At SAP Americas, the line between customers and employees isn't all that firm.

This is because the same technological innovations that help the National Basketball Association give its fans access to statistics in real time, the Hershey company manage distribution of its chocolates, and the Under Armour apparel company manage its supply chain also help senior managers monitor and manage every aspect of their workers' careers.

Vice President of Human Resources Jewell Parkinson compares it to Amazon following every customer's preferences.

SAP uses its own technology to help its employees do their jobs better and not feel lost in a software company with 21,000 employees in the North America, some 3,500 in its Newtown Square headquarters.

"This is what HR focuses on," says Parkinson, a Mount Airy native who graduated from Girls High and Villanova University. "Technology allows the company to create a more personalized experience. The employee feels you know who they are, and that helps you provide coaching and feedback."

In this year's Top Workplaces survey, SAP won a special award for "Clued-in senior management," and comments from workers explain why:

  • "Their ability to manage and de-escalate complex situations with customers without compromising our SAP processes and values."
  • "Most senior managers respect the input and opinions of others. There are few ivory towers here."
  • "Not working in silos but, rather, working to get the job done."

Andy Williams, a senior manager at SAP said, not surprisingly, that his greatest challenge is "making sure the employees have the resources they need and making sure there are no obstacles."

Viewed from ground level, though, that can be a lot trickier.

One of Williams' proudest achievements was supporting an employee who needed a double lung transplant through a seven-month medical leave and a pre-operation period where he could never be more than an hour away from the hospital in case an organ donor was found.

Williams, whose 20 direct reports are scattered across the country, says another recent business challenge has been to balance a rapidly expanding sales team without corresponding growth on the marketing side.

"We have conversations where the answer isn't 'no,' but 'yes, but,'" he said.

Senior managers like Williams also find themselves dealing with a wider age range of employees in recent years.

"We have a real focus on attracting early talent," he said, looking to local schools like Saint Joseph's and Drexel Universities for interns who may be hired upon graduation.

In fact, the company has become more active on both ends of the experience scale with an extended alumni organization that includes not just retirees but anyone who left SAP on friendly terms.

"You want to retain that knowledge," Parkinson said. "They know your business, they know your networks."

While the company's large size makes managers work harder to ensure that employees see themselves as vital to the operation, it also gives them a wider array of benefits to offer.

This goes well beyond standard fringe benefits such as paid family leave to a wide range of wellness offerings including a diabetes management program, a childhood obesity program, enhanced fertility treatments, advanced genetic testing and gender reversal surgery.

Women returning from pregnancy leave can ease their way back into the work force with reduced, adjustable work schedules.

One of the programs of which Parkinson is especially proud of provides shipments of breast milk to nursing mothers who have to leave their babies for road trips.

"We're focused on everything in the employee's life cycle," she says, "from pre-hire to retire."