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The challenges presented last year and ongoing with respect to the pandemic, has shown that remote and flexible working is more important than ever as we strive to improve work-life balance for all associates.

Introduce yourself and tell us about your organisation  

My name is Shalini Ramachandran, I’m the HR Director for UK & Ireland for Novartis. I have over thirteen years’ experience in a variety of HR roles working across a range of different large organisations and joined Novartis in January 2021. I genuinely believe that people are at the heart of any successful business and I enjoy spending time helping people find their purpose at work. I’m also passionate about encouraging diversity of gender, thought, background and race in the workplace, as I believe a fair and equal workplace that is representative of the society we live in, is critical to create a meaningful business that adds value to society.

Novartis is a pharmaceutical company headquartered in Basel, Switzerland and we employ approximately 1,300 people in our UK organisation. Our purpose is to reimagine medicine to improve and extend people’s lives and we aspire to foster an environment where our people can bring their best selves to work every day by being Inspired, Curious and Unbossed. We believe that inspired people with curious minds who feel empowered to pursue their ideas and shape their own work environment will be best placed to achieve their personal and professional goals.

What do you think has defined an organisation as a top employer during this pandemic?  

The global pandemic has caused an unprecedented shift in the way organisations work with the vast majority of people needing to work remotely and conduct meetings virtually. With added pressures for families with children at home, or people who are isolated, it has taken a significant toll on our health and wellbeing as we have been cut-off from our usual support systems.

I think what defines an organisation as a top employer in response to a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, is putting the health and wellbeing of its employees first. This includes ensuring that communication channels are constantly open and employers actively listen to the fears and concerns of their people. We aim to develop self-aware leaders who can set a positive example and create psychologically safe environments for their staff to be able to speak-up. It’s critical associates feel supported so that they can continue their work from a remote environment and balance this with their personal responsibilities.

Tell us about a recent initiative that you have instigated within your organisation that has supported your employees during this challenging time?  

As part of our COVID-19 response, we prioritised the health and wellbeing of our associates through an extensive support programme and remote working advice. This involved regular internal communications about key company news in relation to the latest government updates and help for associates to adapt to the new social distancing policies. We allocated 12 additional days of leave for personal responsibilities such as child or family care. We also developed an associate volunteering programme that enabled associates to spend up to 12 paid days contributing their time and experience to any voluntary group if they wanted to provide their support to the pandemic efforts.

As part of this programme, we also partnered with a well-being app called Peppy that offered our associates anonymised support for mental health, early parenthood and menopause and we were delighted to be the first major pharmaceutical company to offer menopause support to its associates. We saw good uptake of the app amongst associates last year and hoped that it would encourage colleagues to feel more confident to take control of their own wellbeing without fear of judgement.

What is the next objective in your organisation’s journey to keep improving the employee experience?  

This year we were delighted to offer equal parental leave to all associates regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Associates will be able to benefit from a minimum period of 14 weeks paid parental leave, effective from the first day of employment. This includes both birthing, non-birthing parents following the birth, surrogacy or adoption of a child. I hope that this cultural shift will encourage better equality in parenting roles as we celebrate these important milestones in our lives.

To keep improving employee experience, this year will be the first year we roll out our new approach to performance management called Evolve. Instead of our employees’ performance just being seen as numbers, Evolve will focus on outcome-focused objectives that are self-created and aligned to the business priorities. This involves creating individual and team objectives that provides associates with an opportunity for their greatest impact. We also encourage frequent feedback and check-ins to ensure associates can continuously grow professionally and personally.

How is your organisation planning to adapt to meet the workplace of the future?  

The challenges presented last year and ongoing with respect to the pandemic, has shown that remote and flexible working is more important than ever as we strive to improve work-life balance for all associates. With the office relocation from Frimley, Surrey to White City, London in November 2019, we were already prepared for a new flexible way of working. The success of this working model will now be taken further to adapt a workplace that is fit for the future. When it is safe to return to our offices, associates will be able to decide how, when and where they work going forward through our initiative ‘Choice with Responsibility’. This means that associates are empowered to structure their own working day, while taking responsibility for this by aligning with their manager and teams. We hope that this will enhance employee wellbeing, improve work-life balance and ensure our people feel truly unbossed.


This interviewee was kindly introduced to us by ‘Top Employers Institute’ – the global authority on certifying excellence in employee conditions.’ Their organisation is certified as a Top Employer.

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