Employees and society
Motivated employees are crucial to a company’s success, and GF relies on their commitment. To promote their engagement, GF offers various development opportunities.
At the end of 2020, GF employed a total of 14’118 people. This headcount corresponds to 13’562 full time equivalents (FTEs). Being their employer gives GF direct responsibility for their on-the-job safety, health, and well-being.
Today’s workplace is evolving continually. One of GF’s key goals is therefore to be agile and remain an attractive employer to its current and potential employees. GF offers employees a broad range of continuous learning and development courses and programs, fair and competitive compensation, and increasingly modern production and office facilities. The purpose is to promote a collaborative environment and employees’ health and safety.
Diversity and flexibility
GF is a global organization represented by a diverse network of employees from all corners of the world. The diversity of cultures, religions, nationalities, genders, sexual orientations, and ages is a valuable source of talent, creativity, and innovation, all of which improve performance and decision-making.
GF expats all over the world
GF fosters cultural exchange by giving employees the opportunity to acquire professional and life experience in different countries over the course of their careers. GF encourages the exchange of exceptionally talented employees across national and cultural borders. This enables expats and inpats to gain the skills necessary to assume global responsibilities within the Corporation and acquire an understanding of other cultures, customs, and traditions. In 2020, 22 employees were on a multi-year secondment abroad.
Flexible work arrangements
Cultivating and establishing a flexible, creative work environment is essential for GF to achieve its innovation objectives. An initiative in Switzerland, “future@work”, enables the company to continually analyze and implement steps to make work arrangements more attractive and flexible and help employees achieve a healthy work-life balance.1 At year-end 2020, 396 employees (3% of the workforce) were working part-time, of whom 66% were women. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend toward remote working. GF widened its existing policies and made working from home possible whenever an employees’ professional duties allow it.
At year-end 2020, 19.9% of GF employees were women (2’764 FTEs). The proportion of women managers was 15.8% (97 FTEs) compared with 16.4% (100 FTEs) in 2019.
In the last few years, GF has initiated a variety of measures to improve its workforce’s gender balance. For example, the shortlist for vacant management positions generally includes at least one woman.
For several years now, in Switzerland, GF has voluntarily granted all expectant mothers a job guarantee of twelve months in a comparable position from the date of their child’s birth. This exceeds the requirements of the collective employment agreement. This program also offers parents of newborns three weeks of maternity or paternity leave beyond the existing provisions under the collective employment agreement and Swiss law. This not only helps improve GF’s overall gender balance, it also makes it easier for new parents to return to work. GF is endeavoring to find similar solutions in other countries in line with their laws.
Other Corporation-wide measures focus on adjusting the recruitment process to find female candidates for positions key to GF’s core business, conducting internal communications to reinforce awareness across the company, and adding new topics to existing training courses, such as familiarizing participants with the added value of diversity.
GF also attends career fairs like Women’s Contact Day in Zurich, Switzerland, which focus on highly talented women professionals and university graduates. Most career fairs took place virtually in 2020. This gave university graduates the opportunity to live-chat with current GF employees and to learn more about working at GF.
Diversity in a broader sense
Diversity goes beyond gender. GF does not tolerate discrimination on the basis on any personal attribute.2 It also strives to foster a workplace culture that welcomes, includes, and affirms everyone. GF welcomes applications from people with a disability and supports their integration into the company. At the end of 2020, there were 114 employees with disabilities working at GF (0.8% of the total workforce).
GF also focuses on employees who are approaching retirement. These employees have a wealth of knowledge and experience. GF therefore offers them a wide range of opportunities to share their expertise with the next generation of GF specialists and to facilitate their personal transition to the next phase of their life. In Schaffhausen, Switzerland, GF conducts awareness training sessions on pre-retirement. The subjects include managing personal finances and remaining active physically and mentally.
In addition, GF offers its employees in Switzerland aged 45 and older an awareness program focusing on issues related to the last third of their professional lives, such as financial and pension security.
A number of measures that are part of the Sustainability Framework 2025 will further enhance GF’s efforts to increase diversity and inclusion.
Collaboration within and across divisions and functions is only feasible if such a culture is continuously nurtured. At GF, this starts by bringing its corporate purpose and values to life and is reinforced by training all employees based on a framework “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”3 Collaboration also requires appropriate structures in terms of processes, infrastructure, and physical space.
GF launched a project in 2017 to standardize its human resources (HR) processes across divisions and countries. The aim was to enhance communications between line management, employees, and the HR department and to strengthen the shared understanding of GF’s values and leadership. Its purpose was also to help HR support GF’s daily operations of GF and propel the implementation of GF’s strategic targets. By year-end 2020, four parts of the project had been rolled out: Management by Objectives and Performance Development in 2018, and Recruiting and Talent Management in 2020. Currently, cross-divisional teams are working on establishing a learning management platform. It will provide employees with a single portal for viewing their course history and finding new courses they could take from across GF. The project’s final work stream focuses on the harmonization of compensation and benefits. It is scheduled to be rolled out in 2021/22.
In addition to offering up-to-date employment conditions, GF focuses on providing an innovative work environment that enhances open communications and efficient collaboration, while still making it possible for employees to temporarily withdraw from open-space offices to do work requiring a high degree of concentration.
Pandemic-related restrictions made it necessary for GF employees to adapt their style of collaboration in line with the situation in their country. The swift and smooth rollout of Microsoft Teams in early spring 2020 made virtual meetings the new format for most collaboration. GF supported its employees and line managers by offering various training materials for them to become more familiar and efficient with virtual-presence technology and to also support their personal interactions while working remotely.
Training and professional development
Knowledge and hence employee development are essential for a company’s lasting success. GF therefore supports its employees and provides them with targeted and customized training and professional development that aim to widen and deepen their knowledge throughout their career.
The GF Academy is responsible for designing and implementing GF’s training and professional development portfolio at Corporate level. It coordinates measures and programs that target social and technical skills for management and employees of all divisions and regions. For over 15 years, a course introduces all new employees to Stephen Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) method teaches employees important skills that help them successfully implement GF’s corporate strategy.
GF Academy launched a new leadership training course in 2019. Its purpose is to train and coach senior managers to be successful and effective leaders today and tomorrow. Through sharing experiences, concepts, and tools, the course aims to help participants engage their employees to achieve great results and impeccable customer service. The course has been conducted six times so far. The two sessions scheduled for 2020 had to be postponed until 2021 due to COVID-19.
In 2020, the GF Academy started to transform its course formats from in-person to hybrid learning journeys in order to adapt to the new realities of training.
Beyond GF Academy, the divisions have their own training programs to provide relevant educational support to their specific operations. These programs focus on applied technical education as well as training in the area of occupational health and safety (such as the Zero Risk campaign).
Many of these training programs normally take place at Klostergut Paradies, GF’s Corporate Training Center in Schlatt, Switzerland. This facility is housed in an eight-century-old former monastery updated with state-of-the-art infrastructure.
Focus on innovation and added value for customers
A key element of GF’s Strategy 2020 was innovation. To accelerate the Corporation’s transformation and to sharpen its customer focus, GF has been adopting design thinking across all divisions to make it an integral part of its corporate culture. Design thinking’s main tenets are that:
- success depends on clearly defined factors: multi-disciplinary teams, a culture of try early and fail quickly, and a structured process including rapid prototyping as well as ongoing dialog with customers
- innovation is not restricted to R&D, but rather is a team effort that incorporates all functions.
To date, more than 1’500 GF employees have received design thinking training worldwide (12 in 2020). The main focus in recent years has been on providing next-level support through project coaching, offering advanced training opportunities, and further embedding design thinking into GF’s innovation processes and corporate culture. In 2020, this included providing project-specific coaching (mostly virtually) in key markets and industries and promoting the use of the GF-specific design thinking framework and toolbox to support all GF employees in applying new ways of working.
In addition, GF has adopted a value selling approach to address the strategic target of realizing business potential in higher value areas. In 2020, 54 GF employees worldwide participated in a total six training sessions on value selling.
These two approaches—design thinking and value selling—form the basis for employees to work together across GF’s functional and geographical borders to provide the best solutions and services for meeting customers’ needs and expectations.
GF’s various professional development programs helped it fill nearly 70% of senior management vacancies in the period 2016‒2020 with internal candidates. At year-end 2020, 69.57% of all senior managers came from within GF’s ranks.
GF’s employee training courses in 2020
Collaborations with academia
GF works closely with renowned technical universities around the world. The company offers students specializing in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics the opportunity to do an internship at GF or to complete their bachelor’s or master’s thesis by working on challenging projects and case studies. Current collaborations include institutions in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Australia. GF also pursues similar collaborations with universities in China and the United States in order to strengthen access to engineering talent in these key markets.
One such partnership is between GF Signet in El Monte and Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California (USA). GF Signet started this relationship three years ago when it was looking for fresh ideas and input for a number of engineering challenges. Students participate in a GF Signet project for two semesters. The collaboration also helps the site replenish its talent pipeline.
Number of apprentices
In % (100% = 387)
Vocational training is a cornerstone of Switzerland’s education system, and GF was one of the country’s first companies to establish such a program over 100 years ago. The program now encompasses its operations in the United States and China. GF offers apprenticeships in a broad range of technical and commercial professions. In 2020, GF trained 387 apprentices globally (446 in 2019).
GF’s company guidelines stipulate that qualified apprentices are given preference if there is an open position. For example, the apprenticeship model applied three years ago at GF Machining Solutions’ site in Lincolnshire, Illinois aims to establish a program for future technicians in the division’s engineering operations. The response to this initiative has been enthusiastic, in part because the United States do not have an officially recognized apprenticeship system like Switzerland and other European countries.
In China, GF is collaborating with many colleges across the country located near its operations. This includes, but is not limited to, Chengdu Aeronautic Polytechnic, Shanghai Polytechnic University, and Changzhou Technician College Jiangsu Province. For example, GF Machining Solutions established a 15- to 18-month program for new engineering graduates at its Shanghai facility.
The goal of all these measures is to address the shortage of qualified workers by taking a long-term perspective and developing the company’s own specialists. This also helps GF burnish the reputation as an attractive employer.
Employee retention is important for GF’s continued success. As part of this effort, in the fall of 2020, GF conducted a global survey to identify its strengths as an employer. A total 2’485 employees participated, of whom 717 work in production. Employees were asked to rank employer attributes according to their experience at GF. The top ratings were for “a friendly work environment,” “attractive/exciting products and services,” and “customer focus.”
The Corporation-wide fluctuation rate (including dismissals, internal transfers, and retirements) was 14.6% in 2020 (15.8% in 2019). The relocation of GF Machining Solutions in Switzerland was concluded in 2020. This move as well as the divestments and the transfer of the GF Casting Solutions sites in Austria and Germany resulted in an increase in the number of departures and the fluctuation rate in the last years.
As part of the Sustainability Framework 2025, GF set a target for measuring and ensuring employee satisfaction: every other year, all three divisions will conduct an employee engagement survey containing both Corporation-wide and division-specific questions.
GF respects its employees’ right to join employee representation bodies. Such agreements exist in a variety of GF locations and entities around the world, including Switzerland, Germany, Austria, China, France, Sweden, Japan, and Taiwan. In countries where the law provides employees the right of codetermination, this right is protected. In 2020, around 60% of GF’s employees were employed under a collective bargaining agreement.
Workplace health and safety
GF places the highest priority on employees’ health and safety. In 2020, GF continued its efforts to establish and maintain a safety culture with the ultimate goal of having zero accidents. Nevertheless, GF’s predominant health and safety issue of 2020 was to work systematically to ensure that its offices and facilities had the equipment and procedures necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Management of the response to COVID-19
New types of viruses emerge at irregular intervals. To prepare for a novel occurrence, as far back as 2006, GF established a set of detailed pandemic plans. GF updated these plans several times in 2020 to reflect emerging WHO health advice.
To guide and coordinate its pandemic response, in February 2020, GF established a corporate committee consisting of the Executive Committee, the Corporate Risk Manager as well as Corporate and Divisional HR and Communication Managers. The committee initiates specific measures and supports implementation by unit-level management. In addition to the corporate committee, each division and company has a dedicated pandemic crisis team in place to ensure a rapid response at all levels of GF.
Those groups worked extensively throughout the year to plan, adapt, and react to the evolving pandemic situation. The safety precautions taken aimed in particular at ensuring a safe workplace for those employees who had to continue working in plants, laboratories, and offices. The measures included dividing teams into discrete groups, offering COVID-19 tests, conducting hygiene and mental health training, and providing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as mouth-and-nose coverings, hand hygiene stations, and translucent plastic dividers.
GF also established a Corporation-wide reporting system to build a database about internal COVID-19-related cases.
Alongside protective measures, global HR teams trained senior managers on leading their teams remotely and offered guidance to employees on maintaining mental and physical well-being as well as a healthy work-life balance.
GF Safety Standards
The GF Standards for Occupational Health and Safety provides a comprehensive description of all of GF’s health and safety requirements. It applies to all facilities and GF employees worldwide, as well as to temporary workers and visitors. The topics include organizational measures as well as detailed expectations for technical and personnel measures to be in place at GF locations. The latter describe the detailed safety requirements for a wide range of issues, including, but not limited to, buildings and premises, machinery and tools, maintenance, transportation and storage, work with a risk of falling, PPE, hazardous substances, ergonomics and health protection, business trips, visits to customers and driving to work. The Standards, which were approved by the GF Executive Committee in 2014, were updated and revised in 2019. The document is available in the nine languages of GF’s major production facilities.
Reducing the risk of accidents
GF works continuously to minimize the potential of workplace accidents. Its target for its accident rate at year-end 2020 was to be 20% below the average figure for 2013–2015. Thanks in part to GF’s unrelenting commitment to safety, the accident rate at year-end 2020 was 44% below the former average, far surpassing its target.
Ongoing training is a key component of a robust safety culture. GF trains its employees, contractors, and visitors on health and safety topics via the Zero Risk campaign. Initiated in 2015, this campaign has now been adopted by all three divisions. It encompasses communication measures on the divisional and company levels to reinforce safety awareness.
GF Standards for Occupational Health and Safety require its production sites to be certified to ISO 45001 or OHSAS 18001. The safety management processes are valid for all employees, visitors and third parties and all workplaces at the facilities. At year-end 2020, the health and safety management processes of around 80% of GF’s production sites were certified to OHSAS 180014 or ISO 45001. In 2020, GF Linamar in the United States and the facilities that GF Casting Solutions acquired in Romania in 2017 successfully certified their health and safety management to ISO 45001.
80% of GF production sites are OHSAS 18001 or ISO 45001 certified.
The identification of risks and hazardous processes is crucial for ensuring safe workplaces. GF does this by adopting the proven hazard portfolio method. A GF company classifies its activities by risk and the availability of recognized methods to avoid that risk. The result is documented, and the defined protective measures and safety rules are summarized as operating instructions. These instructions are made clear to all affected employees and displayed at workstations. In addition, the operating instructions are available for all employees at any time. After a near-miss or an accident, the hazard identification is reviewed and, if necessary, updated. The head of the department, together with a safety manager and the responsible managers regularly monitors the implementation of technical and practical safety measures and identifies improvements.
Health and safety committees are in place at the vast majority of GF facilities. They meet on a regular basis and integrate employees’ feedback.
A process called Safety Stand Down at GF Piping Systems’ site in El Monte (USA) provides a hands-on example of how the employees are integrated to achieve a safe work environment. On a quarterly basis, the facility’s Environmental Health & Safety team reviews GF’s safety materials and guidance and assesses various risky situations, behaviors, and best practices with the employees exposed to such risks. Their feedback is recorded and analyzed. This process is likely one of the reasons this facility reported no accidents in 2020.
In addition, since 2015, GF’s divisions have conducted annual cross-facility safety audits at each location to ensure the effectiveness of their safety measures.
Due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, in 2020 these audits were conducted by the facilities themselves. GF Piping Systems conducted them at 32 locations, while GF Casting Solutions at all 10 of its facilities. The findings were summarized and presented to divisional management. GF Machining Solutions was unable to conduct its planned audits owing to reduced work schedules (short-working time). It will renew them in 2021. Still, over 95% of all GF’s production facilities were audited in 2020.
To do even more to protect the health of GF employees and other people working at its premises, in early 2020, GF Machining Solutions introduced a Stop Working Directive. It encourages employees who perceive a potentially hazardous situation to stop working immediately and notify their supervisor.
Despite these comprehensive measures, accidents sometime still occur. In such cases, the accident, its root cause, and any corrective measures taken must be reported within three days of the accident by means of a Corporation-wide accident reporting tool. Accident reporting and analysis help GF gauge the effectiveness of its safety initiatives and procedures. In 2020, reporting was expanded to include near-misses, their root-cause analysis, and any preventive measures implemented. Each division’s health and safety specialist provides an accident and near-miss report on a monthly basis to divisional management and the location’s safety teams to ensure knowledge sharing between the facilities and to help prevent future accidents. In addition, information on health and safety is included in the monthly reports provided to the Board of Directors since 2019. This reflects the high priority GF places on safety.
In 2020, GF Piping Systems’ sites in the United States were recognized by EHS Today to be among the safest nationwide. The award is testimony to management’s outstanding support for sites’ health and safety efforts, employee involvement in these processes, and innovative solutions to safety challenges.
GF Casting Solutions site in Suzhou (China) received an honor certificate from the local government for supporting three other companies in setting up their occupational health and safety management during 2020.
The North Carolina Department of Labor awarded GF Linamar (USA) with the Silver Safety Award. The company’s health and safety management is considered to be best in class. For example, its days-away-from-work rate is 50% below the industry average.
The total number of accidents among GF employees decreased by 36%, from 282 in 2019 to 180 in 2020. Most of the accidents happened in production and processing areas, which resulted in finger and hand injuries. The number of accidents among GF employees declined at all three divisions. Short-time work and the pandemic-related temporary closure of some sites in the first half of 2020 contributed to the reduction.
Zero fatalities five years in a row
The Zero Risk campaign’s ongoing efforts have paid off: the Corporation-wide accident rate (per one million working hours) declined from 14.0 in the baseline year to 7.9 in 2020.5 Over the five-year target period, GF reduced its accident rate by 44% relative to the baseline, far surpassing its target of 20%. All three divisions contributed to this achievement.
2020 was the fifth year in a row that GF’s companies had zero fatalities.
Number of accidents among GF employees
Per million hours worked
Share of accidents, GF employees and leased personnel, 2020
Some accidents still happen. Consequently, the Sustainability Framework 2025 sets new accident targets including those for contracted employees.7 Accidents involving contractor employees account for 10% of GF’s total accidents, whereas the remaining 90% involve GF employees.
The ambitious target for the next five years is to reduce the overall accident rate by 30%. GF aims to achieve this mainly by:
- refining the divisions’ safety training for the specific needs of employees from temporary employment agencies
- focusing on the optimization and the effectiveness of the measures that are already in place.
The Zero Risk campaign and its main message will remain the core of GF’s occupational safety communications and will be continually upgraded. For instance, GF Piping Systems has already initiated plans to enhance safety awareness with a new campaign “Be aware, be safe”. Additionally, GF will concentrate its efforts on developing specific measures that will help reduce the most common recurring accidents (such as finger and hand injuries).
Employee well-being and absence rate
Besides the high priority GF places on workplace safety, it also pays particular attention to promoting the overall health and well-being of its employees. This is crucial for retaining current employees, attracting new ones, and thus ensuring GF’s continued success.
COVID-19 was by far the main health issue of 2020. Consequently, the majority of health measures throughout the year were related to managing the pandemic effectively. These measures included extensive home office arrangements, the division of teams into discrete groups, targeted restrictions at canteens, and a range of hygiene and social-distancing measures. The chapter “GF’s response to COVID-19” contains more details.
Days of work
GF views the absence rate as a key indicator of employee well-being and therefore monitors it closely.8 The company-wide absence rate decreased slightly year-on-year, from 3.46% in 2019 to 3.45 in 2020. This equaled 8.0 absence days per headcount. Around 97% of absences were unrelated to work. Nevertheless, GF did not meet its absence rate target for year-end 2020. A comprehensive analysis is needed to fully understand the underlying reasons.
As part of the Sustainability Framework 2025, GF would like to measure how its employees feel as part of the organization. From 2022 onward, it will therefore conduct an employee engagement survey every two years in all three divisions.
GF supports and promotes cultural and social programs at its various locations as well as activities that contribute to the common good. In 2020, it spent around CHF 2 million at the Corporation level on social engagement activities in addition to the donations (around CHF 900’000) made by the individual locations. The biggest contributions in 2020 went to the GF-owned foundations Clean Water, Klostergut Paradies, and Iron Library. In addition, several GF companies supported local activities by making substantial contributions.
Improved access to clean drinking water
GF’s Clean Water Foundation has supported a total of 155 drinking water projects worldwide since 2002. To date, GF has invested more than CHF 11 million and improved the lives of more than 300’000 people by providing them with better access to safe drinking water. In 2020, the Clean Water Foundation granted CHF 400’000 to projects in Indonesia, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Honduras, and Peru. Most of the projects focus on improving infrastructure for water filtration and water distribution in rural communities and for hospitals. Water Mission, a non-profit organization in Charleston (USA) and a trusted partner of GF’s Foundation for the past ten years, conducted most of these projects. GF’s collaboration with Water Mission extends beyond donations and also encompasses providing engineering design support for local installations as well as offering significant discounts on GF equipment.
Annually, GF supports the Foundation with a substantial lump sum contribution. The Board of Trustees includes the CEO, who also chairs the Foundation, and two members of the Executive Committee.
Klostergut Paradies and Iron Library Foundation
The Klostergut Paradies in Schlatt (Switzerland) has been owned by GF since 1918. Today, this historical building serves as the Corporation’s main seminar and training center. The Iron Library Foundation has been located at the Klostergut Paradies since its foundation in 1948. Today, GF proudly owns one of the world’s largest private collections of books on the subjects of material science and the history of technology.
The Iron Library and GF Corporate Archives, managed by one team, jointly preserve GF’s historical and cultural heritage, whose roots go back to the 18th century. In 2020, the digital offerings included over 1’000 digitized volumes totaling more than 60’000 pages.