Best Practices in Employee Relations: Nestlé

global employee relations best practices

This is the second in our “Best Practices in Employee Relations” series, where we interview executives at companies and brands you know and love, to find out how they handle this critical topic. On this episode of ProjectHR, we are joined by Kristy Martin, the Vice President of Labor & Employee Relations, Nestlé, and here, she explains:

  • Whether Employee Relations practices change in a global company;
  • The challenge of Labor Relations on a global scale;
  • How Employee Relations success can be measured; and
  • The value of the little things we do every day in engaging employees!

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Employee Relations for a Global Company

  • Nestlé is the world’s largest food & beverage company.
    • They operate in nearly every country in the world and employ nearly 300,000 employees globally.
    • In the United States alone, Nestlé has 8 different operating companies.
  • Employee relations, in the simplest sense, is about creating and maintaining positive relationships in the workplace. This is a concept that is universally understood, so usually employee relations practices generally do not differ much from country to country. 
  • It is important for a global company to base employee relations on the core values that are uniform across all different cultures and nationalities in which they operate. It is also important to understand and respect these diverse cultures.
  • From the beginning, Nestlé has been about trust, respect, and dialogue. 
  • Nestlé works closely with all of their global employees to ensure that these standards are met. 


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Best Practices and Employee Relations Policies

  • Nestlé’s Employee Relations Policy: This policy was not written in a vacuum by one or two people. It was crafted via diverse input from all around the world, and created with the goal of succinct, understandable, and applicable in any geography.
  • By keeping the focus on the “what” and the “why,” it becomes much easier to have a document that can be universally understood.
  • It is important to ensure that company principles align across all different places the company is located. This involves keeping up-to-date on labor laws everywhere and adjusting company policies and guidelines accordingly while still making sure the general ideals of the company are upheld all around the globe. 
  • An example of this within Nestlé is their global parental support policy
    • This policy allows Nestlé employees who are primary caregivers a paid 18 week leave when they welcome a new child. Non-primary caregivers are allowed four weeks of paid leave. 
    • This policy is gender-neutral and also includes a number of other benefits.
    • Policies like this one are uncommon in the United States and Nestlé is very proud of these types of policies. Policies like this one are not required by law, but align with the companies values and those values are upheld all around the world. 

What is Different in Labor Relations Outside of North America?

  • Labor relations policies differ from country to country.
  • This can apply to work councils, unions, maximum work hours, and other aspects that are law in some countries but not in others. 
  • There are distinct differences from the United States, in which we are guided by the National Labor Relations Act, compared to the laws and regulations in other countries. 
  • Nestlé’s commitment to sticking the values or trust, respect, and dialogue will remain apparent regardless of what country they are operating within. Their commitment to freedom of association is universal. 

Union Sites

  • Where Nestlé has employees who are represented by a union, Nestlé collaborates with that union and considers the union a stakeholder.
  • Nestlé will continue to place an emphasis on their core values of trust, respect, and dialogue when collaborating. 
  • Nestlé’s union sites do not really look much different from their non-union sites. Operation, benefits, and other aspects of the company largely stay the same from site to site and that is credited to Nestlé’s global organizational values, which apply to every employee, whether they are represented or not. 

Beginning Employee Relations with New Employees

  • For Nestlé to unlock the full potential of their employees, it begins long before an employee is hired - therefore, their employee relations efforts must also begin early, even before onboarding.
  • The diversification and selection of potential candidates for a position paired with the hiring process at Nestlé really drives the start of positive employee relations before the employee is even hired. 
  • Once the employee is hired, ensuring that the employee is introduced to their colleagues and the company itself is important to make sure that person is comfortable and ready to make an impact.
  • Nestlé wants new hires to know that they were hired for a reason. They want their employees to know they are valued.
  • Providing the right resources and connections goes a long way in starting a successful employee-employer relationship. 
  • After onboarding, proactive relations must be apparent at every turn. 
  • Employee relations cannot simply be owned by one group like HR.
    • While certain departments may have more of a focus on them, positive employee relations will only come when all different sections of the company become involved and supportive. 

Serving All Companies and Departments

  • One singular employee relations approach will likely not be very successful when trying to implement positive relations throughout many companies who may be under one corporate roof. 
  • There are many “best practices,” there is no one size fits all approach. 
  • Each company or subsection of a company can have its own unique heritage or culture that makes it different from others. This should be celebrated and planned for accordingly as opposed to applying one general ruling for all of the different companies.
  • An example within Nestlé is their Purina site in St. Louis, MO. 
    • At this site employees are encouraged to bring their pets into work seeing as the focus of that site is pets. 
    • This has increased morale and employees show fewer signs of stress.
    • This is an aspect of the Purina site that makes it unique. 

Measuring the Success of Employee Relations Efforts

  • There is no one action that creates an engaged workforce and there is no one metric that can measure the success of employee relations. While things like turnover rate and external reviews and other measuring processes are important, no one can paint the whole picture.
  • Certain metrics can point to issues like a high turnover rate, but that does not mean you have a disengaged workforce. 
  • Digging deeper into metrics is when you can really understand the full picture of an employee relations effort.

Employee Surveys

  • Nestlé does conduct employee surveys to gauge how employees are feeling about certain topics. 
  • The one big global survey Nestlé conducts is called the “Nestlé & I” survey. 
    • This allows Nestlé to understand globally whether or not their employees feel engaged, whether they feel that they are compensated fairly, whether they feel appreciated for the work they do, and whether they feel they have the right knowledge and tools needed to be successful. 
    • This survey is conducted on a periodic basis, not annually.
    • It is administered by a third party due to the importance of confidentiality.
    • Overall, this survey is important but what is done with the data received from the surveys is what is most important. 
  • Surveys are great tools but not the only tool that is needed. 
  • The most important part of any employee relations survey is what happens after the data is collected. 
    • The data should be quickly relayed to the employees, good or bad. 
    • Next the root causes are determined for certain data points. 
    • From there, an action plan should be created to fix or improve those data points and this plan plus the progress made throughout the plan once it is implemented should be announced to employees throughout the company. 
    • This shows transparency and progress. 

The Importance of Employee Recognition

  • It is no secret that employees want to feel valued - we all do. Employees who know that they are appreciated are happier and more productive. so of course, recognition is important.
  • Again, there is no “one size fits all” approach to recognizing your employees (for example, some people would love public recognition, while others wouldn’t). 
  • Nestlé does not prescribe any one way to recognize their employees. 
    • They actually incorporate an online system on which employees can accrue points that can be saved up to purchase tangible items like bluetooth speakers or travel rewards, etc. 
  • Employee recognition should go beyond formal programs. 
    • This recognition should play into how employees communicate with one another and how people interact. It should be seen on a daily basis. 
    • Effective appreciation must be authentic, purposeful, and specific. 
      • Widely spread recognition emails are not really all that effective. It must be personal and genuine. 

The Value of Meaningful Work

  • A 2017 study conducted by BetterUP Labs showed that 9 out of 10 career professionals would give up 23% of their future career earnings in exchange for meaningful work that felt fulfilling. 
  • Ensuring that your employees feel that their work is meaningful and can make a difference is key. 
  • Companies owe it to their employees to “connect the dots” from the work that they do to the value it brings to the company mission. 
  • Employees should feel connection and pride in what they do.

How Successful is Nestlé’s Employee Relations Strategy?

  • Ms. Martin is incredibly proud of the work Nestlé has done to make their employees feel valued. 
  • Employee engagement is up and there are numerous metrics showing that Nestlé is a great place to work. That being said, there is always work to be done! 
  • Goals drive the direction of a company, but it is who we bring along on our journey and how we travel there that leads to success.

Employe Relations & COVID-19

  • Nestlé’s purpose of enhancing the quality of life for everyone has become increasingly important during the pandemic. 
  • Employees across the company stepped up to ensure that their products that are often essential for people maintained production.
  • Things such as more comprehensive health and safety measures, access to a mindful meditation app, and more were implemented to ensure employees felt safe and healthy.
  • Employee Relations efforts should never take a backseat even in times like these where crisis management may seem more important. 
    • With so much going on, it can be easy to let things like employee recognition and communications slide, but they should remain at the forefront or any crisis management.
    • Employees need to know that the company hears them and that they are valued more than ever. 
    • For COVID-19, employees voiced all of their concerns and Nestlé listened to all of them in order to provide a work environment in which all employees still feel safe. 

Agility & Flexibility

  • Both of these are critical to employee relations and business strategy.
  • Companies who are incapable of keeping up with the times will inevitably fail. 
  • Nestlé looks for agility when they hire.
  • If we don’t keep up with changing technologies and employee demands, we no longer provide value as a company. 
    • An example of this within Nestlé is adding Juneteenth to their corporate holiday calendar. 

Words of Wisdom

  • Employee relations is not just about formal programs and formal measurements - it lives in the everyday. 
  • Employees want a work environment where they are treated with consistency, where communication is transparent, and where the environment is engaging. 
  • The little things we do each day is where all of these goals begin. 

Kristy Martin Backstory

  • BS in Business Administration from Lakeland University 
  • MS in Training & Development from the University of Wisconsin-Stout 
  • Ms. Martin has been with Nestlé for almost 20 years, and currently serves as their Vice President of Labor & Employee Relations.


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