As a science and technology company, we are always looking for new solutions and working to continuously evolve our approaches. Engaged, curious employees are key to our ability to innovate, and therefore also to our success. We need a corporate culture that broadens the knowledge base of our employees, one that creates exciting opportunities and motivates them to take a proactive role in shaping the development of our company. Candid feedback from every individual helps show us where we have room for further improvement.
Our approach to engagement
We strive to create a work environment that empowers our employees to think outside the box and seek new solutions, opening the door to creative ideas and the discovery of new market opportunities. To better engage employees, we have set clear goals and defined the steps necessary to accomplishing them.
We seek to understand the needs of the people who work for us and therefore regularly conduct employee surveys that show where we can do better. Following each survey, we plan improvements that are implemented by the respective units.
How we engage our employees
Engagement and Inclusion, a unit within our HR organization, 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, 14 of our subsidiaries have employee representation. These local works councils as well as a Germany-wide Group works council represent the interests of our employees, discussing topics such as compensation, working hours, and organizational realignment. The Senior Executives Committee represents the interests of senior executives, while the Euroforum of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany represents our employees at the European level, focusing on the economic situation, employment rates and significant changes within our company.
Understanding our employees
In response to a 2016 employee survey, in 2017 we initiated a series of measures to improve our employees' working environment. In terms of our IT structure, we improved the performance of programs such as Skype and Outlook, updated networks and optimized IT support. Moreover, we enhanced our employee recruiting and integration processes, optimized the search function and mobile access to our Intranet, and even launched an initiative to cultivate an in-house community of scientists. To give us a better sense of the situation within our company as a whole and to better benchmark against our competitors, all employee surveys are conducted Group-wide on an annual basis. This provides a platform for employees, leaders and executives to engage in a regular dialogue, sharing ideas and experience.
Rewarding innovative ideas
In 2017, our employees submitted approximately 2,000 suggestions for improvement via our Germany-wide idea management program. These ideas are expected to yield around € 4.6 million in cost savings in the first year. In exchange for their proposals, our employees received roughly € 585,000 in bonuses. This concept aims to inspire our employees to think creatively and encourage them to contribute to the continuous evolution of our procedures and processes. We reward any ideas that are successfully implemented by offering employees a bonus based on how much the suggestion improves our processes or cuts down our costs.
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. We chose the top 18 proposals at the end of 2017, and teams have until May 2018 to further develop them, at which point the winners will be announced.
In addition to Innospire, we annually present the company´s awards in recognition of outstanding ideas, teamwork and projects. In 2017, the Executive Board presented four teams consisting in total of 40 employees with the awards in the categories of Performance, People, and Technology, along with a special CEO Award. Projects were submitted Group-wide by 70 teams from our Healthcare, Life Science and Performance Materials business sectors, as well as our Group functions. With submitters representing a variety of countries worldwide, some of the proposals even spanned multiple businesses.
Making room for ideas
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. This transformation is supported in part by our ONE Global Headquarters strategic initiative.
Opening its doors in early 2018, our new Innovation Center is the heart of our global headquarters. Replacing the previous modular Innovation Center, this new facility will give 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.
Within the walls of our Innovation Center, 15 project teams are currently pooling their creative energy in the pursuit of new ideas. We have also invited numerous external startups to take advantage of the center as part of our Accelerator program, an initiative that supports fledgling enterprises. These start-up teams take up residence at the Innovation Center for three months at a time and receive financial assistance, training and access to our experts worldwide. In 2018, we shall be expanding our Accelerator with a focus on Africa, specifically in places with a thriving or burgeoning start-up culture. In addition, we will be modifying the platform of our first offshoot in Nairobi (Kenya), and opening small satellites in Lagos (Nigeria) and Cape Town (South Africa). In March 2018, we’ll be increasing the number of startups in our Darmstadt Accelerator to 12, the first time we’ve had this many teams in the program.
The Innovation Center creates a fertile ground for discourse, which serves to benefit not only the startups, but also our own project teams. Here, for instance, all teams are provided a “maker space” that allows them to quickly develop prototypes. They additionally receive access to our scientific library and a web-based platform that contains tutorials, useful project tips and online courses, and provides users the opportunity to share ideas and experiences.
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 new innovation methods such as design thinking, which has generated great interest. We also hope to accelerate the exchange of innovative ideas within the company and build a Group-wide network of ambassadors for this facility.
Innovating with young scientists
Our company´s Biopharma Innovation Cup is targeted to science and business graduates, graduate students or postdoctoral researchers from around the world. This competition seeks to spark the interest of young talent in our company, while also offering a forum for new ideas. During a one-week summer camp, 30 participants learn first-hand how research and development works in the pharmaceutical industry, collaborating with current and retired employees to create new, innovative project concepts. The team with the best concept receives a prize of € 20,000.
To mark our 350th anniversary in 2018, we will be hosting a larger anniversary edition of our Innovation Cup that will feature 75 talented post-graduate students and cover all three of our business sectors. All participants will also be invited to attend Curious2018-Future Insight, a conference we are launching in 2018 as part of our 350th anniversary celebrations. In 2017, the winning Innovation Cup team submitted an innovative project proposal on the role of natural killer cells (NK cells) in immuno-oncology. NK cells are lymphocytes that target both tumors and virally infected cells, killing them. Overall, more than 1,400 scientists from across the globe competed for the prize.
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 and our international employee magazine “pro”, which is published in seven languages and is available in a digital format as well an app. Through “pro”, we reach 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 businesses.
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 1.7 million hits per month. Moreover, we publish articles on EVA and host various events to raise employee awareness of corporate responsibility issues.
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. Benefitting 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 the diverse range of education projects in the community in and around our global headquarters under Community involvement.