Learning & Development Asia 2024
Case study: How Merck's fertility benefits programme aims to enhance inclusivity in its workforce

Case study: How Merck's fertility benefits programme aims to enhance inclusivity in its workforce

In this video interview, Merck Malaysia MD Pixie Yee and Gwen Choong, HR Director, Merck Malaysia tell Priya Sunil how the programme extends beyond financial assistance, offering a comprehensive support system.

Merck, a global science and technology company with a storied 360-year history, earlier this year unveiled a new fertility benefits programme tailored to its employees in Singapore and Malaysia.

As part of this programme, employees, no matter their marital status, are able to tap on resources that provide support, leverage flexible work arrangements to attend appointments, and more.

Employees also have access to financial assistance, and other fertility-related services throughout different stages of their fertility journeys.

Initially launched in its US, Canada, and Japan offices, the programme was then introduced in eight other markets in October 2023 — Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, China, India, Taiwan, Brazil, and Mexico; before being launched in Singapore and Malaysia in March this year. 

In a video interview with Priya SunilPixie Yee, Managing Director, Merck Malaysia and General Manager, Merck Healthcare Malaysia and Singapore; and Gwen Choong, Human Resources Director, Merck Malaysia affirmed the impact of the initiative on employees — that it not only extends beyond financial assistance, offering a comprehensive support system that includes flexible work arrangements, privacy for personal matters, and educational resources.

As a whole, we learn, it aims to create a culture of empathy and support, ultimately enhancing employee welfare and reinforcing the organisation's commitment to social responsibility.

Head over here to watch the interview, or read on for highlights of the conversation:

Q What steps did Merck take to ensure the programme is comprehensive and inclusive, particularly in terms of accommodating employees' diverse marital and social situations?

Yee: In this era, not everyone gets married at a very young age like our parents did. Therefore, the programme is very unique because we don't want to discriminate anyone. Whether they are married or single, every employee can benefit from this programme and of course, their spouse or partner can be involved as well.

Another important feature of the programme is its comprehensiveness. Apart from financial help, Merck provides several services such as fertility tests, in-vitro fertilisation treatment, and hormonal treatment. Adopting this holistic view is aimed at ensuring that all other fertility related services are made accessible to employees undergoing the different stages of their fertility journeys.

Of course, there is a lifetime cap as we do need to budget for it, but it is comprehensive enough to cover most of the treatments required. That aside, we emphasise a lot of extra assistance, such as the education platform and support system I mentioned, which are all available online when they need help, and if they want to keep things confidential.

Q How are you educating employees on the fertility-related services and support systems available through the programme, and how has HR been involved in this process?

Yee: The fertility benefits programme has been designed with HR at the global level. As shared earlier, we designed this programme to focus on not just the treatment costs, but also the overall wellbeing and mental health of our employees. 

We now have an HR platform, and an online education portal where they can find out more about fertility, 

One of the educational aspects, our fertility benefit programme emphasises flexibility in the workplace to accommodate the needs of individuals undergoing fertility treatments. We also implemented flexible work arrangements.

That has to be a concept that is supported through every single layer, especially for people managers to have a better cultural understanding and empathy towards employees who require support during the fertility treatment journey. 

Pixie Yee

So, such an arrangement is really ideal because, on top of MCs (medical certificates) or leave days they have to take, [having in place] a flexible work arrangement will hopefully not jeopardise the work that is required. At the same time, they can go for their treatment. But this requires both managers and employees to understand what such an arrangement is — there is still work required to be done.

Through these proactive measures, we aim to create a culture of understanding, empathy, and support within our organisation. Our goal is to empower employees to make informed decisions about their reproductive health while feeling supported by their workplace community. We believe that by prioritising employee wellbeing and offering comprehensive support systems, we are not just investing in our team members’ fertility journeys but also fostering a more including and caring work environment for all.

What hurdles did face in driving the implementation of this programme, and how did you overcome them?

Gwen Choong:
We do not want our employees to disclose their personal data and private information with their managers during their fertility journey, but it was not possible with the existing reimbursement process. Therefore, the global project team created the new automated process that the employee will be reimbursed without sharing their personal information with their managers or Finance by coming up a new process for employees to initiate their claims.

With the new process, the cost is tracked anonymously, and our employees are not required to disclose their personal data to their managers. The claims will flow directly to our payroll team.

Q How do you envision this programme contributing to shaping a supportive workplace culture, and how is HR working with line managers so they can play a role in fostering this culture?

: It is embedded from our top-down message from our Chair of the Executive Board and CEO of Merck. "The caring spirit of Merck truly comes to life when we support our employees through their most important personal moments. This demonstrates a strong commitment to help those colleagues who want to build a family. We are pioneers in the fertility space and we are thrilled to provide this opportunity to a growing number of Merck families."

On a local level, we engage our employees as a supportive colleague of the fertility patients to build the inclusive corporate culture and practice empathy. Like what Pixie has also mentioned, Merck’s flexible working policy would practically help our employee’s fertility journey to parenthood.

Photo: Screenshot of interview

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