In 2011 Felicia Shafiq, a senior support engineer at SAP faced amputation of both her legs below the knee as the result of a blood poisoning disease – but in just two weeks, she’ll be competing for Team Canada at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in sitting volleyball.
Shafiq has worked at SAP for more than 10 years, and credits the support she has received from her employer as a major reason for her success. Recovery was a long process, and Shafiq recounts that her SAP co-workers and management team were extremely supportive in giving her ample time to come back
Once Shafiq was able to return to work part-time, SAP set up an ergonomic assessment of her office space to ensure that everything was as functional as possible.
Shafiq had been involved in recreational volleyball (through an intramural team at SAP) at the time of her illness, and was devastated that she could no longer play. While at first she was hesitant to try sitting volleyball, Shafiq explained that a friend of hers advised her to ‘suck it up’ and go for it. “I did exactly that. I sucked it up and after the first session I just loved it,” she said.
SAP also has a program that allows employees to take time off from work to volunteer for different causes. Referred to as ‘the month of service,’ Shafiq chose to volunteer her time to teach kids with different abilities how to play sitting volleyball.
“It was [a cause] near and dear to my heart,” explained Shafiq. “It wasn’t part of any of the [existing] programs here at SAP, so I just talked to my management team… and they were receptive to it.”
Agnes Garaba, head of human resources at SAP Canada explained that this open-mindedness is an integral part of the company’s work culture.
“We really feel like our employees are truly what makes us as a company,” said Garaba. “This is an environment where we look out for our employees and support them in any way we can.”
Garaba also explained that flexibility is something SAP aims to provide, as they have noticed that employees with a better work-life balance are more productive. Shafiq was adamant in expressing how generous SAP had been in allowing her time off to attend training and competitions.
In addition to supporting employees’ personal sport initiatives, Garaba noted that SAP has promoted health and wellness within the company. The Vancouver office includes a gym as well as access to a variety of on-site health practitioners.
Garaba is proud of the way SAP values its employees, and believes it’s an effective model that other tech companies should consider implementing.
“It’s really just recognizing how important it is to find the right balance for employees to dedicate their time to their work, but at the same time not [become] fully consumed by it day in and day out,” she said.
Shafiq will be heading to Rio at the beginning of September, with the Paralympics taking place from Sept. 7-18.
Despite being a fairly new team on the world stage, Shafiq has big goals for her team this fall.
“We understand that we’re underdogs, but that’s not going to stop us from competing and achieving our goals,” she said. “We want to take the experience at Rio to help strengthen our team… and attract more people to the sport.”