Mental health and physical wellbeing are top priorities for businesses looking to attract and maintain top talent, as well as employees searching for better employment opportunities. These elements are especially important for companies that are intent on supporting women and advancing gender diversity.
Global healthcare company Novartis credits its emphasis on employee health for much of its success. More recently, the company was named South Africa’s Number 1 Top Employer in the pharmaceutical industry for 2023 by the Top Employers Institute for its employee-first approach to management.
“Stress is the enemy of productivity as you can’t pour from an empty cup. We want our employees to feel fully charged when they’re working, which means giving them ample time off for self-care and tending to family responsibilities,” notes Rachel O’Neale, Novartis South Africa Country President.
As the country celebrates women throughout the month of August, O’Neale says that it is important to speak more openly about women’s mental health and physical wellbeing in the workplace and discuss ways to fundamentally improve women’s lives.3 This mindset, she notes, has become integral to how Novartis functions as 75% of their South African based associates are female with the executive team at 75% female.
Three ways to improve employee health in the workplace:
Perfecting the hybrid work model
In response to changing needs and expectations in a post-Covid 19 and lockdown world, Novartis implemented a hybrid working model which allows its associates to choose when and where they want to work, in agreement with their team’s needs, and when team members will work together to achieve shared goals.
“Employees are now empowered to decide when and where they want to work, and to simply inform managers about their choice instead of asking for approval. The approach has especially benefitted our female employees who, generally, want more time to spend on family, perform household duties, and assist their children with studies and afterschool activities.”
This approach further allows women to better set priorities, striking a better, healthier balance between work and personal obligations.
Promoting an “Unbossed” culture
Novartis understands that many employees’ function better in less strictly regulated environments while taking responsibility for their own work.
O’Neale explains that women in the workplace have made an effortless transition to this approach to working. This is because many women prosper in an environment where they are largely able to decide how, where, and when they want to complete their tasks, relying on their inner strength and their commitment to providing better healthcare for all, she notes.
“An unbossed work environment promotes taking ownership of one’s own actions, and fosters a culture that stimulates productivity, built on cooperation among team members and between departments, improved scheduling techniques, and participation in self-improvement programs.”
Novartis uses several internal electronic programs which employ artificial intelligence to help employees manage their careers and discover new internal opportunities that promote growth.
Firstly, the Talent Match online networking solution helps employees plan their careers, find internal mentorship opportunities, and discover personalized career, project, or assignment recommendations.5 Secondly, Match Learn provides personalized learning opportunities and helps employees connect with topic experts.5 Lastly, My Potential is a self-assessment tool that gives employees insights into their own strengths and potential.
“People have wildly differing experiences, skillsets, and expertise. The time when a manager or executive had to be smartest person in the room, dictating how others should do their work is gone.Our female employees tend to do much better and achieve more professionally when they’re encouraged to become experts in their own fields and be their own boss,” says O’Neale.
“We still have team heads, department managers, and executives who bring everything together. But instead of the traditional top-down management approach where team members serve a manager, our Unbossed method places the team at the top with leaders acting as support, mentors, and guides.”7
Mentoring and coaching the next wave of leaders
Empowered employees are often more positive toward their jobs, confident in their own abilities, and freer to experiment when experienced colleagues reach out to teach and support them.
“Women are driven, self-sufficient, patient, and hold incredible potential for growth. We simply want to fan the flame, giving them the room and opportunities to improve and reach those higher rungs on the career ladder,” emphasises O’Neale.
She adds that one of the best ways to unlock women’s true potential in the workplace is through effective mentorship. To achieve the best results, Novartis therefore encourages mentorship from early on in employees’ careers, shaping the next group of female leaders and future-proofing the company.
Combined with a highly successful Unbossed work approach and increased freedom of choice, Novartis and its staff are reaching new heights in managing a wide range of common and rare illnesses while ensuring that employees are healthy, happy, and safe.