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Why the workplace culture at IWC has nothing to do with attitudes or luxury behaviour

They move in the traditional watch industry, they see themselves very progressive - the language is from the watch manufacturer IWC. In the first part of the interview, Julia Viehweider, Lead HR Business Partner Team, Learning and Development, and René Behr, Director Global Human Resources and Member of the Executive Board, explain the influence of workplace culture on this.

It's about workplace culture at IWC. On your homepage I could read that 90% of all employees at IWC are proud to tell others that they work for you. How do you do it?

René: Well, first of all, we can certainly do that with our products. All our product families are strongly linked to our history and the stories behind them create a strong identification with IWC's values and culture. When our employees see that the watches they have worked on, either directly or indirectly, are worn with pride around the globe, they return an unbelievably high esteem. Many employees wear an IWC watch themselves and proudly show it to their friends and families.

Secondly, IWC is strongly rooted in the Schaffhausen region and has a very good reputation - which is why people like to say that they work at IWC. And thirdly, this is certainly also due to the strong sense of community, the strong team spirit and the familiar working atmosphere at IWC - despite our size. We have a global workforce of around 1,400, half of whom work here in Schaffhausen. 

Julia Viehweider Rene Behr2

Julia Viehweider (left) is Lead HR Business Partner Team | Learning & Development and René Behr (right) is Director Global Human Resources & Member of the Executive Board.



"We are a bit like a family there: sometimes people argue, then they reconcile and in the end they celebrate together at the family dinner.”


How does family interaction manifest itself in everyday working life?

René: For example, every employee can contact our CEO or any other member of the Executive Board at any time. We live a flat hierarchy and see this as an opportunity to foster our family atmosphere. We also have many long-standing employees, some of whom have been working together for over 30 years. You know when the other person has a bad day and help each other or seek solutions together. I think it's perfectly normal for opinions to diverge anyway. Much more important is that mutual understanding is shown. We are a bit like a family: sometimes people argue, then they reconcile again and in the end we celebrate together at the family dinner.

So are family relations and flat hierarchies your secret recipe for high employer attractiveness?

René: You certainly contribute to this. But there are a number of other reasons for this, such as the attractive job content or the pleasant working environment. We also received this feedback from our employees in the Great Place to Work® employee survey: 87% of our employees said that our buildings and facilities contribute to a good working environment. And we make sure of that: only last year we opened the new manufacturing center with its beautiful workplaces. In general, as a watch brand we are very progressive - and not just in innovation and development. For example, we encourage our employees to reduce their CO2 footprint by leaving their cars at home and using public transport to get to work instead. Or we enable Flex-Time and Home Office where we can. This is all rather unusual in the very traditional watch industry. And yet we do all this because we are convinced that we can create a very good workplace culture - and thus higher added value - with modern working methods and trusting interaction with one another. 

"But it is also important to us that we convey an authentic impression in our interviews with applicants and on the one hand bring this dream world, this luxury world, closer to the people, but on the other hand also show that we are a very down-to-earth company where cooperation is characterised by our sense of community - and not by attitudes or luxury behaviour. 

To be progressive and at the same time remain family or traditional - isn't that too much of a balancing act?

René: Oh no, I don't think so. 150 years ago, when the IWC was founded, it was characterized by this combination of traditional watchmaking and progressive industrialization. Florentine Jones already managed to combine industrial production with the artistic art of Swiss watchmaking - a recipe that still works very well today.

Julia: I see it similarly: the fact that Schaffhausen of all places was chosen as our company location was already extremely unusual at that time. It is in our DNA to think progressively and be inventive. Then, as now, it was necessary to look beyond the borders of Schaffhausen in order to attract qualified employees who, above all in the watchmaking sector, are traditionally more to be found in western Switzerland. Even today, we are still recruiting nationally and internationally. And here, too, we sometimes have to be somewhat inventive, for example with a settling-in package of language courses as a starting aid for integration into German-speaking Switzerland. We do this, on the one hand, because we operate in a job market that is very strongly driven by job applications and, on the other hand, because we have always seen internationality and diversity as a great advantage for our workplace culture - after all, IWC stands for "International Watch Company". 

In large - or in your case also - international companies, it is a big challenge that the values are also lived - how do you master this challenge?

Julia: That has a lot to do with consistency. It already starts in the recruiting process, where we communicate the values to the applicants. At career fairs, for example, we always have a watchmaker's table and a watchmaker with us who shows people what's inside a watch. Of course that's inspiring. But it is also important to us that we convey an authentic impression in our interviews with applicants and on the one hand bring this dream world, this luxury world, closer to the people, but on the other hand also show that we are a very down-to-earth company where cooperation is characterised by our sense of community - and not by attitudes or luxury behaviour. We convey this realistic and authentic image during the hiring process and then, of course, during onboarding when new employees join us. 

How can I imagine your onboarding process?

Julia: We organise a Welcome Day every two months, for example, where we familiarise people with our values - our IWC world - and show them where they make their contribution in the product development process. I mean, each and every one of us is like a cog in the movement, contributing to the product in some way: from manufacture to marketing to the customer wearing the watch on his wrist. Sometimes it's very obvious, for example, when you screw directly onto the watch. But sometimes you just don't have the watch directly in your hand, for example in the support areas - and yet you still make a valuable contribution. We convey this holistic appreciation of each individual through our strong storytelling competence, by interlinking and linking the contents and, of course, through our managers, who set a good example. It is therefore an ongoing process and an internal discourse about workplace culture that begins anew with every new employee and will therefore never be completed properly. 

What happens if someone disregards or violates your values?

Julia: We are very consistent and are not afraid of disciplinary measures. Of course, we first try everything possible to bring about insight and changes in behaviour. After all, everyone has the right to feedback and a chance to change their behaviour. But there are also No-Gos that we simply cannot and do not want to accept.

René: That's right. If we find that someone is strongly violating our values, ethics and moral principles, then we also part with that person. This consistent attitude is also greatly appreciated by our employees, as confirmed by the Great Place to Work® employee survey.

However, corporate values also help to improve the cultural fit in recruiting or the search for new employees - is this also the case with the company?

René: Yes, very much so! A very important value for us, for example, is a sense of responsibility. Because we strive for perfection and try to become even better in everything we do. We are therefore looking for employees who want to take responsibility for finding the ideal solution - this is very appealing to our applicants. We are also looking for employees who can put themselves in the position of our customers. Strong emotions are associated with our products, which is why the customer is always at the centre of our actions. Here, too, many applicants can be found. Last but not least, values such as mutual understanding and cooperation also appeal to a large number of applicants. The best ambassadors for this are our employees - they convey our corporate culture authentically, making it clear to the applicants that these values are held particularly high by us.  

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