SAP’s Kirsten Allegri Williams on Beating Cancer and Returning to Work

“It’s so important as leaders that we recognize that we each have a unique experience that we bring to work.”

Before Kirsten Allegri Williams, the Chief Marketing Officer of SAP Success Factors, mother of two and an opera singer, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, she proudly pursued true work-life integration, and aimed to be active and engaged in all areas of her life. “I had been going on a very fast trajectory across every dimension of my life,” she says. But when a chest x-ray came back revealing a tumor, her focus narrowed, certain priorities became clear, and she put her work on hold for nine months. 

Naturally, returning to the office presented a challenge. “Coming back to work, I was physically and mentally depleted,” Williams recalls. “I was also afraid I would never have the opportunity to sing again. I really was nervous.” But the community of leaders at SAP were there to support her, and ultimately were instrumental to Williams’ reintegration into the workforce.

SAP utilizes the Thrive XM Index, which is a first-of-its-kind tool that connects the dots between human experiences and business performance. It combines in-depth employee and company assessments with HR metrics and financial data to enable leaders to understand, predict, and address challenges that can indirectly — but powerfully — affect their results. And it’s different from existing corporate surveys in a few areas, in part by looking at Moments That Matter — which focuses on five key experiences (Career, Family, Health, Financial, Time), and the moments that shape our lives. How a company responds to these moments that matter — moments like Williams’ diagnosis, treatment, and reintegration to work — makes a real difference to the well-being of its employees, and to overall performance.

When a company invests in its people and supports them through moments that matter, it’s not only the right thing to do, it also makes great business sense. For Williams, it was returning to work after an illness. But Thrive XM Index addresses a range of moments that affect people’s lives, like having a child, for example. More than 75 percent of expecting mothers say they’re excited to go back to work after giving birth, according to the Modern Family Index, but 43 percent of them will quit their jobs at some point after that. When this happens, the company pays a price: Some estimates suggest that employee attrition costs businesses up to 1.5x or 2x the departing employee’s salary. Then there are those employees who are caring for a loved one – an aging parent or sick relative, for example. This isn’t just a personal issue. The business implications are considerable, since nearly one-third of caregivers have had to leave their jobs to care for someone, according to Harvard Business School research.

“I had incredible leaders who supported me,” Williams says of her own recovery process. “It’s so important as leaders that we recognize that we each have a unique experience that we bring to work.” 

Watch as Williams, along with others from the SAP community who supported her, talk about her courageous journey, how SAP approaches the people experience, and how companies can implement the Thrive XM Index themselves to help them be there in the moments that matter most. 

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