A year ago, at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Illumina Singapore employee Ang Qiu Ping was at her wits’ end.
The 30-year-old had to single-handedly care for her two young children as her husband, who is Malaysian, was unable to return to Singapore when the border with Malaysia was shut.
She recalls: “With changing regulations and clusters forming, my kids had to stay at home with me. It was very stressful as I had to go into the office to review the manufacturing processes and take care of my kids at the same time.”
Thankfully, a discussion with her manager changed all that. The engineering supervisor was given a flexible schedule to work from home when her little ones were unwell. She was also allowed to start work later when schools reopened so she could send her children to school.
She adds: “My manager regularly checked in on me to inquire about my mental health and well-being. I felt that my manager and senior management were open and understanding towards my situation, and I’m really grateful for that.”
Surveys to tap employee feedback
Ms Ang is not the only employee who has received support from Illumina Singapore.
The San-Diego-headquartered leader in DNA-sequencing technologies’ Culture of Care programme (CoCP) was rolled out globally in April 2018.
CoCP is the over-arching philosophy for Illumina to create a place of work for employees to take care of their well-being and professional and personal needs through their employment life cycle.
It continues to improve, through employee feedback garnered through annual pulse surveys. Among issues raised by staff were the need for more flexibility to better manage their time and health, and to support their families in times of need, explains Mr Derric Lee, vice-president and general manager for Illumina Singapore.
CoCP includes paid compassion and care time-off (up to 30 days), paid medical and sick leave support for up to 12 weeks, flexible time-off (paid, without accrual limits), health and a lifestyle allowance of USD500 a year (about $670).
It also comprises a universal variable compensation programme (in which 100 per cent of its employees are eligible for bonus pay) for staff, and other progressive and personalised benefits such as fertility programmes, expert second opinions and genomic resources (the world’s first employer-sponsored Genome Access Programme).
Ms Dorothy Wong, Illumina's senior director of human resources for Asia-Pacific, says: “Last year, to support employees through Covid-19, an additional USD1,000 was tagged onto the health and lifestyle allowance.
"Whether it was to fund another monitor or desk, a tutor for their children or higher internet bandwidth capabilities at home, the allowance defrayed additional expenses employees were incurring.”
Diversity, inclusivity and fairness
For Illumina, maintaining its employees’ holistic well-being is an extension of its pursuit of excellence in the healthcare sector.
The company, which ranks at 27th place out of 200 on the Singapore’s Best Employers 2021 list and second in the Health Care Equipment and Services category, is leveraging its next-generation sequencing technology to fight Covid-19.
Its technology is empowering scientists and researchers in over 10,000 laboratories and 115 countries to track transmission, conduct surveillance, develop therapies and vaccines, and ensure long-term global safety and security.
Illumina also spearheaded breakthroughs that have helped identify and sequence the Sars-CoV-2 virus, including accurately determining where the mutations are and if current diagnostics tests are still relevant.
This work is facilitated by teams hired based on people policies aligned with Illumina's Diversity, Inclusion and Fairness strategy (DIFS) — another key initiative.
Of its more than 1,300-strong workforce in Singapore, 60 per cent are male and 40 per cent are female. Employees aged over 50 years old make up 6.1 per cent of its staff.
Ms Wong notes: “There is no bias against hiring any age group, gender, nationality or race. We hire the best people that suit the roles. Promotions at Illumina are based on merit, not tenure.”
Employee-formed and managed Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are in place to deliver career development experiences, increase cultural awareness, and demonstrate Illumina’s collective commitment to diversity and inclusion, shares Ms Wong.
These groups, though voluntarily formed and joined, bring employees with the same beliefs and goals together.
These contribute not just to employees' overall well-being, but also job satisfaction. The knowledge shared via these groups can also help the employees to excel in their career.
One employee who has benefited from Illumina’s Diversity, Inclusion and Fairness strategy is associate scientist Karen Goh. In her five years at Illumina, she has picked up varied new experiences and skill sets, thanks to the many opportunities given to her.
She has been sent overseas to learn and, in turn, impart the knowledge of new technologies to her colleagues. She has also been involved in key projects including the development of Illumina’s NextSeq2000 instrument, a benchtop sequencer used for high throughput applications, in which one of the key features includes reducing genomic secondary analysis time.
Ms Goh also aids her manager in interviewing and mentoring new colleagues and interns.
She adds: “Illumina has also been proactive in inculcating DIFS values through ERGs. One of these is a Women in Illumina Network, which gathers us to interact, share, voice opinions, and be inspired together as women.”
And the men are not left behind. New fathers at Illumina get an additional four weeks of paid paternity leave, on top of the government-mandated two weeks.
All these staff-centric initiatives have made an impact.
In Illumina’s latest quarterly pulse survey of its Singapore employees, 86 per cent of respondents felt engaged, 94 per cent had trust and confidence in the company and leadership team, and 96 per cent felt positive about the company’s response to Covid-19. The attrition rate was also low, at 6.6 per cent for last year.
Even with its current success in managing its staff, Illumina hopes to do more.
Ms Wong says: “We believe in evolving. That is the philosophy and DNA of our company. Most importantly, when it comes to our people, it is about what they want, and what’s relevant to them. So we ensure that we listen to our employees regularly.”