Shin Seong-suk, compliance director at France-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis Korea, sent her 11-year-old son Lee Yu-jin to Paris this summer to spend 10 days with a French family she had never met before.
Last week, she welcomed Marceau Dabert, the 12-year-old son of the French family Yu-jin had stayed with, to South Korea for the first time. Shin took the children in and around Seoul, seeking to grant the young French visitor an unforgettable experience of a lifetime in a foreign country.
|Marceau Dabert (right) from France and Lee Yu-jin, both children of Sanofi employees, visit Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul last week. Dabert spent 10 days in Korea with Lee’s family as part of Sanofi’s “Holiday Exchange Program.” (Shin Seong-suk/Sanofi-Aventis Korea)|
How did such an unconventional arrangement come about? Surprisingly, it was through a unique employee benefit program run by Sanofi that Shin and her son were able to participate in this special mode of cultural exchange.
Aiming to promote a family-centered corporate culture, Sanofi has been operating its “Holiday Exchange Program,” through which employees in one country can spend a part of their holiday break living with a Sanofi family in another part of the world, as well as host a reciprocal visit.
The company partially funds the exchange, while the program participants cover the remaining expenses and housing. Any Sanofi employee with a child aged between 11 and 18 can apply for the program.
“It’s difficult to find a program like this at other companies,” Shin said. “I have always known that Sanofi offers excellent employee benefits and family support, but this program allowed me to form a deeper sense of community and affection toward the company.”
Since the program began in 1990, a total of 3,152 exchanges have taken place as of 2014, and the number of applicants continues to rise every year, according to Sanofi.
Shin said she was “able to develop a good-willed, personal relationship with the French Sanofi family without any strings attached,” adding that “such is not the case when parents pay private actors to send their children on language study-abroad programs.”
“A family-centered corporate culture greatly improves work efficiency while also helping employees feel a heightened sense of pride in their work,” said Sanofi-Aventis Korea’s general manager Bae Kyung-eun, who also hosted two children from Lyon in July as part of the exchange program.
Other global companies in the industry are also making a range of efforts to build a corporate culture that promotes work-life balance, particularly for females who have to juggle their professional life with the task of raising a family.
AstraZeneka, a London-based multinational biopharmaceutical company, has been continuously named as a top company for women in executive positions by the National Association for Female Executives, which recognizes companies with policies and practices that encourage women’s corporate advancement.
One example is an exclusive mentoring program for female employees at AstraZeneka Korea, where more than half of the top executives are female. Through the program, senior-level working mothers at the company provide personal guidance and working tips to junior employees.
“I really appreciated the fact that the company opened up a platform for us to discuss the difficulties we face as working mothers as well as share work tips with fellow female employees,” said AstraZeneka Korea’s HR manager Choe Hyung-mee, who participated in the support program last year.
“Given a majority of the company executives are female, the company’s policies are naturally highly family-oriented and considerate of working moms. It’s comparatively easier for female employees to retain a good work-life balance here,” Choe said.
At Mundipharma Korea, a U.K.-based pharmaceuticals firm, is a working father in his 40s, who became the first person to take paternity leave at the company last year. Joining a growing number of working fathers seeking to take on a more active role in child care, he took three months off work to look after his first child.
“It was really a big decision to make. But given Mundipharma’s family-friendly and flexible working atmosphere, I left with a light heart since I didn’t think I’d face any disadvantages or difficulties upon returning to work,” he said.
At Roche Korea, a Switzerland-based global health care company, employees with children receive 30,000 won ($25) for child support for every day spent on a business trip of more than one day, among other forms of various family support.
Meanwhile, all of these companies offer up a range of family-focused benefits including flexible working hours, parental leave, marriage support and child support, as well as finishing the workday an hour early on Fridays.
As people around the globe, including in Korea, increasingly consider work-life balance as one of the most important considerations in a given job, companies are expected to step up efforts to develop expanded employee perks and benefits to attract the top talents.
Employees who felt very satisfied with their benefits were almost four times more likely to be very satisfied with their jobs, while enabling a positive work-life balance increased employee loyalty, according to the 2014 U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study by Metlife.
In Korea, employee benefits and work culture were cited as the No. 1 factor that influenced a university graduate’s willingness to work for a given company, followed by the firm’s public image and payroll, according to JobKorea, a leading local employment website.