When AstraZeneca employees speak, the company listens. Pharmaceutical companies typically employ a variety of people from different professional and cultural backgrounds, and their desires are just as diverse. To ensure they are attracting the best talent, companies have to get an edge on the competition. For AstraZeneca, that edge is its ability to take action and show employees that their needs and wants matter.

As part of a total rewards survey conducted in 2005, employees were asked to compare the value they placed on various benefits components. According to Bev Haines, lifestyle solutions manager, with AstraZeneca, employees expressed an interest in the opportunity to buy extra vacation days and to purchase company stock.

AstraZeneca reviewed the results and took action. Now, employees can purchase up to five extra days of vacation, as opposed to the three days previously allowed. The company also implemented an employee stock purchase plan in January 2008. “When we got that feedback, we wanted to make sure our program was maintaining its competitive nature,” says Haines. “By adding in a new benefit, it shows the company is listening to employee feedback.”

But these are just two of the perks that have earned the company its No. 2 spot in the 30 Best Pension and Benefits Plans ranking. In the ongoing quest to attract and retain the best in the industry, AstraZeneca has strategically aligned its flexible benefits program with its retirement savings options.

The company gives employees enough flex dollars to cover the top level of dental and medical insurance, and two times their salary in life insurance and accidental death and dismemberment. Employees can put excess flex dollars into a health care spending account, a personal spending account or the optional savings plan. They can also use them to purchase company stock.

AstraZeneca employees have a defined contribution (DC) pension plan to which the company makes basic contributions of 5%. Employees can contribute up to 6% to the optional savings plan and get a 50% company match, which goes toward the employee pool of flex credits and the DC plan. “In the pharma industry, there are very competitive benefits and retirement savings programs. What may be unique about ours is that our flexible benefits are intertwined with our retirement savings,” says Haines.

Another interesting aspect of the AstraZeneca benefits program is that employees can use the personal spending account to pay for “lifestyle costs” as well, such as tax preparation, childcare and airfare for family vacations.

“We understand there isn’t a one-sizefits- all program. That’s why the flex benefits program is so successful. Individuals can choose their level of coverage based on their needs…[and] there’s a lot of flexibility with the flex credits,” explains Haines.

It’s this type of flexible thinking that keeps employees engaged and helps AstraZeneca remain an employer of choice.