The Perks of Biogen: A Q&A with Sue McGowan, Head of Global Benefits

At Biogen, we support and invest in the well-being of our employees. Sue McGowan, Head of Global Benefits, knows better than anyone the role that benefits play in doing just that. Hear from her as she discusses her career journey, why well-being is so important and how we incorporate Diversity, Equity & Inclusion into our benefit offerings. 

What is it about Biogen that has kept you engaged for so long?  

I always say that Biogen is a great place to be a benefits professional, and when I reflect on why, I land on three reasons. First, our industry is so dynamic that it creates a lot of challenges that don’t exist in other industries and companies. Second, I’m proud to work for a company like Biogen that does so much to improve the lives of patients. Think about it, when I joined Biogen in 2004, we had one product approved and about 1,500 employees. Compare that to where we are today. It’s been an honor to contribute to Biogen’s amazing journey thus far.  But the third and most important aspect of Biogen that keeps me going is getting to work with colleagues around the world who are intelligent, dedicated, and most especially, very nice and respectful people.   

Why is employee well-being so important?

Early on in my benefits career, “wellness” was mainly about supporting employees’ physical health with programs and policies that, in large part, helped control rapidly rising health care costs. But it’s heartening to see our progression to a more holistic, comprehensive approach that encompasses not only physical well-being, but includes the financial, emotional, and social aspects as well. Moreover, it’s exciting and gratifying that well-being strategy is becoming more embedded in our company culture and that it not only encompasses benefits, but also career, work policies, and pay, and is inclusive of DE&I and climate resilience. At the end of the day, meeting employees where they are on their well-being journey, with the tools and resources to achieve their best, contributes greatly to the health and happiness of our employees, the company, and our communities.

When considering new programs, how do you assess what is right for Biogen and how do you ensure benefits are competitive to the marketplace?  

We start by taking a data-driven approach through benchmarking against industry peers and understanding market trends to ensure benefits are competitive and relevant in each of our geographies. Beyond that, we give thoughtful consideration to local culture, employee experience, legislation, and, of course, cost. But I think the “secret sauce” if you will, is applying what we learn from employees through forums such as surveys and focus groups to ensure our programs reflect what’s most important to them. This helps us determine where we should “lean in” to lead and differentiate in certain markets. An example that immediately comes to mind is our global sabbatical program which offers four consecutive weeks of paid time off to long-service employees. While quite uncommon when first introduced, we heard from employees that they valued time to disconnect and recharge. Now in its tenth year, the sabbatical program remains one of our most highly valued and well-used benefits.      

As a leader, what are you doing to encourage and foster diversity, equity, and inclusion within Biogen’s benefits program?  

While today’s complex labor market and economic times have placed a spotlight on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) strategies, Biogen has had a longstanding focus on supporting our diverse employees. For example, Biogen supports equitable access to healthcare, and our employee health plans have long covered same gender partners and included coverage for gender-affirming care and family-forming benefits like surrogacy. They have recently been enhanced to include U.S. Healthcare travel reimbursement to support costs associated with transportation and lodging when accessing health services—including gender-affirming and reproductive healthcare—not available within a 100-mile radius of an employee's home.

What are some of the standout benefits that Biogen employees have grown to love?

Globally, our employees have shown support for our benefits relating to work-life balance. As I said before, our sabbatical program ranks highly in this category. However, another one that comes to mind is our year-end shutdown. Biogen gives paid time off to employees between Christmas and New Years every year. I think it has become one of our most beloved benefits because it provides a bit of a pause at an already busy time of year. Just recently, we were recognized for these and other work-life benefits by Top Workplaces, who ranked us as one of the best places to work when it comes to Work-Life Flexibility. As a Biogen employee of 19 years, I am proud to work at a company that value’s employee’s time, and actively works to give back to them for the work they do.

Learn more about Biogen’s offerings and how we provide for the well-being of our employers on our benefits page.