Key achievements: Goal 1
Goal 1 – Build an engaged, knowledgeable and collaborative organisation
In 2022 the EPO continued to invest in our people. We maintained efforts to attract, develop, and retain the best talent, transform our approach to learning, foster engagement and a sense of belonging, and ensure that our working environment – physical and digital – was fit for the new ways of working.
- Attracting, developing and retaining talent
Attracting talent through recruitment
The talent market and the overall economic situation in 2022 were affected by the pandemic and the economic uncertainties caused by the military aggression in Ukraine. In this environment, the competition for highly skilled people across Europe remained high, and the market continues to be talent-driven.
Overall, the Office received more than 4 500 applications for examiner positions, which enabled us to build a robust pipeline of almost 200 suitable examiner candidates. This will be leveraged as business needs require and will optimise our ability in recruitment to adapt to the workload and market conditions. This strategic pipeline approach to recruitment has already shortened the time needed to recruit and helped us to maintain a presence in a competitive market.
In this challenging context, the Office was successful in meeting its targets in examiner recruitment, while continuing to focus on the diversity and quality of new recruits. In 2022, 77 new examiners were hired, 36% of them female, representing 17 nationalities; 64% of them hold a PhD and 57% have private sector experience. The Office continued to visit targeted career events to encourage applications from diverse groups, for example the Top Women Tech Summit focusing on female engineers and scientists, the MyAbility Programme focusing on candidates with disabilities, and the Sticks & Stones career fair focusing on the LGBTQI+ community.
Figure 1 – Examiners recruitment in 2022 – key figures
In the corporate areas, 32 new colleagues joined the Office, 72% of them female, representing 15 nationalities. Overall, the Office received a total of more than 8 000 job applications in 2022, an increase of almost 2 000 compared to 2021. Other than the fact that the EPO opened more positions in 2022, the active modern employer branding approach is also bearing fruit. For example, the examiner recruitment campaign on social media generated over nine million impressions and over 40 000 clicks.
Implemented policy changes, which contribute to our attractiveness as an employer and encourage diversity in applications, were an additional lever to position the Office. Today's applicants look for flexibility and support to combine family obligations with work. The NWoW pilot, including the possibility to work temporarily from abroad, and improved family-friendly benefits helped us to remain an attractive employer, as today's talent increasingly values flexibility and a good work-life balance. Finally, we also changed our language policy to make it easier for talent from underrepresented nationalities to apply to the Office and acquire the three official languages after joining.
Attracting talent through external mobility
The Pan-European Seal Programme reached a milestone in 2022. Building on the success of the existing programme, the new Pan-European Seal Young Professionals Programme was endorsed by the Administrative Council and launched on 1 July 2022. The reformed programme was designed to foster the development of a new generation of IP professionals and strengthen tomorrow's European Patent Network. It offers young graduates unprecedented learning opportunities in IP, and for the EPO it brings in new perspectives to the organisation and contributes to a more diverse workforce in terms of gender and nationality. In 2022, 127 young professionals (61% of them women) representing 25 nationalities participated in the programme. The group comprises 88 new young professionals in the first year of the programme and 39 young professionals continuing to years two and three. In total 52 young professionals were allocated to the patent granting process (PGP) area, getting a direct insight into the core business of the EPO.
Figure 2 – Pan-European Seal Young Professionals Programme hybrid inauguration ceremony in Munich
The original one-year traineeship programme was extended to up to three years as a first employment experience. After an internal selection procedure by the end of the first year, 39 participants were offered the opportunity to stay at the EPO and complete a more tailored, two-year development programme.
Since the start of the programme in 2015, the EPO has welcomed 501 young professionals from 32 nationalities. An average of 62% of the young professionals have been women.
Figure 3 – Pan-European Seal Young Professionals Programme 2022/2023 – key figures
Developing staff through individual learning
The skills framework, initiated in fall 2021 was further developed to support professional development via learning, internal mobility, and identification of expiring/evolving/emerging (E3) skills. Over 80% of EPO staff now have a skills framework available and the rest should be completed in 2023. Skills are self-assessed and primarily based on learning needs. They are used to support discussions with line managers on individual development plans and assessing learning needs, which are made available according to the 70:20:10 model (encompassing learning on the job (70), peer-to-peer networks and knowledge sharing (20) and official training (10)). The skills framework enables increasingly tailored training for each individual in the EPO, and based on adapted learning, to ensure that staff get the right sort and right level of upskilling, when they need it. The skills profiles can also be useful in assessing suitability for internal job mobility and are closely linked to efficient workforce planning.
Figure 4 – EPO Skills framework
Based on the skills framework and the 70:20:10 principle, one key priority is to provide all staff members with learning journeys. This ensures that our staff remain at the cutting edge of their fields, as well as boosting engagement. To this end, tailored development programmes have been designed and rolled out for specific roles, namely for examiners and formalities officers and for learning, legal, general administration, HR essential services, and customer engagement professionals. The rest will be completed in 2023. These learning journeys are normally three-year rolling programmes which will be validated against the E3 (expiring/evolving/emerging) skills and updated as frequently as these changing skills dictate. As various Communities of Practice (CoPs) were initiated (see under Goal 3 below), a tailored development programme was also launched in which all EPO staff could participate. To date, 150 staff have taken part in this programme. All in all, tailored development programmes covered approximately 87% of staff by the end of 2022.
In 2022, a series of eight iLearn Days were organised around various strategic themes, including digital transformation, NWoW, change, quality, and sustainability. Throughout the year, 12 630 staff attended these events, which help colleagues to connect and develop crucial skills. In addition, access to the iLearn portal was improved with the aim of providing easier access to learning activities classified as per the 70:20:10 model for each function, enabling individuals to shape their own learning journeys. Moreover, various learning events and repositories have been systematically incorporated into the iLearn brand – making it the single point of access for all e-learning needs.
Creating peer-to-peer learning opportunities
The EPO has been investing heavily in peer-to-peer learning for over 20 years with the Continuous Knowledge Transfer (CKT) team at the forefront in keeping examiners and formality officers abreast of the latest technical, legal, and tool-related developments. Fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing and providing easy access to relevant knowledge – this is how we would like to manage knowledge, which is the key asset of our organisation. In 2022, CKT was given an official home as part of the newly created Knowledge Management Unit (KMU), to support their grassroots initiatives and deploy knowledge sharing to more business areas across the organisation. CKT activities had a high outreach and impact in 2022. More than 500 peer-to-peer events took place with almost 20 000 participants. Daily tips for all staff are published on the intranet and were consulted by around 5 000 individual staff members in 2022. Over 700 different staff members contributed to this peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, either with presentations or day tips.
People management skills were defined to reflect the managerial style we strive for, acknowledging the importance of managers as catalysts for engagement and change. These skills are consistently used for development of managers. One of the key development activities was the launch of the Management Community. This is a space for learning, sharing, and engaging managers via peer-to-peer exchanges, collaboration, and teamwork. By the end of 2022, 538 managers had signed up to it and attended meetings, such as Office Hours – sessions hosted by units or experts on specific topics; or used resources such as manager briefing kits, community corner, various learning supports, news, posts and management calendar.
A new round of the mentoring programme for managers (LEAD) also took place with more than 130 managers involved as mentees and 70 internal, senior managers participating as mentors.
With notice periods generally lasting around three months, we want to use this time to acquaint new recruits with the EPO and their new colleagues, and to provide varied learning resources to help them hit the ground running on their first day. We have therefore introduced the role of the "onboarding partner" to facilitate integration and development of new colleagues during their first six months. A pilot was also started to look at offboarding and, especially, to ensure the retention of EPO-critical knowledge when experienced staff leave. The ultimate goal is to create a virtuous cycle linking the leavers offboarding and sharing knowledge with the onboarding newcomers.
Offering an attractive social package
An important element for both attracting and retaining top people is offering a best-in-class social package. As a self-financed organisation, the EPO provides welfare support (social security, pensions, allowances, and remuneration) to current, former, and future staff members and their families. In 2022, several policy changes were implemented, including improved family-friendly benefits. The options for taking parental leave were made more flexible and medical coverage for children beyond the age of 18 was enhanced.
- Fostering engagement and a sense of belonging
The introduction of the NWoW pilot represented a milestone for the EPO: in 2022 the EPO left behind the pandemic's emergency teleworking mode and opened a fresh chapter in its history. After more than four decades of operating as a principally office-based organisation, the NWoW guidelines came into effect for a two-year pilot, allowing greater flexibility regarding when and where we work. The pilot builds on the learnings and experiences that served the Office well during the pandemic. It provides staff with significant flexibility to balance their work and personal life whilst providing the tools and mechanisms for managers and staff to continue to get the work done and ensure there remains a continued sense of belonging for all colleagues. The pilot structure allows ample opportunity to finetune the scheme as needed. Initial results from the end of 2022 show that staff are making extensive use of the offered flexibility framework while delivering their high-quality work.
Making that shift to the new pilot scheme required the introduction of new tools and the modification of existing ones to fully support the new guidelines. One example is the new Planning Tool that has been introduced to record working locations and facilitate connections with team members. Additionally, to enable efficient use of our facilities, a booking tool was launched, allowing booking of shared workplaces, meeting rooms and charging stations for electric vehicles.
Figure 5 – Planning Tool
A new intranet was made available with a modern, responsive design that supports access on all devices with content structured by user needs. It provides a new digital home for everyone and helps to ensure full support for the new ways of working pilot. The homepage provides a gateway to the latest news, videos, and upcoming events, as well as current topics of strategic importance and all EPO social media channels.
Figure 6 – New intranet
The audio-video systems were also modernised with new devices providing improved audio and video quality.
With the wide flexibility provided under the NWoW pilot, we needed to re-think how we make best use of our buildings as our professional homes. With a large proportion of staff often choosing to work remotely, empty spaces were created in the office buildings. The project "Bringing our teams together" aimed to create a working environment in which the staff that work predominantly from the office buildings can experience a vibrant office environment and those that come in less often can be close to their team members, thereby fostering a sense of belonging. The moves also enable a more sustainable use of our premises. In 2022, the project was completely rolled out in the Munich Isar building.
Figure 7 – New Ways of Working scheme
Staff engagement is one of the EPO's priorities and underpins all of our efforts in Goal 1. With the deep transformation in our organisation stemming from the NWoW pilot, ensuring a strong sense of belonging in the EPO community is more important than ever. In 2022, we continued to monitor the levels of engagement, collaboration, and development among our staff through a staff engagement survey 2022 "Together, stronger" conducted in June. The survey received an 82% participation rate with 5 000 respondents and 15 000 open comments. The results provided valuable insights into various organisational aspects after a period of intense internal and external challenges.
Despite this challenging global context, the EPO improved in most aspects of the survey. The results showed positive trends in 10 out of 13 categories compared to the 2019 survey. The EPO has made many improvements, particularly in areas such as empowerment, D&I, creating a more agile culture, and enhanced collaboration. The survey emphasised increased flexibility, empowerment, and caring for each other's wellbeing. It also highlighted the line managers' efforts in managing their remote and hybrid teams, which were appreciated by their staff.
Figure 8 – EPO strengths
Source: Willis Towers Watson 2022 report
The long period of pandemic restrictions had negatively affected coping with challenges and reduced energy levels. The results also showed that there was more to be done to develop connections between colleagues and a sense of belonging. Scores on the competitiveness of remuneration in comparison to the external market had declined.
The survey was conducted just as the transition measures of the NWoW pilot entered into force, giving a good overview of changing trends in preferred ways of working towards increased interest in teleworking. The survey confirmed that actions and decisions taken during the pandemic, such as offering more flexibility, have borne fruit in many ways, with staff showing appreciation for flexibility and autonomy, and positive trends in being equipped and able to perform.
To follow up on the results of the survey, Office-wide priorities were defined around three areas: becoming more Focused, Connected, and Supported. These priorities will guide the follow-up measures across the organisation in 2023 towards enhanced simplification and prioritisation, fostering the sense of belonging, and improved support of staff by their managers. One of these activities will be the organisation of campus days and celebrations around the 50th anniversary of the European Patent Convention in 2023, to strengthen the connection and engagement of staff. Further details on the survey results can be found in the Engagement Report 2022.
A modern and successful organisation is one that includes all of its staff. Further to the actions already mentioned in the areas of recruitment, the social package and flexible working conditions, the Office also intends to update its rules and regulations to ensure that they include all staff and are fit for a modern forward-looking organisation. This work has started with a review of the EPO's Service Regulations for possible amendments on substance or gender-neutral language. The first topics to be tackled are regulations around parenthood and partnerships.
- Creating an attractive, sustainable, and healthy working environment
With the changes to our way of working, the importance of our buildings in fostering a sense of belonging and acting as a professional home for staff to connect and socialise has become even more important. In 2022, the EPO completed several projects to make our buildings more energising places to work.
The Isar daylight project was completed on time and within budget, with staff able to move back into the building in September. The project transformed the floors of our Munich Isar building into a vibrant and attractive working environment with corridors now flooded with daylight and spaces which encourage collaboration.
Figure 9 – Isar daylight project
In Vienna, the construction works for the Vienna Green Hub started, to provide our Vienna staff with a modern vibrant working environment fit for the NWoW. The building is designed to be carbon negative once in operation, meaning that more renewable energy will be created by photovoltaic panels and geothermal energy than the building is consuming. The energy will be stored first in our batteries to be used during the night, and then the surplus will be fed back to the local energy grid. This will even compensate for the carbon emissions caused by the construction by 2050 at the latest. The building will also be flexible and adaptable to our needs. In 2022, staff were relocated to a rented building so the construction work could begin.
Figure 10 – Vienna Green Hub
Source: ATP Wien Planungs GmbH
Next to these two building projects, progress has been made on the priority building works focusing on ensuring that our professional homes meet the highest safety and sustainability standards. The escalators in the Munich Isar building have been upgraded with a start/stop-mechanism with an energy saving corresponding to the average annual energy consumption of 35 households in Germany. Other priority building projects such as the renovation of the elevators in the PschorrHöfe and the upgrade of emergency doors in the Isar building progressed well. Following the results of a safety audit, upgrades of the fire safety installations in Munich Isar (smoke detectors) have been carried out. In terms of supporting business continuity, works have started in the main building in The Hague to move the Main Network Infrastructure room to the first floor. This will significantly increase the IT security resilience.
As also mentioned under "Fostering a sense of belonging", the "Bringing our teams together" project was first rolled out in the Munich Isar building. During 2023, it will be realised office wide. It supports a more sustainable usage of space by avoiding unused workplaces for the staff who choose to mainly work from home. With environmental sustainability at the forefront of our efforts, this reorganisation will help to reduce our energy consumption and carbon footprint. For example, when the Shell building is empty, the reduced energy usage will represent a yearly saving of 14GWh, corresponding to the consumption of over 1 000 households.
- Social dialogue
The Office continued to foster social dialogue in 2022 on a wide range of topics as defined in the Social Agenda 2022 as well as other topics that arose during the year.
Discussions on priorities for the Office including the NWoW pilot, the Young professionals programme and the SNEs scheme concluded with tangible results. Other exchanges led to improvements for the benefit of staff encompassing more flexible parental leave and enhanced medical coverage for children aged 18 to 26 years. Following constructive exchanges with social partners, increased transparency was provided for the staff recruited under the New Employment Framework by implementing a consistent 5+5 policy with regard to the length of contracts and implementing a 12-month notice period for all. 2022 also saw the first full year of operation of the education and childcare allowance reform, which aims to be a fairer and simpler support scheme for staff with children in education. A new online self-service portal was launched for claiming education allowances, providing greater transparency and control over data.
At the request of the staff representatives, the Office agreed to set up a working group within the Central Occupational Health, Safety, and Ergonomics Committee to discuss the implementation of the findings of the study on the Office's health services. The resulting proposed improvements to the healthcare services including the implementation of a seamless sick leave process will be implemented gradually during 2023. This new process means that a single health professional will now accompany a sick colleague through their entire sick leave and recovery process. A general tender on the occupational health services had a positive outcome and significantly reduced the number of health providers, simplifying the vendor management. The recertification of the occupational health services under ISO45001 reconfirmed the value of its quality and services.
The Office has continued to implement the decisions of the ILO Administrative Tribunal (ILOAT) on Social Dialogue topics including regulations on staff committee elections and nominations by the Staff Committee to the Appeals Committee.
After several working group meetings culminating in a General Consultative Committee consultation, the Handbook on workplace ethics was published in November 2022 to promote shared values and positive behaviour including the 10 inclusive behaviours.
All of these achievements were the result of more than 100 meetings with the staff committees and unions in 2022.
- Operational excellence and efficiency
Operational excellence underpins all Goal 1 activities: with efficient and transparent processes, the EPO can provide the highest quality of services for staff and other stakeholders.
The Office continues to strive for operational excellence and efficiency in all areas, including human resources (HR). The full, end-to-end, digitalisation of the recruitment process is an example where a hybrid digital/manual process has been rationalised into a seamless, more efficient digital experience offering better control of data quality. Additionally, in the area of talent management the Office has enhanced its digital systems to better follow-up on and manage increasing volumes of internal mobility in line with the Office's ambitions in this area.
A very practical change introduced in 2022 was the modernisation of the service regulations surrounding the electronic personal file of employees. Bringing this regulation up to date eliminated the need for printing, signing, and scanning documents into the file. This not only saves paper but also makes for a more efficient process.
2022 also saw the first full year of operation of the education and childcare allowance reform, which aims to be a fairer and simpler support scheme for staff with children in education. A new online self-service portal was launched for claiming education allowances, providing greater transparency and control over data.
The Office also made several improvements to the occupational health services for its staff. The regulatory basis for the implementation of the seamless sick leave process was adopted, meaning that a single health professional will now accompany a sick colleague through their entire sick leave and recovery process. A general tender on the occupational health services had a positive outcome and significantly reduced the number of health providers, simplifying the vendor management. The recertification of the occupational health services under ISO45001 reconfirmed the value of its quality and services.
Financial and procurement processes
The EPO aims to improve the efficiency and transparency of its financial and procurement processes. In 2022, we launched a fully digitalised budget data collection process, through the new budgeting system SAP Analytics Cloud. In the past, the data were collected via an email exchange process. The new budgeting process allows an enhanced collaboration across DGs, as well as the creation of a single true source and better traceability. Another milestone was the centralisation of all payment methods (bank transfer, credit card, and deposit account) accepted by the EPO in the new Central Fee Payment Portal. This consolidation under one single portal led to a simplification of the EPO's revenue recognition processes. For users, the new portal offers a highly intuitive and user-friendly experience with a modern 'web shop' style interface. The full decommissioning of the old online fee payment was completed in September 2022.
In procurement, 2022 saw the implementation of a new tool for digitalised contract management. Approximately one third of the commercial contracts have been transformed into standard clauses and have been implemented in the new procurement tool iValua. This new tool now integrates in one environment the templates used for contract creation, the contract repository of running contracts, and the contract approval and contract signature workflow. These enhancements increase the efficiency of the overall process. Also contributing to this was the full digitalisation of the contract signature workflow through the implementation of an e-signature tool. This has allowed us to reduce the time required for contract initialling to just one day, and for contract signature to less than two days for internal EPO signature, compared with over a week before.