By Andrea Walton
I was 15 when my first daughter was born with a radial club hand, a disability causing her arm to be angled incorrectly. After 36 hours of labor, I was no longer just a teenager. I was the mother of a special needs child.
I dropped out of high school to focus on caring for her and working to support our family. I went on to earn my GED, and after the birth of my second daughter began college coursework, eventually graduating with Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. Urged on by my school counselor, I got my MBA, which opened the door to my first human resources job at a local credit union. I’ve since worked in a variety of Human Resources roles at different companies.
Today, I have my dream job as a human resources manager at Nestlé: I get to help other people achieve their career dreams, no matter what life may throw at them.
My career path is unusual and certainly wasn’t easy, but here I am. I was able to succeed because of grit, hard work, and the support of great people along the way — including my mom, daughters, school counselor, and former managers. Now at Nestlé, I provide that sort of support to our employees, helping them flourish and connecting them to resources that will help them on their journeys.
For me, that starts with building strong relationships with people, grounded in honesty and authenticity. I’m open about my difficult childhood and the obstacles I had to overcome to get where I am today. I even wrote a book about my experiences. And because I’ve been through more than my fair share of hardships, I can empathize with employees as they deal with their struggles. I believe empathy is a vital trait for any human resources professional. During my time at Nestlé, I’ve had employees share details of ongoing health issues, family crises, and divorces to work together find resources to help them cope. They only do that because they trust me.
Often, my job is just to listen and provide comfort to someone during a time of need. But I also connect employees with the wealth of resources Nestlé has in place to assist them and hopefully make their lives a bit easier. With our Nestlé Parent Support Policy, for instance, a child’s primary caregiver can take 14 weeks of paid leave and 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for their newborn children. One employee used the program after he unexpectedly became the guardian of his infant grandson. The Nestlé Parent Support Policy helps many families navigate what can be challenging stages of life.
Through our Employee Assistance Program and WorkLife Services, employees and their families can access free short-term counseling sessions. We also offer educational materials and referral services to help employees navigate tough parenting or elder care situations.
We provide these benefits, and other supports, because we know Nestlé is only as good as the people who work here. Work is just one aspect of our very complex lives, and the best companies understand that employees will only be invested in the company if the company is invested in them. As our CEO Steve Presley says, “Nestlé’s recipe for success comes down to one thing: people.” If we want our employees — and our business — to succeed, we need to make sure they have the support and tools they need to do so. Our benefit programs do just that.
That’s why I love my job. By being kind and present, and connecting people with resources, I’m helping Nestlé employees to do what I was able to do — navigate life, and work, so they can thrive.
Andrea Walton is Manager of Human Resources at Nestlé USA
Photo: Andrea Walton / LinkedIn