Good corporate governance
Four out of ten employees working from home, production facilities all over the world working around the clock, and on top of that the health concerns of our colleagues: The HR department of Symrise encountered some unexpected tasks in 2020. In this interview, Dr. Iñigo Natzel, Head of Human Resources, explains which challenges faced by the Group around the world needed to be overcome.
Like many others, we underestimated the coronavirus pandemic in the early stages when it started to spread around Asia. No one saw the pandemic coming. In those first weeks, everyone thought that the coronavirus would be a locally confined phenomenon. Most importantly, however, we did not foresee the disruptive power of the pandemic – with its impact not only on public health but also on our daily private and working lives. That is why, this year, we focused our attention on our employees more than ever before.
Our traditional HR standards, such as our rules for working from home, were no longer adequate. We needed to ensure that our employees could get through the crisis healthy and safe. Therefore, we first identified how we could protect those working in our plants all over the world. Production could not be interrupted. For this reason, we increased our occupational safety regulations, provided disinfectants for hands and surfaces everywhere, had offices and warehouses cleaned more often, installed plexiglass panels wherever needed, and, of course, made it mandatory for employees to wear face masks in common areas.
When the pandemic first peaked in the spring it was 40 %, which then plateaued between 20 and 25 % during the course of the year. That is a very high percentage for a production plant and still first needed to work in technical terms. Employees required equipment, needed to be provided with video conference tools and had to figure out themselves how to balance work and family, which partially converged at home. We also provided our flexible support in this area.
My experiences were largely positive because of the enormous engagement of our employees. As always, our workforce contributed to our success here. Through this massive change, we also identified a few areas where we can improve.
Our managers faced the challenge of leading their teams virtually. Some of the employees were in the office; others at home. In addition to that, there were some living in other time zones and were unable to travel. This greatly complicates management duties. And we also had to make clear to the employees working at our factories, meaning those who could not work from home, that their health is just as important to us. Because of that, we introduced, for example, staggered working times in the labs and handover periods for shifts in production. On top of that, we gave a one-time “corona bonus” to all employees as recognition for their effort. This put those who earn less in a better situation in relation to those who earn more – which was important for us.
45 % of promoted employees
in 2020 were women.
Yes, we did that early on in the summer by surveying 750 of our employees, some online, others in person in 20 focus groups, and in over 50 individual interviews. In addition to that, we handed out survey cards, and thousands of them have already come back to us. We are delighted by the results because they confirm that we acted responsibly during the crisis. Furthermore, the employees made it clear that they like their work to involve creativity and innovative technologies, and that they see their activities as meaningful because we make a positive impact on the lives of so many people and manufacture more and more sustainable products. This obviously also allows us to prevail in the fight for the best minds in the job market.
After realigning the core processes, such as performance measurement, we turned our attention to career development. This included, of course, the establishment of corresponding feedback processes and the further development of the teams. The latter in particular is not easy during times in which people are confined to their domestic environment due to the pandemic. We tried to ensure as much communication as possible.
This year we rolled out our new global career development process called “Grow”. Through it, we aim to give employees feedback regarding their career development and identify those who have the potential to leap forward in their careers in line with our succession planning. We use our global HR management tool career@symrise for this. 1,700 employees received feedback in 2020. Of these, 90 % received a detailed development plan, and 270 were identified as having the potential to be considered for management duties. These processes enable us to see who, for example, needs more international experience or who should lead training sessions for price negotiation, presentation or communication skills. We will increasingly rely on e-learning for these kinds of training sessions, which are also integrated in the Grow platform. Due to the coronavirus, we moved all our on-site training sessions, such as language courses, management or communication seminars, to e-learning back in 2020. Many employees used their time in lockdown to sharpen their skills.
I hope not. As a matter of fact, it is not that easy to fairly address the needs of all social groups when it comes to, for example, flexible working models. But I am still optimistic: Half of the employees identified as potentially suitable to take on management duties in the 2020 assessment are women, as are a third in our succession planning for the two management levels below the Executive Board. And 40 % of the participants in our “Future Generation Leadership Development” program are women – which is, incidentally, an upward trend that we also see in the fact that 45 % of promoted employees in 2020 were women.
We will continue to build on the experiences gained from remote working, but not to the same extent seen during the coronavirus pandemic. However, I do think that we could improve work-life balance in some areas, for example, if employees have to travel long distances from their workplaces back to their homes. We also make a contribution here by having learned to hold certain events as video conferences. This way, Symrise is more flexible, faster, and we can reduce our carbon emissions by traveling less. However, it is also very important to realize that creative and innovative types need to interact directly with other people, both across departments and within teams. Therefore, we are moving toward a healthy working model that is both digital and analog.
Three women tell us about their
careers at Symrise.
I was the only woman both in my trade apprenticeship as plasterer and also in my technical high school, where I focused on construction technology. While obtaining my degree in architecture I had many female classmates, but I was one of the few more interested in construction management than in drafting. And that is where I landed: After finishing my studies, I moved to Holzminden for personal reasons, and there I heard that the construction department of Symrise was looking for a new teammate. I have an unbelievable amount of freedom in my area of responsibility and my work is very diverse. I produce job listings and coordinate between contractors and planners, deploy in-house technicians, am involved in the planning and construction of production sites at our plants and, on top of that, have to verify invoices. We need to implement diverse projects in manufacturing operations that run day and night. As architects, we always carry great responsibility anyway. And we’re dealing with chemical, sometimes highly explosive substances, which means that there is simply no room for accidents. That is a huge but also exciting challenge.
I have worked at Symrise for eleven years, and during this time I have taken one interesting step after the next. The company has supported me in many ways – not only by assigning me exciting tasks with a high degree of responsibility but with an adequate work-life balance. After studying chemistry in Strasbourg, France, I obtained a doctorate in Karlsruhe on the synthesis of naturally occurring substances followed by a research stay in Shanghai. After that, I decided to enter the industry. Since I was still living in Frankfurt with my husband and first child at the time, the first step was directly finding a spot at a day care in Holzminden, with the help of Symrise. Additionally, the company offered us an adequate position for my husband. When our second child was born, he was able to go on parental leave for five months. That allowed me to go back to work sooner, where I led a team of laboratory managers and later a new group assembled to accelerate the process from fragrance development to market-readiness. Within a year, we managed to increase the output of captives – meaning the proprietary, distinctive molecules of Symrise – from renewable raw materials by 430 %. What also comes to mind is a network of women in the company.
I’ve always had the feeling that women can have successful careers with us in the research department of the Flavor division. We have many female colleagues at the management level who – like me – always receive a lot of support. Still, I joined Symrise rather by coincidence. I studied nutrition at the Technical University of Munich and, during an internship, met a flavorist who helps develop new flavors. That immediately caught my interest, and I changed my focus area to food science. Later I was able to write my dissertation in the research department of Symrise – that was a great opportunity. During that time I sensed a great deal of trust and was even entrusted with responsibility for the lab and the first female chemical lab technician. With the exception of a short seven-month absence – during which I conducted research on cheese products in New Zealand – I have been at Symrise since 2003. In 2012, I completed a training program as a flavorist. I also oversee research on an ongoing basis, lead a team and now also the Flavor Academy, where we train the next generation.
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