Human Resources

Strength in culture earns Biogen the Best Workplaces Australia award

Health Industry Hub | August 18, 2021 |
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Human Resources: At the recent virtual awards reveal, Samantha Huddle, General Manager of Great Place to Work in Australia and NZ, commented that the winners of 2021 Best Workplaces™ Australia have been characterised by high-trust and highly inclusive cultures, and that these organisations seized the opportunity to deepen their commitment to both their workforce and their chosen purpose.

In an interview with Health Industry Hub, Fabienne Connet, Head of Human Resources Australia & New Zealand at Biogen, discussed the company culture that has driven Biogen’s recognition as a winner of 2021 Best Workplaces™ Australia. She also shared how Biogen is built upon the values of diversity, inclusion and flexibility where the organisation encourages everyone to bring their true selves to work.

Health Industry Hub: How has the ‘high-trust and highly inclusive culture’ been reflected at Biogen in the last 12 months?

Fabienne Connet: We have always invested substantially in developing a high trust and inclusive work culture. We strongly believe that culture is something everyone owns, it is not just HR or the leadership team. We all opt into Biogen’s culture.

During COVID we created a new sub-stream within our ‘culture club’ with a focus on overall wellness. The five pillars are centred around financial health, mental health, physical health, sleep and nutrition. Cross-functional team members put together initiatives to address different needs of the employees within our organisation.

I’m particularly interested in mental wellbeing and that is my personal passion.

Health Industry Hub: What are the practical considerations in supporting employee wellness within uncertain times and in adapting to a new workplace normal?

Fabienne Connet: Several initiatives were launched last year including the addition of two days’ leave to each employee’s annual leave balance. We basically shut down the business and told our employees to switch off and focus on themselves. We gave employees lunch vouchers, encouraged longer breaks and introduced fun quizzes to bring in the social element of the culture and connection.

To enhance an inclusive and high trust environment, it is also important for people to give back to society. We have provided employees lunch/dinner vouchers for holidaying at home within Australia – outside of lockdowns – or having takeaway with their family during the recent Olympics finals. We felt this was giving back to the local community of smaller businesses that need our support to stay open.

Health Industry Hub: What are the priorities in bringing the broader organisation on the ‘wellbeing’ journey?

Fabienne Connet: When I reflect upon the last 12 months, many initiatives have been implemented and appreciated by employees. But I strongly believe that it is only skimming the surface. We need to be able to go deeper into certain topics.

As much as flexible working was a key topic years ago and COVID has forced companies to rethink about that, I believe the pandemic and the associated lockdowns have really brought forward the discussion on mental health and how we destigmatise this topic.

Earlier this year we engaged with the Black Dog Institute to run an audit on what are we doing well and where the opportunities present for improvement. One of the findings was that although HR may be starting the journey on mental health awareness, it needs to be owned by everyone.

At Biogen we are now focusing on overall wellbeing conversations with a particular focus around mental health. It does not happen overnight. It really takes time. We started with creating education and awareness, and training our managers followed by plans to train the rest of our employees. The cherry on the cake will be incorporating and training Mental Health First Aiders within the organisation.

I am personally very passionate about mental health and wellbeing because I have been on the journey where I put one face up when I attended work and another face when I arrived home. The mental load of being a busy mum of three young children, living overseas with no family nearby and the low that comes, at times, with a significant workload.

I have started sharing more of my personal experience with our employees during this organisational focus on mental health. It is important that we each find our own ways of where we can be vulnerable, without needing to go and stand on stage and do a TED Talk about it.

Health Industry Hub: What is Biogen’s vision in enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion in the next 12 months? Which areas will you be focusing on and how will success be measured?

Fabienne Connet: I think the challenge with diversity, equity and inclusion is that you cannot just complete a project, tick the box and move on. It is something that requires continued focus.

There are two key areas that we are focussing on; multi-generational employment and destigmatising mental health. Traditionally Biogen has hired very experienced people due to the size of the company. As we grow in size, it is about finding that balance between experienced and entry level employees to allow for diversity of thought.

Interestingly our leadership team is more women than men. So, that’s inspiring. A few years ago, we had a 50:50 split across the senior leadership team from a gender diversity perspective. More recently, we have slightly headed more towards women than men. For me, it is always about making sure we have the best talent but also having the right diversity and gender balance.

When it comes to mental health, we have partnered with the Black Dog Institute this year and will be continuing on this journey. We would like to see more people coming forward and sharing their stories and what they have experienced to inspiring others.

Health Industry Hub: How will Biogen’s recognition as one of the winners of Best Workplaces™ Australia impact your employees across the organisation?

Fabienne Connet: Biogen has a great culture with high engagement and very low turnover. Our voluntary turnover has been below 5% for the last three or four years.

Being a winner of 2021 Best Workplaces™ Australia is the validation for our organisation that we are truly doing something right. Hopefully, for our employees, it is also enhancing the pride they feel to work for Biogen.

Looking at our future talent pipeline, I hope it helps us attract new talent as we continue to grow as an organisation. Since I joined four years ago, we have grown by approximately 50% in size.

Biogen is a great place to work. I am very proud of all our employees who made this recognition happen because without them we would have not been where we are today. We all opt into culture.

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