American athletic giant Nike has a solid foothold in Belgium too, with five distribution centres in Ham, Laakdal and Meerhout. Together, they make up the Nike European Logistics Campus (ELC). From here, sporting goods depart around the clock, destined for wholesalers, Nike stores and online customers across Europe. This phenomenal logistics achievement relies heavily on flexibility. For that reason, personalisation, mobility and innovation are key elements of the HR policy.
When Nike first came to the Kempen region in the mid-1990s, it was still on a very modest scale. The expectation was that by the turn of the century, the athletics company would have close to 500 employees. Today, there are more than 4,000. Add another 1,000 temporary employees or so and numerous additional workers during peak periods and you're looking at one of the region's largest employers. Filip Peeters, HR Director at Nike ELC, was there from the beginning.
Nike's mission statement is 'to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world'. Everyone with a body – that is to say, everybody – is considered an athlete. This idea is embedded in everything the athletic giant does. Nike ELC wants its HR policy to inspire all its employees through innovative initiatives, optimising their experience working at Nike. Examples include a digital platform, maintaining a culture of belonging, strong leadership and plenty of career opportunities.
"Our business fluctuates enormously, so high flexibility, efficient planning and strong team management have always been crucial. As is only logical, due to our growth – in numbers of employees, sales channels, customers and locations – we were running into bottlenecks more and more often", says Filip.
"For example, my predecessor decided to give our permanent employees white-collar status. A single employment status was a hot topic at the time, after all. Thanks to the ‘annualisation of work’, as a result of which the average weekly working time is now calculated on an annual basis, we have gained in flexibility. However, providing a single, correct payslip each month was increasingly difficult.
To enable our employees to pay their own bills on time, we pay a provisional salary before the end of each month. This is followed by a correction, for example if they take additional leave. We also have an extensive benefits package focusing particularly on mobility, with daily allowances for carpooling or cycling commuters that we don't know beforehand. These are all factors that lead to variations in salary, increasing the intensity of manual interventions and consequently, the margin of error."
Filip: "Together with our HR partner SD Worx, we explored ways to close that information gap. A high-end time registration system proved an essential next step. We launched a digital platform that offers various modules, including a time registration system that is linked to our badge system. Because this is a mobile solution, everyone can access personal data such as their leave balance and enter information such as that day's bicycle or carpool use at any time, anywhere. It is also possible to upload sickness certificates using an automated template. We know immediately whether this involves an extension, how long a sickness absence will last, and much more."
"SD Worx has ensured that reading all this data into its payroll engine is as automated as possible. As a result, employees now receive a single, correct payslip every month and our payroll team's workload has decreased significantly ."
This improvement saves the payroll team a lot of time, but of course the big winners are the employees. Ultimately, that is the intended objective of our HR policy. Filip: "Nike's mission statement is 'to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world'. Everyone with a body is considered an athlete. This idea is embedded in everything we do. For instance, we want our HR policy to inspire and help all our employees through innovative initiatives, optimising their experience working at Nike."
This ambition to support everyone individually as much as possible is not a simple thing to achieve. Filip is well aware of that fact. "HR needs to keep taking steps to improve; we mustn't rest on our laurels. That's why we launch new modules for our digital platform every three months; we continue to set the bar high and constantly seek improvements. Not every digital innovation is adopted to the same extent. Our employees won't be on board unless we demonstrate sufficient added value. 'Only' 80% have opted for digital payslips, for example, while for other modules – such as the daily allowance for cycling and carpool use or time registration – the level of participation can be as high as 99%."
Filip: "In addition to innovative, high-performance tools, we also commit strongly to programmes focusing on areas such as strong leadership, career advancement within the company and a culture of belonging. We want all our employees, be they permanent or temporary, young or old, old hands or newcomers, to quickly feel at home and become full members of the Nike family. Every year, we use an engagement survey to measure how well we are accomplishing this. This survey is managed globally and rates us on items such as diversity, how people feel overall and whether they can express their opinions easily and honestly. In addition, we regularly ask employees how they feel, how their week went and so forth, informally."
"To obtain a genuine HR solution for your company, you must work in partnership." – Filip Peeters, HR Director at Nike ELC
Nike clearly advocates dialogue. When the measures to combat Covid-19 came into force in March 2020, around 900 employees had to move to home working overnight. "As this had already become technically possible a few years earlier, we were able to switch gears quickly. The impact on our colleagues in the distribution centres was much greater. Retail and our own stores shut down all over Europe. Although our e-commerce channel remained active, handling individual orders became much more labour-intensive. Generally speaking, workloads dropped sharply", says Filip.
"We implemented all the measures in close consultation with SD Worx. They also proved very helpful in legal matters. Together, we made preparations to apply for occasionally complex coronavirus support measures by 1 April 2020. Though we ultimately decided not to apply for any support, we had everything ready in time. We are currently back at more or less the same level of activity as during the same period last year."
To Filip, that rapid support did not come as a surprise, as Nike and SD Worx have been collaborating for almost three decades: "To obtain a genuine HR solution for your company, you must work in partnership. Payroll is not a commodity where you change suppliers every three years. It is important that the partnership adds value. That's also why this is a two-way street."
Filip: "Our collaboration with SD Worx is generally excellent. As in any long-standing relationship, one party can pay more attention to the other at times; this applies to both partners. And just as in any close partnership, we occasionally test each other’s limits. But these challenges always have the same goal: to continue to grow and improve."