When I asked Beau Davidson his title at Nvidia the answer was quite a surprise. He is the vice president of employee experience. I hadn’t realized that title even existed.
But in a world where manufacturing – especially high-tech manufacturing- is struggling to find and keep high-value employees, it turns out that having a holistic view of employees is of utmost importance.
With the record low unemployment rate and the fear that current employees will leave for greener pastures, companies are changing how they view their workforce.
Actually, companies have been moving in this direction for several years. Workers are increasingly valued for their individual contributions to the job as opposed to just being a “pair of hands.” and much work has been done on how to create a work-life balance. Comprehensive discussions have resulted in policies such as flexible work schedules, more generous parental programs and other programs that can make life easier for employees.
Silicon Valley has become the gold standard for sprawling campus settings that offer everything from daycare and gyms, medical clinics and car-washing services and even unlimited vacations.
As the rest of the country evaluates what programs will fit their workforce, I talked with some companies who have been recognized for their innovative thinking around human capital.
“We want our employees to do their life’s best work at Nvidia,” explains Davidson. “To carry out that goal, we need to understand that people’s needs evolve and change over time. How do we best support them at different times in their lives?”
Nvidia Corp, based in Santa Clara, Calif, employs 5,600 in the U.S. and 10,700 globally. The company, which designs graphics processing units for the gaming and professional markets, as well as system on a chip units for the mobile computing and automotive market, is growing at a rapid pace as evidenced by a fourth-quarter Q4 revenue increase of 55% from 2017 fourth-quarter. Retaining and attracting employees is essential to servicing this growth.
While the assumption that high-tech companies are turning themselves inside out to attract and retain millennials, Nvidia surveys its entire workforce to tailor benefits. A good example is the service they offer employees nearing retirement called CareCounsel, which can help plan for Medicare options. They also have a high-level concierge who can seek out medical care that benefits older employees.
Millennials are not ignored, and the company addresses one of this group’s biggest concern: student debt. Employees can get $6,000 of their debt paid yearly (up to $30,000). And for employees at the family stage the company pays for in vitro fertilization and adoption. Other benefits to make life easier for all employees include onsite services, such as and mobile health clinics, car maintenance and even laundry services.
Equality in their approach to benefits is central to the company’s culture. “One of the things that continues to impress me over the 14 years I have been here is that we provide the same level of benefits and services to everyone,” Davidson says. “The CEO has no special perks. Segregating one group from another is detrimental. We are all treated equally and when everyone is part of the same program it creates an environment where we are working toward the greater benefit of everyone.”
This is one of the factors that has led to a turnover rate of less than 5% at Nvidia – a very low number for Silicon Valley, says Davidson.
Culture is King
The foundation of a positive work experience is company culture. According to Ingersoll Rand, a diversified industrial manufacturer with 46,000 employees and revenue of $14.6 billion, it’s a “winning culture.” For them this attitude is a differentiator in the marketplace.
“We asked everyone to think about how we work,” says Michelle Murphy, vice president of diversity & inclusion and global talent acquisition. “How can we structure it? Will we have teams with part-time workers? Will we have people on flexible schedules? The point is that we need to expand our vision of how we get the work done.”
Having a flexible schedule is key to holding on to their current talent. For example, their technicians have a high tenure rate. However, many workers are aging and not as interested in doing some of the physical work required. Rather than have these skilled workers retire, Ingersoll Rand moves them to where they can best contribute (such as coaching or mentoring other employees), which enables the company and culture to retain those years of knowledge and experience.
That same consideration applies to all employees. “We ask people to let us know when they can ramp up or ramp down,” says Murphy. By this she means that often workers have outside responsibilities that pull on their time. If employees can adjust their work schedule to those needs, the work gets done. She said if the company didn’t adopt this type of attitude they would have lost valuable people who didn’t see a way to get their work done and take care of issues in their personal lives.
Another measure of autonomy– a valued trait of a good work experience– is the ability to determine their career paths. While this is especially important to both attract and keep millennials, the concept is applicable to all ages. The program, called Career Progress, looks at key roles across every function throughout the organization and creates a successful profile for that senior role.
“This specific and clear career path allows employees to decide what positions they would like and go after the skills they need to secure them,” says Murphy. It was created for all positions across the company and has been successful at the production level already.
What ties all of these programs together is the company’s commitment to building a culture that is “inclusive and respectful at its core,” says Murphy. These values, and the investment by the company to achieve these values through specific programs creates a collective feeling of belonging to a work “community” that cares about employees.
The concept of caring is extended to the environment as well. “We view our jobs as a way to change the environmental footprint across the world through sustainability,” Murphy says. “We are doing good.”
Doing good is becoming an important part of the work experience and why employees, especially younger ones, choose a particular company. That is the case for Genentech, a biotechnology company that employs 15,000 and is a division of Roche. The company manufactures medicines to treat patients with serious or life-threatening medical conditions.
“Our clarity of mission and sense of purpose are fundamental to what makes Genentech a special place to work,” explains Nancy Vitale, senior vice president, human resources. “Employees have a clear connection to our mission of pursuing groundbreaking science to bring medicines to people facing serious diseases.”
This clarity of mission helps create a workplace environment that has come to be characterized by what the company calls “casual intensity.”
“People are intensely committed to doing their best work to bring breakthrough medicines to patients, but they do so amidst a culture of teamwork, camaraderie, humor and a genuine appreciation for the unique perspectives and strengths that every employee brings to the table,” says Vitale.
“We’ve found that people who can anchor to a “true north” that they believe in and feel passionate about are more likely to remain engaged and find joy in their work,” Vitale adds.
To put this attitude into a structure, in 2014 the company adopted a holistic approach by leveraging research from Gallup, which identified five essential elements of wellbeing: career, social, financial, community and physical/mental health. The research concluded that challenges in any one of these could impact a person’s well-being and daily life significantly.
Though they were already providing a variety of services across these areas — from career development programs to an onsite gym, dental clinic, and daycare — but the research helped them realize that they needed to think about these benefits more holistically.
Fast forward to today, the company has built out a number of different benefits and services within each of the pillars, adding more and evolving them over time as they learned what was and wasn’t useful.
“And we’ve come to understand the importance of customization when it comes to wellbeing and that large, all-encompassing programs do not account for diverse needs or where people might be in their personal and professional lives at a particular moment in time,” says Vitale.
A range of programs and services, provided in a variety of formats – from in-person seminars and one-to-one interactions to videos and articles – allow people to pick, choose and personalize for their needs.
One example of customizing offerings to meet the needs of the manufacturing
employees – especially those working night shifts – was opening service in their cafeteria until three am and providing a fitness reimbursement benefit for use in alternative locations when the on-site gym is closed overnight.
Another personalized approach is the access to a program called Doctor on Demand, which provides employees with 24/7 access to a doctor through on-the-go video visits. Approximately 30% of employees have registered to use this. The on-site Campus Health Center also provides a wide range of services, including primary care, urgent care, physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, mental wellness support, health coaching and nutrition.
The Soul of the Employee
What Nvidia, Ingersoll Rand and Genentech understand is that there is an urgent need to focus on the individual needs and talents of their employees across the span of their careers to create a supportive environment which in turns attracts and retains talent.
The companies still seek specific qualities in workers, as Vitale of Genentech explains. “Across the board, we want to attract and retain people who are smart, resilient, willing to question the status quo and motivated to make a difference. We look for people who love to solve problems, persevere through failure and work collaboratively across teams to drive progress.”
But once they find these employees they then create a culture and specific programs to ensure they meet the needs of the employees.
“When you adopt a flexible and understanding approach to work and employees understand their needs are being met and they want to stay,” says Davidson. “We want our employees to do great things and having great environment enables that.”
Genentech echoed that sentiment. “We believe that success in our mission is tied directly to the positive experience, engagement and resilience of all our employees who are, day in and day out, moving us forward,” said Vitale.