Cisco applies technology expertise to benefits

Case study: Executive insight is valued at Cisco

Small business development manager Lauren Godfrey has worked at Cisco for three years. The 25-year-old is responsible for recruiting and developing new partners to increase Cisco’s market share in the small business area.
Godfrey says she values the support she receives through the firm’s shadowing programme, which has allowed her to gain an insight into the working life of executives. She also receives free training sessions and attends networking events.

“I have been lucky enough to be promoted twice since joining Cisco and the emphasis the company places on championing talent has been really inspiring,” she says.

“I also think the healthcare benefits you receive when working for Cisco, such as a free health check, are fantastic. You receive peace of mind and a sense that Cisco really cares about the health and wellbeing of its employees.

Cisco makes full use of its own technology to deliver benefits, and is keen for female staff to progress, says Nicola Sullivan

As one of the world’s biggest technology providers, Cisco cannot afford to be behind the curve in any aspect of its business. With a growing customer base, including businesses, governments and service providers, Cisco’s internal structures have to be as ground-breaking and cutting-edge as the electronic goods and networking technologies it provides. The same is true for its human resources department, which is committed to ensuring staff are fully equipped to tackle the challenges of a fast-paced industry.

Charlie Johnston, human resources director for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Cisco, says: “Our customers are no longer just IT departments, but other departments looking at technology to provide them with a competitive advantage. This includes sales departments, procurement departments and finance departments, which are looking at the internet revolution moving out from the home and into the workplace. They are looking at their organisations and saying ‘how can we embrace IT?’.

“This means our sales people and technical people are having to deal with a new population. Our leaders have to engage with clients in different offices in the customer locations. They are no longer just dealing with the chief information officer, they may be dealing with the chief executive officer and board members.

“For us, it is about transforming the organisation to address the shift that is going on in our customer base.”

Johnston says Cisco is focusing on improving employee engagement by driving a more inclusive work culture and creating the right environment for talented women to progress to the higher echelons of the business. “We are being really clear about what makes up the value proposition for an individual to be part of Cisco and one of the things we have focused on is inclusion and diversity at a board level in each of the countries where we operate,” he says. “I think, historically, IT companies have been seen as a very male-dominated environment, and what we are trying to do is attract, retain and develop high-potential females.”

Executive shadowing programme

Cisco runs a shadowing programme, in which female employees working across different departments get to accompany an executive for the day. Not only does the employee gain an insight into what it is like to work at executive level, she also has the opportunity to talk about the challenges she has in her current role.

“It is about growing female talent in the organisation and giving them the opportunity to work with an executive for the day, see what they do and experience the world through their eyes,” says Johnston.

Staff health and wellbeing is also an important focus for Cisco, which, after reviewing its employee benefits package, introduced health assessments, provided by Bupa, every two years for all employees. “Something that, historically, would in many companies have been reserved for just senior executives became something available for all members of staff,” says Johnston.

The health assessments are part of Cisco’s sickness absence scheme, which is designed to reduce long-term staff absence by tackling the underlying causes of ill health, such as stress and poor sleep. Cisco’s approach to tackling long-term absence also includes an independent advisory service, provided by BestDoctors, which is used mainly to get a second opinion on a medical diagnosis. Staff also have access to an employee assistant programme, onsite health checks and an online personal health assessment.

Managers focus on staff wellbeing

Managers have been trained to take responsibility for the wellbeing of their staff. For example, health and wellbeing has been added to the agenda for managers’ quarterly meetings. Issues such as disability in the workplace and presenteeism are discussed.

As well as shaking up its health and wellbeing offering, Cisco has made significant changes to the way its pension is administered. In 2009, it changed its pension provider – a move driven by the company’s desire to utilise the latest technology and move manual processes online. An online portal, provided by Thomsons Online Benefits, allowed employees to transfer their pension with the old provider to the new provider without having to fill out any paperwork. Johnston believes the ease of the online process boosted take-up of pension transfers from the xpected 50-55% to 85%.

And the innovation does not stop there. Cisco is also looking at ways to tailor long-term savings for employees.
“The next stage in this journey is about making it much less about a single approach to long-term saving and try to individualise it a lot more,” says Johnston. “We foresee, working with our pensions supplier and our online benefits supplier, that we will really try to drive the technology to enable that. So that, as an individual, I can put in my personal circumstances, not just about my pension but also my mortgage and other long-term savings, and have the ability to look at what I have got today in terms of accumulated wealth and what I could potentially have in five to 10 years.”

Cisco’s technology platform will also help it to meet its obligations under the forthcoming 2012 pensions reforms, which will see employees automatically enrolled into an occupational pension. In fact, Cisco will introduce auto-enrolment ahead of the deadline. “It will be all online, so that when an employee receives an offer from Cisco, they will be pushed to our portal to make their selections around benefits, and will also be auto-enrolled for the pension scheme,” explains Johnston.

Staff must take core benefits

As well as using state-of-the-art technology to increase the efficiency of how its benefits package is administered, Cisco offers staff a degree of flexibility on their benefits choices, but stipulates that they take core benefits, such as private medical insurance.

“We did not want to call it flexible benefits because we felt flexible benefits were fairly old-fashioned,” says Johnston. “We just wanted to make it much more about choice and I guess much more about engagement, so people understood what they had. We were very clear we wanted our people to have private health and there is no cash equivalent to that, so it is not like [staff] can flex down and take the money instead. We were very clear that we wanted to have the confidence that everyone had the security of our really good private health scheme.”

Not surprisingly, Cisco is looking to innovate further in its reward programme by utilising its own technology, including the Telepresence high-definition videoconferencing system, which will enable employees to communicate with benefits providers, particularly those that offer health and wellbeing and occupational health services.

“Where today everything is done face-to-face, is there a way of utilising the technology to be more efficient from a practitioner’s perspective, as well as for our own individual employees’ perspective?” says Johnston. “So, rather than having to travel into London to meet someone if an employee lives 100 miles away, they can go to our office and use our product to connect with that organisation.”

Web-based videos for communication

Cisco will also use its technology to create web-based videos to communicate perks to staff, says Johnston. “Video on demand will also be used to educate employees about benefits. The internet has historically been a place where people can go and get information to find out more about their benefits and then to potentially fill out [online] forms and make transactions. Now we are going to the internet to educate ourselves through real-life simulations and through video, seeing people sharing their experiences or talking about a topic through video on demand.”

With cutting-edge technology at its fingertips, Cisco’s benefits package will no doubt evolve and adapt to suit its employees’ sophisticated, ever-changing relationship with social media and the internet.

Cisco at a glance

Founded in 1984, Cisco pioneered the development of internet-based networking technologies. Subsequent developments included application networking, home networking, security, unified computing, video systems and wireless. Cisco and its partners also sell its software, hardware and services to businesses, governments, service providers and consumers.

Cisco operates a highly leveraged, performance-driven culture, so a huge part of any employee’s compensation, irrespective of their grade or job type, is variable and tied to how the business is performing.

Cisco generated a cash flow of $10.2 billion for the fiscal year 2010, compared with $9.9 billion in 2009. Its cash and cash equivalents, together with investments, were $39.9 billion for 2010, compared with $35 billion for 2009.

According to John Chambers, chairman and chief executive officer, Cisco’s customers include world-class enterprises, global service providers, small businesses and consumers. Each customer has unique needs and are united by a network that helps enable datacentre virtualisation, collaboration and video to drive productivity and efficiency.

Career history: Charlie Johnston

Charlie Johnston, HR director – EMEA at Cisco, joined the firm in 2007 after 12 years at IBM. His first role at Cisco was HR director for the UK and Ireland, leading the team responsible for delivering operational HR services to 3,000 employees across the UK and Ireland.

Since June 2010, Johnston has been human resources director – EMEA, responsible for the leadership of HR operations across the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. He supports businesses spanning 62 countries with over 12,000 employees and leads a team of more than 100 HR professionals.

He started at IBM as a graduate trainee, then performed several generalist HR roles, including head of human resources – UK, Ireland and South Africa and head of human resources – sales and infrastructure.

Johnston cites creating and developing HR teams as one of his greatest achievements. “One of the things I have been most proud of, both at Cisco and at IBM, would be the teams I have created and developed,” he says.

“Nothing gives me more of a sense of pride than seeing people I have hired and have pushed on in the organisation develop on to great things.”

The benefits at Cisco


Group personal pension plan for all employees. Matching contributions: employer contributions start at 6% if employee contributes 1% and increases to a maximum of 8% if employee puts in 3%.

Health and wellbeing

Employer-funded private medical insurance for all.


Onsite gym at Cisco’s largest UK site.
Discounts on gym membership.
Employee and family assistance programme.


Company cars or cash for car option, dependant on an employee’s grade.


25 days.

Family-friendly benefits

Flexible working.
Part-time working.
Remote working and sabbaticals.

All the family-friendly benefits are arranged on a formal and ad-hoc basis.


Incentive pay/ performance-related pay.
Employee discount vouchers.

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