In a conversation with All Things Talent, Shiv Kumar, HR Head, Merck India talks about its long-term investments in employees, how vulnerable leadership helped them navigate the pandemic and create solutions, and how their DE&I strategy helps employees to be their authentic, curious and unique selves.
Could you give us an overview of Merck’s business, growth in terms of workforce, and key HR investments in recent times?
Our passion for science and technology is what drives our 58,000 employees in 66 countries to find solutions to some of today’s toughest challenges and create more sustainable ways to live. We deliver personalised treatments for serious diseases and enable people to achieve their dream of becoming parents. We are the company behind the companies, advancing digital living. We believe that scientific exploration and responsible entrepreneurship are key to technological advances that benefit us all. We have hired over 800 positions across levels in the organisations.
Merck India continues to make long-term investments in its employees across talent attraction, development, and growth. A few examples have been provided below –
- Learning and growth – To support the future development needs, we offer a variety of programs focusing on future skills (collaboration, agility, digitalisation, resilience, etc) from skill bites to GCTs to team workshops and customised programs for leadership catering to different levels. We provide a free licence to the exhaustive training topics of Linkedin to all employees. We have additional development offerings that include Executive coaching, Executive MBA, learning assistance for post-graduation/certification programs through the “Education Assistance Program” and development tools such as Hogan assessment, cultural navigator, etc. We have engaged with premier vendors from the market to deliver all of these programs.
- Benefits – Merck in India offers various benefit programs to its employees and their family to stay healthy, support their financial goals for retirement, and maintain work-life balance, which includes flexible working, health insurance cover for employees and 3 dependent family members including parents and parents-in-law, support with education assistance, paid time off for work-life balance, sickness, bereavement and parental needs paid annual health check-up, child care support for female employees, and many more.
‘Mywork@Merck’ follows a work per team charter. Could you explain how it is designed or formulated to stay even for all employees?
Our workforce is extremely diverse – scientists, technologists, research experts, field staff, production experts, experts in our corporate office, etc. Additionally, our workforce is highly distributed in our production units and sales experts who are present in most large cities in India. The role demands are very different. Owing to the diverse workforce, the team charters are defined accordingly with a shared intent to do what is right for our customers and employees. This happens through a combination of bottom-up and top-down communication channels which have been deployed to ensure that we remain competitive and flexible as an organisation. Once the charter is agreed upon, the same is communicated and the ecosystem is built around it to make it a success.
What kind of flexibility option was availed the most by your employees and why do you think that is?
As highlighted earlier, our workforce is extremely heterogeneous, hence, we haven’t observed a common thread owing to the nature of the industry we operate in. We did observe that our office-based employees preferred flexibility, while our field staff and production/lab-focused employees were keen to be at their workplace.
Given the fact that Pharma was one of the sectors which couldn’t really work from home, how did Merck navigate the pandemic? What kind of policy changes were made to cater to the challenges of the time and how many of them have been retained or modified in the new normal? This is apart from the flexibility guidance.
The employees were made aware of the contribution they were making and the difference it was creating. The sense of achievement and contribution to the bigger cause helped us. Additionally, our leadership exhibited vulnerability by being open when we did not have all the answers. This vulnerability helped us co-create solutions, big and small.
We made a few changes to our existing policies and introduced a few new ones to ensure that we were doing the right things for our employees. For example, we revised our childcare policy in line with the changing expectations. For female employees, we provide reimbursement of child care expenses up to 12k per month for 2 children up to the age of 9 years. This decision was taken after getting feedback from the employees and consultation from the leadership.
In addition, we introduced and covered “at home” health check-ups owing to the pandemic to ensure we provide a “choice” apart from the in-hospital health check-up which existed earlier.
“The employees were made aware of the contribution they were making and the difference it was creating. The sense of achievement and contribution to the bigger cause helped us. Additionally, our leadership exhibited vulnerability by being open when we did not have all the answers. This vulnerability helped us co-create solutions, big and small.”
Reports suggest there has been a steady rise in STEM postings on job portals. What has been Merck’s experience in the last few years in regards to the demands and supply of talent?
STEM talent has always been niche. However, the challenges are not the same across all areas of STEM. Our workforce consists of all talent types across STEM, hence, for us, it is a mixed bag which makes the situation unique and challenging at the same time.
In some areas, the challenges are multi-fold as compared to the others. Technology hiring continues to pose a challenge as is well highlighted in the media. We experience the same scenario as the work we do in our technology centre in India is focused on niche areas across life sciences/healthcare, and electronics.
Are there any hiring challenges that you are facing and why is it so? In the context of India, are there any challenges in terms of talent acquisition?
Apart from the STEM hiring challenges and changing talent dynamics mentioned above, we experience challenges in attracting women candidates in some areas of our businesses, especially for the field staff. Owing to the nature of work, we need to put in additional efforts from a talent attraction perspective.
Owing to the current talent landscape, tech and data and analytics hiring is experiencing challenges as we operate in a very niche area and the expectations from candidates are way different.
“Apart from the STEM hiring challenges and changing talent dynamics mentioned above, we experience challenges in attracting women candidates in some areas of our businesses, especially for the field staff. Owing to the nature of work, we need to put in additional efforts from a talent attraction perspective.”
The life sciences/healthcare and electronics industry is traditionally viewed as a conservative industry. Hence, attracting talent becomes slightly challenging in new and upcoming areas. However, I joined the organisation from the hi-tech industry and I was pleasantly surprised by how progressive Merck is. Our culture is future-focused with a huge focus on high impact.
What are your L&D, C&B, and R&R programs for employees, and have they undergone any changes in the last few years?
As the workplace continues to be dominated by millennials, it is imperative for us to understand their needs and demands. We have observed that they demand more self-paced, bite-sized learning. They love flexibility and our endeavour is to provide that. For example, apart from the traditional learning programs, we have partnered with on-demand learning platforms to ensure that the content is relevant, constantly evolving, and most importantly available when they need it.
We have taken the responsibility of career development and growth away from the manager and put it back on the employee with our philosophy of ‘I own my career’. Managers operate as advisors, however, the onus is now on the employees to work on their plans and chart their careers as they deem appropriate in the context of the organisation. We are also in the process of building a culture where managers focus their discussions with employees on coaching for development.
“We have taken the responsibility of career development and growth away from the manager and put it back on the employee with our philosophy of ‘I own my career’. Managers operate as advisors, however, the onus is now on the employees to work on their plans and chart their careers as they deem appropriate in the context of the organisation.”
Merck Group’s Total Rewards are designed to facilitate our people strategy. With the changing market requirement, it is imperative to offer flexibility in our rewards framework to empower leaders by providing them with flexible tools to reward performance, create positive feedback culture, and provide value-added data insights.
What would be your hiring ambitions this year and which roles would see the maximum induction?
We have already hired close to 250 candidates over the last 5 months and are looking to hire approx. 300 more candidates over the next few months.
A major trend you have noticed in the sector?
From a talent/industry perspective, we are observing three essential areas: digitalisation – omnichannel approach to help our customers, a renewed focus on diversity equity and inclusion, and an urgent need for skilling/ bridging knowledge gaps owing to the dynamic market expectations.
Year of Incorporation: 1967
Number of Employees: 3600
Key Executives: Sreenath NS, Country Speaker (Merck India) and MD Merck Life Science, Anandram N, MD, Merck Healthcare, and Shashishekhar Phirke, MD, Merck Electronics
Business Line: We are a leading science and technology company offering solutions in healthcare, life sciences, and electronics.
Hiring Pipeline: 300 new jobs to be created in the next few months
Workforce Pie: 2300 (LS, HC, and Electronics) + 1300 (support functions)
Key HR Factors: Focus on career growth and skilling, life beyond work, work for human progress