Institute for Molecular Biology gGmbH

A Flexible Approach to Freeing Up Researchers

Industry: Education & Research

About the company: The Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) is a non-university centre of excellence located on the campus of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. The IMB conducts research in genetics. Approximately 250 people from 40 countries currently work at the IMB. The institute has been funded by the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation since 2010 and by the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate since 2020.

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Kerstin Kiel
Kerstin Kiel

Head of Human Resources

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The Challenge

“HR at the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) is different. It is just very different from a commercial enterprise,” says head of HR Kerstin Kiel, explaining the challenges facing modern HR in research organisations. On the campus of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, international scientists at the IMB have been carrying out important research in developmental biology, epigenetics, DNA repair, and gerontology since 2011.

Kerstin has set herself the ambitious goal of shielding the researchers as much as possible from day-to-day administrative tasks. Her approach, tailored to the different groups of employees, aims to offer comprehensive HR support.

“We have scientists who are employed here, but also guest researchers, doctoral students, administrative staff, bachelor’s, and master’s students, interns and trainees. In addition, the IMB awards research grants,” explains Kerstin.“So our HR has to be very flexible and solution-oriented. We need to continuously think outside the box to ensure that everyone working here sees us as a true service partner.”

This is no easy task, as until December 2019, three different pieces of software were being used concurrently – for employee management, payroll, and statistics. However, there was no interface between the different data silos, and keeping important information consistent across all of the different software programs was cumbersome when using manual work processes.

According to Kerstin, the main workaround for the lack of digital workflows was a “flood of emails.”Although the HR system was already more or less digital, Kerstin stresses that it was high time for “an overarching and holistic solution. The range of very different employment relationships meant that we needed a customisable tool.

Different employees require different processes. For example, we can help employees from outside the EU with their visas. A new hire from within the EU would not need that. However, both groups may need help with issues such as housing, health insurance, banking, and other similar things,” explains the head of HR.

The new HR tool had to meet three main challenges. Firstly, all employees required direct access to their personal data. Secondly, a full English-language version was a must.“Without that, we would not have been able to provide our foreign employees with service-oriented and future-proof software. After all, English is the language of research.”

However, the most urgent requirement was for an all-in-one solution “so that we could finally solve the problem of the inevitable loss of information between different pieces of software,” sums up Kerstin.

  • Three separate pieces of software

  • A flood of emails

  • Very little time for strategic HR

  • Information loss due to manual processes

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office in Mainz
HR managers

Our main problem was that we had three separate HR tools – information loss was inevitable.

The Decision

The process of selecting and analysing a new HR solution began in the summer of 2019.“We scouted out the market, obtained quotations, and then compared them in detail. We decided on Personio pretty quickly and unanimously. Above all, because the software’s different language versions and modularity were simply beyond compare,” remembers Kerstin.

Personio also easily met the clearly formulated data security requirements specified by the data protection officer for a cloud-based solution.“After all, we are talking about highly sensitive personal data here,” emphasizes Kerstin. She saw, and still sees, the option to extend Personio by adding individual functions in a modular fashion and, if necessary, removing them again as being particularly advantageous.

The IMB was also impressed by the individual adaptability of the software, for example, with regard to individual data fields. And, of course, employees being able to actively use the tool was of central importance.“That is also important for our planned long-term headcount increase. Fortunately, we were entirely free to choose a new tool that would help us make substantial progress in terms of digitalisation,” says Kerstin.

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A Successful Implementation

During the implementation, which took eight weeks and was completed in December 2019, the import and export of data entailed no more than “the usual minor stumbling blocks, but these were always quickly cleared up thanks to the very professional help offered by the Personio team.”The introduction phase at the institute itself went just as smoothly.“It was short and sweet. We introduced Personio to our employees using presentations and a customised manual in January 2020.”

Our Personio implementation was quick and easy. Sometimes you just have to take that first step.

As Personio was perceived as being self-explanatory to use, it met with a positive reception from researchers at the institute.“We were in very close, intensive contact with Personio during the implementation. Their responses to our questions were not only quick but also correct” adds Kerstin.

The Result

Kerstin is still very pleased that they decided on Personio. The digital employee files have been a particular success. The employees have full access to their data and can edit it themselves, depending on the role permissions assigned. The IMB is currently using the German and English versions of Personio.

“A lot has changed for the better here in HR. The tool’s standardised and automated processes save us a great deal of time in terms of administrative tasks. Every saved minute is important to us because the HR team is responsible for the entire spectrum of HR work – including payroll.

The team is also investing the time saved with Personio in new projects. Kerstin and her colleagues are currently upgrading their onboarding and offboarding processes, revising workflows, and doing what HR is actually there for: “We are talking to people face to face, taking care of their problems and offering help and support. Before Personio, strategic HR was always on the back-burner. Now it can take centre stage,” says Kerstin.

Feedback from employees has also been positive – the Personio app has been particularly well-received because it allows a lot of things to be dealt with via employees’ smartphones, no matter where they happen to be.

“Employees can literally submit everything from vacation requests to sick notes from their couch, without having to get up and sit at their computer. So, there has been very little reluctance to use the HR tool in everyday professional life. And it also takes the pressure off managers because they can give all their approvals via the app.”

Kerstin is particularly taken with the way she can now create statistics and evaluations quickly and easily, with just a mouse click. Endless Excel spreadsheets are a thing of the past.“This used to take me much longer – for example, when preparing the annual reports that I need evaluations showing employee development for, as well as the number of doctoral students and nationalities."

The reports created by Personio are also a great help with operational integration management and the creation of vacation accruals. I am now also much faster when it comes to providing mandatory statistics to government agencies,” sums up Kerstin.

“And who knows where else Personio will be able to take us. The company does not view their software as a finished product but is instead continuously developing it. As a research institute, this forward-thinking perspective makes us feel very positive about our partnership of equals.”

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