In 2007, the Canadian division of Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) underwent a significant change, revamping its business culture and employee benefits. It was an enormous task, and the corporation faced a number of challenges along the way.

Change of direction
According to Lynda Newcomb, vice-president, HR, BMS Canada wanted to create an entrepreneurial culture in which employees could feel more involved and more responsible.

Part of this change involved establishing new HR practices. Previously, BMS Canada had always preferred to manage everything internally. Under its new approach, the management of employee benefits is entrusted to outside partners. “After a rigorous process, we selected Mercer as our partner in managing all of our benefits, as well as our separate pension plan,” she explains.

In 2008, BMS launched its Employee Services Centre, featuring a toll-free line and an HR Intranet for employees. All calls are answered by the appropriate specialist, according to the request (corporate, retirement, pay).

An agreement with IBM allowed employees and managers to use the company’s Intranet to access new online HR tools. “Employees can consult the company’s internal policies, pay scales and their HR profiles,” says Newcomb. “They can also make decisions about their benefits and their vacations, among other things.”

To reassure employees who were worried that their HR department was becoming increasingly automated, they were told they could contact Newcomb personally at her office to discuss any concerns.

Newcomb believes that the secret to the successful transition was that BMS viewed Mercer consultants as BMS employees. That’s why the biopharmaceutical company constantly exchanges information with Mercer about what’s going on inside the company.

“When employees call for information about their retirement plan, for instance, not only does the person on the other end of the line have to be familiar with the ins and outs of the plan itself, he or she also has to understand the atmosphere inside the company. As the employer, we have to orient our outside partners by giving them an idea of our work context,” she explains.

The biggest change involved company managers who were required to take on more administrative duties. This wasn’t easy at first, but “thanks to the proper training given to our managers, the transition was smooth,” says Newcomb.

An effective communications campaign
BMS also decided to analyze its group insurance plans. “Our strategy was to become more flexible as an organization, and one way to do that was to reduce the costs of our plans while also remaining competitive,” says Newcomb.

In early 2009, when the financial crisis was at its peak, BMS Canada had more retirees in its pension plan than active employees. It therefore had no choice but to permanently wind up its DB pension plan and offer only a DC plan to all employees.

“This decision wasn’t easy, as it could have had a major impact on our ability to attract and retain employees,” says Newcomb.

With this in mind, the corporation launched a communications campaign seven months before the first changes were implemented. The campaign targeted the increased responsibility of individual employees but also emphasized that the company was still there to help them make choices.

Now BMS employees can contribute to their DC plan if they wish, something that wasn’t possible with the DB plan. “In addition to providing all our employees with a percentage of admissible earnings as a base contribution, we pay 100% of our employees’ voluntary contributions up to a pre-established maximum. At first, we hoped that half of our employees would contribute to the DC plan, but after our campaign, more than 85% chose to do it. And of this number, nearly all (95%) contribute the maximum allowable.

BMS had group meetings explaining the differences between the two plans and the impact the changes would have on their RRSP contributions. And experts from Standard Life, which administers the DC plan, were closely involved in the training sessions offered to employees.

Reconsidering STD
BMS also implemented a new policy regarding disability programs. It began by working with an outside firm that hires health professionals to assess the validity of medical claims to justify cessation of work and to manage the administration of employees on sick leave.

“On their advice, we changed our short-term disability policy,” explains Newcomb. “Now, managers inform our outside partner on the fifth day of an employee’s absence or earlier if the employee has confirmed that the absence will last longer than five days.”

As a result, BMS has eliminated the need for an internal review of doctor’s notes, thereby increasing efficiency and employee confidentiality.

Even though disability rates are low, the company intends to become more proactive when dealing with emergency cases of disability. “We need to understand the root causes of prolonged absences to ensure that they are not repeated by other employees. We also encourage a quicker reintegration into the workplace through a progressive return to work.”

BMS also hopes to implement a program promoting employee health and wellness. “A number of health initiatives have been started over the years, but we need to find a thread to link them together,” says Newcomb. “We don’t have absenteeism problems, and our disability rate is very low, but the implementation of this type of program will encourage our employees to become active and involved. And we know that happy, healthy workers are more productive.”

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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Susan White:

To read more on this subject try reading chapter two from Creating and Re-Creating Corporate Entrepreneurial Culture by Alzira Salama it can be found at the bottom of this page

Thursday, July 28 at 5:06 am | Reply

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