Unleashing the power of our people

“Lasting success is built on our people and the culture that binds them together. Our strong purpose and commitment to environmental and social sustainability – and to diversity, inclusion and social equity – underpins our inspired, curious and unbossed culture and is a key factor in attracting, growing and retaining our unique talent”

Steven Baert, Chief People & Organization Officer

We are transforming our culture to help fulfill our purpose of reimagining medicine to improve and extend people’s lives, and to create an organization where people can fully apply their talent and energy at work. The aim of this transformation, which began two years ago, is to ensure that every employee feels inspired by our purpose, is curious about new ideas, and benefits from an unbossed environment in which leaders set clear objectives, remove obstacles, and empower people to attain their goals. The progress we have made helped us become more resilient and better able to overcome the challenges of COVID-19 in 2020. The pandemic also accelerated our culture transformation by connecting employees even more strongly to our purpose, creating new demands for learning, and demonstrating the benefits of empowered working.

Pandemic response

Our priority in responding to COVID-19 was to ensure the safety of patients and employees. In March, Novartis announced a range of measures to protect and support our employees worldwide, and associates were instructed to work from home when possible. We provided childcare support for employees in critical on-site roles in laboratories or at manufacturing sites, as well as 12 days’ extra paid leave in addition to existing vacation and personal time off. In countries where schools and childcare were closed, we offered support either in the form of access to special childcare facilities or reimbursement for employees’ personal arrangements. Where feasible, similar benefits were provided for external contractors working for Novartis, subject to local laws and regulations.1

We stepped up our Energized for Life initiative, which provides a range of health and wellness resources to employees and their families, as they adapted to new working practices and commitments. These include the TIGNUM X smartphone app, which gives digital coaching in areas like nutrition, movement, mindset and recovery. We also expanded our resources to support the mental health of employees. To provide reassurance in uncertain times, we committed to no COVID-19-related job losses during the year and did not furlough our people.

The pandemic accelerated our ambition to explore new working models. In July, we announced a new global policy called Choice with Responsibility, giving most office-based associates the right to choose how, when and where they work within their country of employment.2 Employees received a one-time payment to help purchase home office furniture and equipment. The program, supported by a total investment of USD 28 million, aims to keep employees safe during the pandemic and helps them maintain work-life balance while optimizing both personal and business performance.


The engagement score in our quarterly employee survey in Q4 2020, an all-time high

Alongside the challenges posed by COVID-19, the pandemic also brought the importance and urgency of the Novartis purpose into sharper focus, and gave employees a clear sense of the impact of their work in improving and extending people’s lives. The score for engagement in our quarterly employee survey reached an all-time high of 80 (out of 100) in the fourth quarter of 2020, compared to 74 a year earlier. This was 7 points higher than the industry benchmark, and was also ahead of the benchmark for the top 20% of global companies. Engagement favorability, which measures the percentage of “agree” or “strongly agree” survey responses, rose to 87% in the fourth quarter from 80% a year earlier.

1 External contractors are individuals who are engaged under an agreement with a third-party employer (i.e., a staff leasing company) and assigned to work under the authority and directive of Novartis.

2 Corporate tax, individual tax, employment law and social security regulations require special attention if the work is performed from outside the country/state in which the employer is located. Consequently, Choice with Responsibility is currently applicable in-country and in-state/local area only.

Novartis commitment to patients and caregivers

  • Respecting and understanding the patient community perspective
  • Expanding access to our medicines
  • Conducting responsible clinical trials
  • Recognizing the importance of transparency and reporting

Focus on learning

We continue our journey to build a culture that stimulates curiosity, for example by providing more learning opportunities and increasing skills in key areas such as data and digital. This was the second year of our pledge to “go big on learning,” involving an investment of USD 100 million over five years in addition to the regular annual training budget of around USD 200 million. In 2020, the pandemic caused a significant shift in learning requirements, and we responded by expanding our offerings to meet the changing needs of employees and their families.

With so many people working from home, more than 14 000 employees visited a portal providing support for remote working. Usage of LinkedIn Learning increased from 1 000 hours a week in February to 7 000 in May, and more than 8 600 people from outside Novartis took part in the first-ever Coursera friends and family program. Every Novartis employee received two additional Coursera licenses, giving access to more than 5 700 courses in multiple languages. Novartis also donated USD 1 million to the Khan Academy, a not-for-profit organization providing free online education to millions of students worldwide.

In 2020, employees completed more than 175 000 courses from Coursera and LinkedIn Learning covering strategic skills such as data science, artificial intelligence (AI) and leadership resilience. In many of these areas, we were ahead of industry benchmarks. We also launched online master’s degrees in data science, provided by Coursera in conjunction with the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois in the US. Novartis was the first company in the world to offer these courses free to employees.

Our aspiration is for all associates to devote 100 hours a year to learning. The average was 45.7 hours in 2020, up from 35.8 hours in 2019. This was supported by an ongoing campaign called #wearecurious to encourage learning, with more than 21 000 employees taking part in 215 webinars and other events during Curiosity Month in September. These totaled 60 000 hours of learning on topics such as innovation, digital skills, and patient access to medicines.

In the OurVoice survey, employees gave a score of 75 to opportunities for learning and growth, compared to 69 in 2019. The latest score was 5 points above the industry benchmark. We also conducted a separate study on the impact of learning on employee retention. The preliminary results indicated a significant correlation between voluntary learning and retention, and we aim to further study this topic in the future.

Building skills across the organization

We are committed to developing talent at Novartis, and our comprehensive development and succession planning programs enable us to build capabilities across different levels of the organization. Dedicated divisional and functional training teams provide job-specific programs for all permanent and part-time employees, and we also offer engagement-specific training to contractors. We welcomed more than 14 500 new associates to Novartis during 2020, most of whom were onboarded virtually. Some of our training programs are outlined in the table in section "Selected training programs for associates".

Two years ago, Novartis began reimagining its approach to leadership by pursuing an unbossed approach in which self-aware leaders empower their teams and help unleash the power of our people. We have three development journeys to enable leadership excellence at different stages, and two talent development journeys to develop the succession pipeline with early and emerging talent.

In 2020, more than 5 000 senior leaders started a long-term development program called the Unbossed Leadership Experience (ULE) to enhance the capabilities they need to transform our culture. The ULE challenges leaders’ assumptions and encourages them to learn about their impact on others. This ensures they are equipped to lead in an ever-changing and increasingly complex environment. The quarterly Leadership Perspectives survey showed a significant increase in self-awareness among leaders who completed the ULE, resulting in higher levels of openness and trust, and greater team effectiveness. In 2020, we converted the ULE into a fully virtual program, and the goal is to make it available to 20 000 leaders by 2023.

The emphasis on learning is part of a five-year transformation of our talent strategy. This was launched in 2020 to support a proactive reskilling of the workforce, using data and analytical tools to predict the capabilities we will need in the future. We are also establishing a talent marketplace that helps employees navigate their own careers within Novartis, and provides guidance for hiring managers to help identify potential candidates across the organization. Our succession planning process covers all executive leadership and senior management roles, and evaluates possible successors at various levels of readiness, including middle management. There is a full annual review with the CEO, and summary succession plans and talent metrics are reported to the Board of Directors.

Benefits for all employees

Where possible, Novartis provides benefits to all full- and part-time employees. These vary from country to country but usually include comprehensive health, well-being and retirement benefits; generous vacation policies; and a global recognition program. In addition, during the year more than 2 700 people took advantage of the company’s new parental leave guideline. The guideline offers at least 14 weeks’ paid leave to all new parents employed by Novartis, regardless of gender, to support the well-being of their families after the birth or adoption of a child. It covers all employees worldwide as of January 2021, and is effective from the first day of employment.

2 700+

The number of employees who took advantage of the new Novartis parental leave guideline in 2020

21 000+

Associates participated in 215 webinars and other events during Curiosity Month

In 2021, we will begin full rollout of a new approach to performance management, following a successful pilot in 2020 involving 16 000 employees, 96% of whom were positive about the change. The new approach involves team-created rolling objectives, the replacement of performance rating with impact nominations, receiving regular feedback from colleagues as well as managers, and having more coaching to improve performance. Supporting this, in 2021 we are introducing a simpler set of behaviors against which performance is measured. These focus on the individual’s contribution to creating an inspired, curious and unbossed culture, and also recognize personal integrity. Another important change to performance management was the rollout of Spark, an online platform that allows people to praise outstanding behavior by colleagues. This was used by 71% of employees in 2020.

In 2020, the Novartis Board of Directors approved a global Employee Share Purchase Plan covering all permanently employed Novartis associates. We aim to launch the plan in country waves over the next five years. It will give associates the option to use a percentage of their base salary to purchase Novartis shares at a discount.

Diversity and inclusion

Novartis strives to adhere to high standards of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in our culture and values, as embodied in the company’s new Code of Ethics. We believe that creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment is a fundamental part of our aspiration to be inspired, curious and unbossed. Only by being themselves every day can people fully apply their talent and energy at work. Diverse perspectives and inclusive behaviors help us generate new ideas, drive innovation, and better understand patients and other stakeholders.

No. 1

Our industry ranking in the Refinitiv D&I Index

In 2020, the importance of D&I was demonstrated by heightened awareness of racial disparity across many societies. To promote understanding and support our ongoing efforts toward meaningful change, we created opportunities for open dialogue on racial equity and shared guidance and resources for additional learning. More than 4 800 people took part in an interactive global webcast to mark the African American Juneteenth celebration, followed by a Day of Reflection in September attended by 6 700 associates worldwide. We implemented new hiring guidelines to help increase racial/ethnic and gender diversity in leadership and across the organization, with a dedicated diversity hiring team in the US.

To make sure everyone feels heard, respected and valued as a member of our global community, we encourage Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) – voluntary networks linking employees who have shared backgrounds, interests, experiences and perspectives. There are now 60 such groups active across the company.

We made progress toward our UN Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC) pledge to achieve gender balance in management and further improve pay equity and transparency processes by 2023. The percentage of women in overall management rose to 45% in 2020, from 44% a year earlier. Additionally, by February 2021 we aim to introduce pay transparency in 10 new countries (16 countries in total), including the US and Switzerland, so employees can compare their salary to external benchmarks.

We also made progress in removing possible gender bias from our recruiting system by eliminating historical salary data when making job offers across 75% of global hiring, up from 40% in 2019. Novartis has a global median pay gap of –3.1% and a global mean pay gap of +3.6%. While we acknowledge this percentage is influenced by worldwide workforce demographics, this is significantly ahead of the Bloomberg benchmarks of +19% median and +23% mean. Our parental leave and flexible working initiatives are also expected to positively influence the gender pay gap by enabling employees to further balance their work and family commitments. Recognizing this progress, Novartis was again included in the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index, a listing of companies that achieve the highest standards in measures of inclusion such as female empowerment and gender pay parity. 

Novartis was the first major pharmaceutical company to support the UN LGBTI Standards of Conduct, which seek to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in the workplace. In June, more than 3 000 Novartis employees from 67 countries took part in a virtual Pride Month event celebrating LGBTI inclusion. In 2020, Novartis introduced sponsors to champion LGBTI awareness at senior levels. We also launched a learning program to promote wider understanding and support for LGBTI colleagues, and instituted an identity guide and health plan reviews to protect and care for our transgender community.

We recognize the need to provide an environment in which individuals with disabilities feel a sense of belonging and can perform at their best. Novartis is a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Global Business and Disability Network, which promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities in workplaces around the world. We also collaborate with the Center for Disability Integration at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland to identify and develop solutions for disability inclusion.

To ensure this commitment to D&I is shared throughout our business network, we developed a US Diverse Supplier Protocol that empowers decision-makers to engage with approved suppliers owned by women, minorities, LGBTI people and veterans. Globally, we issued the first industrywide LGBTQI+ Supplier Good Practice Guidance. Novartis is also committed to avoiding the use of non-regular employment practices and contracts.

Novartis prepares an Inclusion Index to measure our progress toward creating an inclusive environment that treats all employees with dignity and respect. The composite score was 74 in November 2020, up from 69 a year earlier. Our achievements were also recognized externally. In the Refinitiv D&I Index, we were ranked No. 1 in our industry and No. 9 overall out of more than 9 000 companies worldwide, marking our third consecutive year in the top 10. We maintained our strong position in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index, which compares the environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance of leading companies, with a percentile score of 91 compared with 87 in 2019. We achieved a maximum score on DJSI’s labor practice indicators and human capital development criteria. In addition, Novartis achieved sector-leading performances on human capital from MSCI and Sustainalytics.

Diversity and inclusion performance indicators





Management representation by gender (% female/% male)1








Novartis Top Leaders2




Senior management




Middle management




Gender representation of Board of Directors (% female/% male)





Management defined by Global Job Level Architecture and Novartis Top Leaders


Novartis Top Leaders comprise the approximately 300 most senior managers at Novartis, including the Executive Committee of Novartis.

Transforming engagement and volunteering

Novartis empowers associates to engage and volunteer on their own terms; they can decide when, where and how. Our Novartis volunteering program does not set a limit on the number of volunteering or engagement hours. Every associate is encouraged to engage with responsibility.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteering activities were conducted virtually in 2020. In the first few months of the pandemic, there was a fivefold increase in the donation of pro bono skills and time compared to the same period last year. Associates used the program’s virtual marketplace, which enables them to register new project ideas and sign up as volunteers.

In April, the program launched a campaign to generate ideas among associates for virtual volunteering. More than 2 400 associates in 18 countries contributed, resulting in more than 60 new activities. One example is “Today Positive Thoughts,” an open forum where associates can freely express their thoughts and feelings during COVID-19 to help overcome social and emotional isolation.

Since 2015, the program’s virtual platform has been used by over 21 100 associates from 59 countries. In 2020, the team launched a new platform with advanced functionalities, powered by artificial intelligence, to increase the likelihood of finding the right match. Associates can now search for and recommend projects based on a range of criteria like skills, social causes or beneficiaries, UN Sustainable Development Goals, and geography. The new digital capabilities also enable impact measurement for volunteering activities and proactively forecasting trends. The platform launch is expected for the second quarter of 2021.

While the program continues to encompass a range of hands-on activities, the primary focus is to drive higher impact through skills-based volunteering. One example is the long-term engagement of Novartis volunteers in Hyderabad, India, who completed the launch of the Leprosy Patients Records Database (LEOPARD) in January 2020. The volunteers helped design and build a health management tool for the Sivananda Rehabilitation Home. This tool digitalizes patient data and helps run daily operations, enabling Sivananda to become a paperless hospital. Through the project, Novartis volunteers also plan to support other hospitals in managing leprosy.

In addition, for the first time, the platform gives access to external partners, who can directly post opportunities. This new feature is one example of how the program is transforming our approach to community partnership. In 2020, we took steps to shift the focus of volunteering beyond a single day of service toward a long-term, sustainable commitment with global health partners and local communities. To this end, we signed agreements with the US President’s Malaria Initiative, the International Rescue Committee and Save the Children to provide skills-based volunteering.

Keeping associates safe

We made every effort to help ensure the safety of our associates during the COVID-19 pandemic. As travel restrictions were imposed early in the year, our travel security alerts helped Novartis associates mitigate their risk, either by avoiding travel to high-risk zones or by returning home.

We quickly adapted to address new threats as lockdowns led to a surge of criminal activity online. For example, we redirected our threat scanning to address potential risks during virtual product launches and meetings, congresses and events. In response to an upward trend of social engineering fraud (designed to harvest private personal and company information for criminal use), we also rolled out a “virtual kidnapping” awareness training to educate associates about online frauds and scams. These have become more sophisticated since the start of the pandemic as criminal tactics have adjusted to the situation. This training teaches associates how to identify the hallmarks of a scam, and outlines clear steps to help associates protect themselves and their families.

In 2020, we reached out to more than 8 000 associates regarding over 60 high-risk security and health matters, including COVID-19 responses, explosions, natural disasters and shootings. We continued to provide forward-looking risk insights to the business and conducted 31 enhanced due diligence inquiries relating to Novartis business activities in complex environments.

In collaboration with several functions, we launched the Everbridge global incident communications tool in September, enabling associates to receive alerts about security, environmental and health-related incidents that may affect them when working on site and remotely. A security guide for remote working was also issued to support associates.

Selected training programs for associates


All associates

Graduate/entry level

Leaders/talent development

General/cross-functional training programs

Ethical standards: E-trainings target all associates with a Novartis email address. All remaining associates are required to be trained face-to-face or through shared kiosks.

Training and awareness programs for health, safety and environment policy

Quality and safety training:
Topics covered in initial training for all employees include product quality, reporting adverse events and information management.

Comprehensive virtual learning: LinkedIn Learning provides over 16 000 video-based programs in seven languages. Coursera provides over 4 500 courses from over 200 global universities in 40 languages. In addition, associates can access 10 000 Skillsoft courses, videos and resources.

Novartis Learning Insti
tute: Offers personal effectiveness, digital capability and language programs, as well as talent acceleration and leadership programs

Internships and apprenticeships: At Novartis headquarters and other sites in Switzerland, we offer paid internships and apprenticeships to graduates from high school or commercial colleges, as well as students who are studying for a bachelor’s degree. We also offer postgraduate internships.

We have three leadership development journeys to enable leadership excellence at different stages, and two talent development programs to develop the succession pipeline with early and emerging talent. In 2020, a total of 5 000 leaders took part in one of these programs to prepare for transition to a new career stage and build sustainable performance in their role.

Unbossed Leadership Experience

Reverse mentoring programs:

  • IGNITE: Accelerates leaders’ ability to apply a global mindset through self-awareness, curiosity and experimentation in order to drive sustainable business impact
  • QUEST: Enables participants to become self-aware, authentic and purposeful leaders who accelerate positive change. QUEST leaders inspire others from their authentic selves, live their purpose, shape our culture and make a lasting difference to society.
  • EMBRACE (Female Leadership Program): Supports leaders to hone an inclusive mindset and behaviors, and help create a more diverse and inclusive workplace
  • R&D/Regulatory Affairs


    Innovation/discovery postdoctoral fellowships: Enable aspiring drug hunters to join teams at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) to gain experience in the design and development of breakthrough therapies

    “AI for Life” residency program: A one-year program in Switzerland that enables data-science graduates and researchers to apply their expertise to real-world healthcare challenges

    Regulatory Affairs postgraduate program: A two-year postgraduate training program in Switzerland


    Medical Affairs/Sales & Marketing

    Responsible marketing, promotion and interaction with healthcare professionals: In-depth training covering promotional and non-promotional materials, events and professional meetings, external funding, engagement with healthcare professionals and healthcare organizations, interactions with patients and patient organizations, and market research

    Europe-based MBA program: Novartis Oncology offers a two-year, multi-location rotational program across key markets in Europe for recent MBA graduates.


    Other corporate functions/organizations at Novartis

    All Novartis associates in Manufacturing and Quality Assurance receive ongoing training in topics including quality management systems and third-party oversight.

    Finance postgraduate rotation program: A three-year development program for recent postgraduates in finance, accounting or business administration

    Coach2Grow: A program offered in Novartis Business Services to develop coaching skills and encourage unbossed leadership