ADVANCING OUR PEOPLE
Sonova ESG Report 2021/22
Advancing our people
The success of Sonova stems not only from our innovative solutions, but from our people and our culture. Across our companies and brands, we all share one vision: to create a world where everyone enjoys the delight of hearing and lives a life without limitations. This unifying vision, taken together with our corporate values, forms the foundation of our culture and creates a common understanding of how we work together.
The sections that follow present a comprehensive description of the various aspects of the ‘Advancing our people’ pillar of our IntACT ESG strategy:
As of the end of the 2021/22 financial year, Sonova had 16,733 employees (full time equivalents: FTE). This represents an increase of 2,225 employees (+15.3%) over the previous year’s 14,508 employees. Acquisitions made a significant contribution, as did organic business growth. Around 600 employees joined Sonova from the recent acquisition of the Sennheiser Consumer division, and around 500 employees joined from the US-based Alpaca audiological clinic network. Both acquisitions were completed on March 1, 2022. Several small businesses were also acquired during 2021/22 in EMEA, North America, and Asia/Pacific; one small business was divested in Asia. All of the acquired companies are in the business of producing and/or distributing and servicing hearing instruments.
The majority of our employees are directly supported by a local human resources (HR) manager. Sonova has developed a comprehensive set of global human resource processes, standards, and policies, which are implemented locally in line with country-specific regulations and customs. We assess the impact of our activities through a set of key performance indicators such as turnover, internal leadership recruitment rate, and the availability of internal talent for potential succession to management positions (bench strength). Regular internal audits ensure compliance with internal regulations and local labor law, with the objective to provide excellent working conditions and monitor progress in all our locations. We estimate that around 30% of Sonovaʼs global workforce is represented by an independent trade union or covered by collective bargaining agreements.
Employees by region
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Employees by employment contract
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Sustainable engagement describes the intensity of employees‘ connection to their organization and is a key factor in business success. It is marked by a continuous effort to achieve goals, enabled by an environment that supports productivity and a commitment to maintain personal well-being.
This year was the fourth time we conducted HearMe, Sonovaʼs annual confidential employee engagement survey. The survey is managed in cooperation with an external provider and consists of over 60 questions across 13 dimensions (such as strategy and leadership, operational excellence, collaboration, diversity and inclusion, and sustainable engagement). Of all employees worldwide, 92% participated in the survey, providing valuable information to identify areas for improvement. Sonova’s sustainable engagement rate is calculated based on 9 questions regarding how employees are engaged, enabled, and energized to achieve their goals. 83% of respondents reported feeling actively engaged through their work (81% for men, 84% for women). Compared to the previous year, our employee engagement rate remained stable. However, we improved our results in 6 out of the 9 questions. We also improved in 9 of the 13 dimensions of the overall survey, including diversity & inclusion, talent development, and operational excellence – all areas we had actively worked on as a result of the previous year’s survey.
Our target is to achieve by 2022/23 an employee engagement rate equivalent to that of high performing companies. The high performance benchmark is provided by our external partner and consists of companies that combine excellent return on capital employed with top-tier ranking in independent employee engagement surveys over several years across various industries worldwide. Compared to the previous year, the benchmark figure for these high performing companies rose from 87% to 88%, while our engagement rate remained stable at 83% over the past three years. In comparison with the medical devices industry benchmark, however, Sonova exceeds our industry peers’ results in sustainable engagement by 4% and also shows better results in all but one of the other 13 dimensions measured in the survey.
Leaders at Sonova worldwide conduct workshops with their teams to analyze the HearMe survey results, agree on necessary actions, implement them, and monitor their success before the next HearMe survey. Concrete initiatives inspired by HearMe results have already been implemented, aiming to release untapped potential, identify key drivers of employee engagement, encourage effective leadership at all levels, and thereby stimulate professional growth and business success. In 2020/21, a dedicated global cross-functional team was set up to drive continuous improvement in processes that create increased employee engagement. We also introduced monthly pulse surveys, which are sent to a smaller sample of the global Sonova population to get more timely insights into the development of employee engagement.
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Global trends such as demographic changes, a limited availability of specialist talent, and the need to adapt quickly to shifting markets highlight the importance of a proactive staffing strategy for Sonova. We believe that developing talent with the goal of ensuring internal succession is vital for sustaining competitive advantage and long-term success.
We believe that every employee should have an individual development plan; we therefore launched an initiative in spring 2019 that allows employees at all levels to define their own development objectives and to discuss them with their managers in dedicated development conversations. The aim is to ensure that we are investing effectively in the advancement of each individualʼs strengths and preferences. In 2020/21, we set a new target: over 95% of employees should have a development plan by the end of the 2022/23 financial year. This target applies to all employees except those with job roles in production/assembly, for whom other skill-related growth paths are identified. At the end of 2021/22, 97.4% of our relevant employees had a development plan, surpassing the target one year ahead of schedule.
Sonova’s annual appraisal process includes setting individual, measurable goals. Line and HR managers annually review the competencies, performance, and potential of our employees. The results support our global succession planning process, whereby we reduce the risk of losing expertise in key positions while identifying and developing promising candidates for internal succession. This process helps to ensure that Sonovaʼs specialist knowledge, skills, and experience remain within the company. In 2021/22, we were able to fill 63.8% of our open leadership positions with Sonova employees.
Internal leadership recruitment rate (ILRR)
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New hire rate
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The overall employee turnover rate in 2021/22 has increased from 15.1% to 17.4% and our voluntary employee turnover rate from 8.6% to 13.2%: like other companies, Sonova was affected by the global pandemic-related “Great Resignation.” Comparing our total and voluntary employee turnover rates with our most recent benchmark data from an external provider covering over 50 medical devices industry peers, Sonova is ranked better than the median. The average tenure of our managerial staff in 2021/22 was 9.6 years, while the total average workforce tenure was 6.8 years.
Employee turnover rates
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Voluntary employee turnover
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Leadership development programs
Sonova offers a portfolio of different leadership development programs outlined in the table below. Through feedback, coaching, and experiential learning, these programs give participants the chance to reflect on their personal style, to understand and to increase the impact they have on their performance, and to plan how they will continue to develop as leaders at Sonova. In 2021/22, around 2,100 employees participated in a total of 9,917 hours of leadership development training.
Learning & development programs
SonovaLearning is our group-wide education platform for all employees. It offers targeted programs, giving our employees the opportunity to enhance their skills and competencies. We support the programs with an e-learning information site, launched in 2019, which is accessible at all times. Around 2,500 employees accessed almost 27,000 pages and articles on it during the 2021/22 financial year. In addition, mandatory training courses available on the e-learning platform ensure that our employees have the knowledge to do their work correctly and in compliance with relevant rules and regulations.
Our training programs also reflect our sharp focus on customer service: we are convinced that a trusting personal relationship, founded on expertise and understanding, is the best way for customers to reap the full benefit from their hearing solution. The Sonova Academy in Germany opened in summer 2019 and offers face-to-face and online training to further develop the ability of our hearing health care professionals to deliver the best service and customer experience.
Sonova has a network of research collaboration with various leading universities around the world, where students can participate in joint studies and other activities. We offer them the opportunity to work in our organization as a member of one of our research and development teams, either in an internship, or as part of their Bachelorʼs, Masterʼs, or PhD thesis work.
At Sonova we support and invest in Switzerlandʼs dual training system, which links formal education with in-company training, providing both theory and practical experience. The number of our apprentices has doubled since 2013, and we currently train more than 40 apprentices at our headquarters. The range of Sonova apprenticeships is diverse, offering training in thirteen professions, from polytechnician through logistics clerk to cook. Sonova supports education and training for young people with disabilities. In recent years, several apprentices with disabilities have successfully completed an apprenticeship at Sonova.
Diversity and inclusion
It is Sonova’s vision to create a world where everyone – without distinction – enjoys the delight of hearing. By offering the most comprehensive range of solutions to treat all major forms of hearing loss, we aim to help our consumers feel included in society. To reach this goal, our workforce and work culture need to reflect the values of diversity and inclusion (D&I). Our commitment to D&I is included in our Code of Conduct. We value the diversity of languages, background, ethnic origin, disabilities, culture, beliefs, gender identity and/or sexual orientation among our employees, because this reflects the diversity of our stakeholders and the communities in which we operate. We are committed to providing equal hiring, development, and advancement opportunities. We strive to create an environment in which all employees feel safe, valued, included, and empowered to do their best work and realize their full potential. We know that each employeeʼs unique experiences, perspectives, and viewpoints enhance our ability to deliver the best possible products, services, and support to our customers, consumers, patients, and business partners.
Sonova’s global D&I strategy is built around five pillars:
- Governance: We have set up a global D&I Council, chaired by Sonovaʼs CEO with representatives from the main regions in which we operate and from key diversity dimensions. The Council sets targets, establishes accountability for target achievements, ensures that the necessary resources are in place, and regularly monitors progress. We have also appointed a Senior Manager Diversity & Inclusion on corporate level, and set up several regional D&I councils as well as employee resource groups.
- Targets: We set D&I objectives and measure our progress toward achieving them, while ensuring their alignment with other strategic business objectives. We monitor the composition of our workforce, where appropriate and legally permitted, along various diversity dimensions such as age, gender, nationality, or ethnic origin.
- Hiring and development: We stand for equity, equal opportunity, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace – in all our operations. We foster an environment that attracts and retains the best talent, mitigates biases, and encourages the contribution of diverse ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives to build the best team. We create opportunities for training, development, and progression.
- Training: We train our employees and leaders on general topics in diversity, inclusion, and bias mitigation. We also train colleagues on how to embrace diversity and contribute to an inclusive Sonova culture in their specific functional roles.
- Communication: We drive active and transparent communication about D&I to foster an inclusive culture, encourage role model behavior, and emphasize the high relevance of diverse and inclusive teams as a core element of our values and business strategy.
Progress and actions
Sonova has set two specific targets in the area of gender diversity and unconscious bias training:
- We want to achieve 40% women in key positions by 2025/26.
- We want to train over 95% of employees on diversity and inclusion by mid-2021.
We achieved the training target with 95.2% of employees having completed the introductory web-based training on unconscious bias by mid-2021. We are also progressing on our ambition to achieve 40% of women in key positions by 2025/26. At the end of the 2021/22 financial year, 35.2% of key positions were held by women (2020/21: 33.5%). Furthermore, across all management levels, women hold 51.1% of all positions involving staff responsibilities. In lower and middle management, the ratio of women is at 57.2%. In 2021/22, 57.6% of all our internal promotions to management positions were women. These are good conditions to reach our gender diversity target through professional succession planning, individual development plans, and gender-balanced representation in filling open positions. To fully realize the potential of our internal talent, we will further strengthen our efforts to remove unconscious barriers throughout the talent management cycle and keep a diversity focus in talent development.
Sonova supports the compatibility of pursuing a career and raising a family by promoting flexible working models such as working from home, flexible working hours, and part-time work in leadership positions. In Switzerland, for example, our terms of employment guarantee our employees additional family-related benefits, including 16 weeks of maternity leave, four weeks of paternity leave, and the possibility of purchasing additional vacation time. In all our production sites, where shift work is standard, employees returning from maternity leave can choose to work at between 50% and 100% of their previous level during their first year back. We operate our own day care center at our headquarters in Stäfa and financially support lower-salary employees in Stäfa and in our production center in Vietnam. In the US, among other countries, we have breast-feeding rooms in our offices.
Women in key positions
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Women in positions with staff responsibilities
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Women in management positions
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Leadership recruitment rate (LRR) for women
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Women in STEM positions
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Women in revenue-generating positions
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Employees by gender
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Number of nationalities of all employees
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Employees by nationality (top 5)
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People managers by nationality (top 5)
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Employees by age
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As part of our HearMe annual employee engagement survey, we calculated and benchmarked Sonovaʼs D&I index. This index is based on seven questions that focus, among other topics, on whether people feel the company supports diversity in the workplace, whether they feel it is safe to speak up, or whether they feel that they can be themselves in the organization without worrying how they will be accepted. 83% of respondents reported a favorable result, in a positive trend with the two previous yearsʼ D&I scores of 80% in 2020/21 and 78% in 2019/20.
In 2021/22, employees also had the opportunity, through our global HearMe employee engagement survey, to voluntarily self-identify as belonging to a minority group within their team or organization – in terms of age, gender, language, ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, health status, or any other category. Employees first had to agree that they want to see the self-identification questions. Once they agreed, they could choose from three answer options: yes, no, prefer not to say, or decide to skip the question. Out of all employees who chose to answer the question, 25% of employees self-identified as belonging to a minority group, representing 21% of all survey respondents.
D&I in HearMe
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We are actively addressing the role of unconscious biases. At the end of the financial year 2021/22, over 95% of employees had completed the unconscious bias awareness e-learning course. This is now part of the mandatory onboarding program for all new joiners. We also rolled out unconscious bias training for all people managers across the organization.
D&I has been included in our senior leader training; our Code of Conduct training also covers its key aspects. We have conducted several targeted D&I training courses for different audiences, including the Management Board, Audiological Care leadership teams, headquarters’ human resources team, and Corporate Communications team.
In 2020/21, we set up regional D&I Councils in the Americas, EMEA, Asia, and Oceania, followed by national task forces. The role of these regional Councils is to define D&I priorities for the respective countries and foster a regular exchange about local needs, developments, and activities. The regional Councils provide quarterly updates and discussion points to the global D&I Council.
To raise awareness and continuously advance a culture of inclusion, we also support expanding employee networks, providing platforms where people can connect and learn from one another. A global women’s network, initiated by our employees, has been established, along with a global OutLoud Network which brings together our employees who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Hearing loss should clearly not stop anyone from thriving at Sonova, so we have also set-up a global Hearing Loss Network which has been actively engaged in providing input and making our processes more inclusive. These networks held more than ten events in the financial year where diversity was celebrated, such as for International Women’s Day, Pride month, World Hearing Day and International Sign Language Day.
Sonova also provides reasonable accommodation in its job application procedures for individuals with disabilities, and helps to find alternative ways for individuals with disabilities to perform essential job functions.
Occupational health and safety
Sonova is committed to provide and promote an occupational health and safety culture that supports and protects our employees. We regularly monitor and analyze the potential health and safety risks of our operations and implement both legally-required and voluntary occupational health and safety programs. Sonovaʼs operations have a relatively low exposure to health and safety risk. Most injuries and lost work days are not caused by the manufacturing processes; they are more likely to be sustained during activities such as movement of goods. Employees who work with chemicals and hazardous substances, or come into contact with them, are regularly trained in their safe handling.
In 2021/22, we recorded a lost day rate (LDR) of 50.7 (2020/21: 32.5) and lost-time injury frequency rate (LTIFR) of 3.4 (2020/21: 2.4). The increases in the LDR and LTIFR reflect an increase in frequency of injuries and total lost days greater than the increase in total working hours. It is important to note that the absolute number of injuries at Sonova is generally low, and small changes in it can have a significant impact on the key performance indicators. For example, in the 2021/22 data, one accident was responsible for over 50% of the total lost days, whereas the majority of the other accidents caused less than one week of lost time per incident. The most common types of accidents were behavior-based, such as slips, trips, or falls. We investigate the root causes of each work-related injury, carry out regular local internal health and safety audits, and implement action plans, such as intensified local training and awareness-raising activities to further reduce exposure to work-related health and safety risks. We carry out regular safety walks at our operation sites to help prevent accidents. No occupational illness or disease cases have been registered in the past three years, leading to an occupational illness frequency rate (OIFR) of zero. There were no work-related fatalities.
Occupational health and safety
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The LDR, LTIFR, OIFR and work-related fatalities reported in the table above cover around 20% of our global workforce. The selection of the facilities follows a risk-based approach, and includes our operation centers in Switzerland, Vietnam, and China, as well as the operation and distribution center in the United States, and the regional European service centers in Spain and the United Kingdom. Each of these sites has a designated person responsible for local implementation of the health and safety program. Any incident that requires external medical health care is considered as a work-related injury. First-aid level injuries are not included. Any work-related injury that results in the company employee not being able to return to work the next scheduled work day/shift is considered as a lost-time injury. Lost days refer to working days, not calendar days, and begin right after the accident.
Sonova is committed to foster employees’ health and wellbeing. Our Group companies and operation centers take specific prevention and health promotion measures to help maintain and enhance each employee’s capacity for productive and fulfilling work. In light of the prolonged pandemic and its impact on working practices, Sonova enhanced our existing measures that focus on employee wellbeing. This new initiative is based on a holistic framework comprising five dimensions of wellbeing:
- Physical: nutrition, exercise, sleep, medical care, ergonomics
- Mental: relaxation, mindfulness, stress management, resilience, mental health
- Financial: financial security, retirement, ancillary benefits
- Social: healthy relationships, team spirit, leadership
- Purpose: purpose in life and work, beliefs & values, charitable activities.
A new global health manager role was created and filled in 2022, with the objective of driving wellbeing at Sonova. Additionally, wellbeing champions have been appointed in all Group companies. They will implement global initiatives, complemented by local programs, that cover the five dimensions listed above.
Sonova also launched several new global wellbeing measures in 2021/22 to support our employees worldwide:
- All Sonova Group companies are implementing an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). It provides free and confidential assistance to employees and immediate family members with personal concerns – whether at home or at work – that affect their wellbeing.
- More choices and more flexibility for our employees: Sonova has issued a global hybrid working policy that allows all eligible employees to split their tasks and time between their home and their local Sonova office; all Group companies are working on local policies and implementation.
- Meeting wellbeing: shortened meeting duration to avoid back-to-back scheduling and allow recovery in between.
- Tuesday is focus day: based on location, four hours of focus time are set aside, with no meetings and no interruptions.
- Recognition for employees’ hard work and resilience over the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic: many Group companies gave employees a wellbeing day, an additional paid day off; others provided thank-you gifts or organized a social event.
As in the previous year, many local offerings had to be reduced or postponed because of the pandemic. Where the situation allowed it, Group companies organized on-site activities, but they also showed creativity in setting up virtual workshops providing inspiration and support to our employees on various wellbeing topics, such as nutrition, stress management, at-desk exercise, or better sleep.
At Sonova, we are committed to treating our workforce responsibly. In the event of major reorganizations, such as restructuring, relocation, outsourcing, or mergers and acquisitions, we strive to reduce negative impact on our employees by ensuring employment security, minimizing compulsory redundancies, and mitigating the consequences for those made redundant. In case of such an event, a local implementation plan is developed, containing a variety of measures that can be adapted to the local situation and needs of the individual employees. At our headquarters in Stäfa, for example, the applicable measures include early retirements, internal mobility, financial compensation, re-training or outplacement services, case management, extended notice periods, and hardship funds.
In the past three financial years, there were no significant job cuts at Sonova – that is, none affecting more than 1,000 employees or more than 5% of the total global workforce annually.