, 63% of all employees of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, are subject to collective agreements. Local works councils as well as a Group works council represent our employees, discussing topics such as compensation, working hours and organizational realignment. The Senior Executives Committee represents the interests of our top leaders, while the Euroforum represents our employees at the European level. Focusing on the economic situation, employment rates and significant changes within our company, this body covers all EU countries as well as Switzerland and Norway, although not all countries have their own delegate.
Our commitment: Corporate Volunteering Guideline
At the end of 2018, the Executive Board adopted a Group-wide guideline governing volunteer work, which grants our employees up to two days of paid leave per year to volunteer. This time can be used to support the local community through charitable activities that are offered or supported by our company.
Understanding our employees
To give us a better sense of the situation within our company as a whole and to benchmark against our competitors, we conduct Group-wide employee engagement surveys on an annual basis. These surveys provide a platform for employees, managers and executives to engage in a regular dialogue, sharing ideas and experience. The 2018 employee engagement survey revealed that 61% of employees feel engaged at work, with around 45,000 people (86%) having taken part. In response to the 2016 survey, in 2018 we continued a series of measures to improve our work environment, which focused on our IT infrastructure as well as our recruiting and onboarding processes.
In addition to taking the pulse of our workforce, we continued work on our Science Network project. Due to the broad positioning of our company, we do not have a central research and development organization that unites expertise across our businesses. In building the Science Network, our primary aim is thus to accelerate the exchange of innovative ideas and facilitate collaboration among all our R&D employees. One of the components of the project is the Continuous Performance Dialogues held between 1,300 employees and their supervisors in order to align performance and potential appraisals with research and development needs.
Encouraging and rewarding innovative ideas
Our company has a long tradition of rewarding ideas. In 1853, we became the first industrial company in the world to introduce a contractual bonus for employees who made suggestions for improvement, and approximately 60 years ago we set down bylaws stipulating principles and rules for our ideation efforts. Our idea management program seeks to inspire our employees to think creatively and encourage them to contribute to the continuous evolution of our procedures and processes. We reward all ideas that are successfully implemented by offering employees a bonus based on how much the suggestion enhances our processes or cuts down our costs.
In 2018, our employees submitted approximately 1,500 suggestions for improvement via our Germany-wide ideation program. These ideas are expected to yield around € 1.6 million in cost savings in the first year. As a reward for their proposals, our employees received around € 300,000 in bonuses.
In addition to rewarding good suggestions, we also regularly hold a Group-wide innovation competition called Innospire that allows employees to submit ideas for new products, services and business models. Through this competition, we target ideas in specific areas such as biointerfaces and biosensing, enablers of precision farming, and artificial intelligence. However, we also welcome ideas outside of these target areas. In 2017, nearly 900 ideas were submitted. After choosing the top eight proposals at the end of 2017, we held a boot camp in 2018 with the aim of developing these ideas in a quick and agile manner. In May 2018, each team presented its project to the Executive Board. Three winners were then chosen, whose ideas were incubated at our Innovation Center in Darmstadt. Along with the three winning proposals, a further three projects from our Healthcare and Life Science business sectors were selected.
Besides Innospire, we annually present awards in recognition of outstanding ideas, teamwork and projects. In 2018, the Executive Board presented four teams consisting in total of 34 employees with awards in the categories of Performance, People, and Technology, along with a special CEO Award. Projects were submitted Group-wide by 80 teams from various countries, Group functions and businesses.
On top of these mechanisms, all employees have the opportunity to submit ideas related to human resources to our HR innovation campaign, with a total of 146 proposals submitted in 2018. The ideas are evaluated by a jury of top executives from our various business sectors, who then select the two most interesting approaches to be further explored and advanced by interdisciplinary teams. A prime example of such a proposal is the “Ad@m” project, a chatbot developed to support standardized workflows.
Above and beyond our internal initiatives, we also collaborate with the nonprofit organization TED, one of the most distinguished global platforms devoted to developing new perspectives and innovative ideas. Through this partnership, we aim to share ideas worth spreading with the world. In November 2017, we joined forces to host a TED event in London, featuring talks that have since been watched online by more than eight million people. In November 2018, we again hosted a TED event, this time in Darmstadt. Entitled “The Art of Possibility”, ten of our people from a pool of 110 applicants presented their ideas.
Making room for ideas: Our Innovation Center in Darmstadt
Over the last several years, we have undergone a major evolution and grown through acquisitions. We are now transforming our site in Darmstadt into a global headquarters that will bolster our ability to innovate, enabling us to respond flexibly to growth while also reflecting our corporate identity.
Opening its doors in early 2018, our Innovation Center is the heart of our global headquarters. Replacing the previous modular innovation center, this new facility gives our employees room to explore their creativity by joining interdisciplinary teams and collaborating on pioneering projects – all with the aim of cultivating new businesses that transcend our existing ones.
At the end of 2018, 22 project teams were hard at work in the Innovation Center, where they have access to a maker space. Equipped with the resources to quickly develop prototypes, this space is also open to all our other employees. Besides taking part in our Innospire competition, employees from around the world wishing to get involved at the Innovation Center can apply for a three-month think tank program that will allow them to drive innovation beyond our existing businesses. By analyzing current trends and technologies in select fields of innovation, the program aims to generate new ideas and initial business plans for innovation projects. Four think tanks were held in 2018 and focused on topics from areas such as biosensing and interfaces, liquid biopsy technologies, and clean meat.
Beyond facilitating cross-collaboration and creativity, the Innovation Center team regularly conducts events, workshops, seminars, and webinars. Through these channels, we introduce our employees to innovation methods such as design thinking and working out loud, which have proved very popular.
Keeping employees informed and encouraging dialogue
We keep our employees up to date and encourage exchange through a number of formats tailored to specific target groups. Take, for instance, our international collaboration platform EVA or our international employee magazine “pro”, which is published in seven languages and is available in digital format as well as an app. “pro” has a readership covering more than 90% of our approximately 52,000 employees worldwide in their local language. Several subsidiaries also publish local editions of “pro”, for example in Germany, Korea, Mexico, and Russia. In addition to these formats, a variety of newsletters is also published by our business sectors.
Our collaboration platform EVA encompasses our global Intranet for all subsidiaries and business sectors and furthermore consolidates numerous collaboration applications in one central location. EVA ranks as one of the most important internal communication media – second only to e-mail – receiving approximately 1.89 million hits per month. In 2018, we rolled out software that automatically translates news in 22 languages, thus facilitating digital participation and worldwide understanding.
Moreover, we publish articles on EVA and host various events to raise employee awareness of corporate responsibility issues. In 2018, for instance, we ran an internal communication campaign entitled “You’re part of it”. In addition, employees had the opportunity to engage in community outreach through our 350 Good Deeds project.
Deepening employee engagement
SPARK is a global volunteer program in which our Life Science employees conduct scientific experiments with school children around the world in an effort to ignite a passion for science in the next generation. Benefiting both urban and rural schools, this initiative also gives our employees the opportunity to pass on their knowledge. You can find more information on SPARK as well as our myriad education projects in the communities in and around our global headquarters under Community involvement.