Over the course of the past three years, there have been many things that have impacted employee wellbeing. Take the coronavirus pandemic for example and the impact that this had on mental health. Research from Close Brothers found that more than half (51%) of employees had experienced an increase in worries relating to their mental health due to the pandemic. Separate data shone a light on worries relating to financial wellbeing, with statistics from Zellis finding that 73% are now more worried about their finances than they were prior to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, data from Deloitte found that a massive 77% of the workforce were experiencing the effects of burnout, highlighting just how significant the current wellbeing crisis is.
We wanted to create a more invigorated colleague proposition, not only because it was the right thing to do, but because we needed to align our people strategy with where we were going as a bank...
Despite a wealth of data pointing towards the extent to which workforces are struggling, employers and HR appear to be placing employee wellbeing higher up on the agenda. Willis Towers Watson’s 2021 Wellbeing Diagnostic Survey supports this, finding that 86% of employers now consider wellbeing to be a top priority. Staff also appear to be noticing the importance placed on wellbeing at work, too. According to the CIPD’s Health and Wellbeing at Work report, 75% of workers now believe that their leaders have employee wellbeing high on the agenda.
As such, many employers are rolling out initiatives that seek to support better workplace wellbeing. Whilst data from the CIPD’s Health and Wellbeing at Work 2022 report found that perks such as gym memberships and access to meditation apps were considered valuable by staff, the most requested initiatives by the global workforce were increased paid annual leave, and flexibility in when and how they work – and some businesses appear to be taking note.
A prime example of an effective scheme that strives to support employee wellbeing can be found inside Virgin Money. The financial services company, which has its headquarters in Glasgow, has around 8,000 employees to look after. To help support its workforce, the organisation recently launched a purpose-driven employment package called ‘A Life More Virgin’ – giving staff access to a range of benefits that aim to support with multiple areas of wellbeing.
Virgin Money’s employment package is made up of several things. For example, employees are entitled to an increased 38.5 days annual leave (including bank holidays), five extra paid wellbeing days per year, 20 weeks of paid family leave (52 weeks in total) for expectant parents and those looking to adopt. Additionally, the package gives employees the option to receive up to a 13% pension contribution, and the ability to work from anywhere in the UK (where the role allows). All of these perks are accessible from the first day of employment, making it clear to prospective talent that wellbeing is a top priority to the firm from day one – something that is increasingly important to 82% of UK-based jobseekers, according to the recent Pearson Global Learning Survey.
With ‘A Life More Virgin’, it’s clear that the company is striving to put work-life balance, mental, physical and financial wellbeing at the core of its employment package – a move which will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the wellbeing of staff. But also, as the CIPD has found, this can bring about multiple benefits for businesses too. In fact, the study revealed that investment in wellbeing-related initiatives can result in a 27% increase in productivity, and 52% less mental health-related absence. With these benefits in mind, what sparked Virgin Money to roll out this initiative in the first place?
Group Chief People and Communications Officer
In an exclusive interview with myGrapevine magazine, Syreeta Brown, Group Chief People and Communications Officer at Virgin Money, said that the initiative was created to align the firm’s internal people strategy to the service it was providing to its customers. “We wanted to create a more invigorated colleague proposition, not only because it was the right thing to do, but because we needed to align our people strategy with [the direction we were taking] as a bank. We wanted our people to be as effective as possible, so that our people were as happy internally as our customers were externally. As a result, ‘A Life More Virgin’ was born,” she explained.
Sector: Banking and financial services
The current Virgin Money was formed in 2018 when CYBG combined with the Virgin Money business founded by Richard Branson in 1995
Before the scheme was rolled out – which happened in November 2021 following months of analysis – Virgin Money spoke to employees to find out which benefits would best support their wellbeing needs. Aside from holding open conversations with staff, surveys were also conducted. The feedback from these surveys highlighted the need for choice and flexibility in how and when people worked – something that many jobseekers and employees are currently on the lookout for. In fact, according to data from The Executive Centre’s 2021 Mid-Year Sentiment Survey, a massive 82% of workers would only accept a job if it offered flexibility. Separate data from EY’s 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey found that more than half (54%) of employees would consider leaving their job post-pandemic if not given some form of flexibility in where and when they work. Not only can this aspect of the employment package satisfy internal talent needs, it can also help Virgin Money attract prospective employees to the business.
Aside from identifying the need for flexibility and choice in how and where staff worked, Virgin Money’s internal staff surveys also found that, in line with wider trends, employees were concerned about their own wellbeing. As such, Virgin Money’s people team settled on creating a wellbeing-centric work-life balance initiative as part of the ‘A Life More Virgin’ package. She said: “After all the research was conducted, and much discussion was had on how we addressed these issues, we decided that the best way to increase the wellbeing of our people was to offer them increased time away from work, and more control over how they worked.
When rolling out a new initiative or employment package, HR leaders will be aware of the importance of good communication so that colleagues know what it offers and how it works.
Brown explained: “You can do the formal comms explaining what it is and how it works, but what was so much more important was organically getting our colleagues and leaders to share their stories about how ‘A Life More Virgin’ was working for them.
“This was as top-down as it was bottom-up. Our CEO is the first to post about how he’s using the scheme. He’s posted about taking his wellbeing days, he’s posted about his flexible working [arrangements]. That strategy actually took over both internal and external formal comms,” Brown added.
“[In addition], we decided to increase our parental leave benefits, which are available from day one for all colleagues irrespective of gender. We also settled on introducing five wellbeing days in addition to the holiday allowances already in place. We also established that people were welcome to have control over where and how they work. That includes working from home, or from our key ‘hub’ offices where people can work collaboratively.” Giving staff more time off work, and greater control over their wellbeing, can support mental and physical wellbeing in several ways. As was identified in a Time Wise blog post, having a good work-life balance makes life less stressful and it can reduce the time and energy spent on commuting to work.
She added that, as part of the ‘A Life More Virgin’ employment package, not only are employees empowered to work from wherever suits them, they’re also given the autonomy to define their own working structures. Given that there are no requirements to work a set number of days from any location, this allows employees to manage their working life in a way that suits their lifestyle and supports their wellbeing. Brown explained that it is up to individual teams to work out what works for them, and how they best organise their internal operations.
It’s clear that, from concept right through to implementation, ‘A Life More Virgin’ was created to help support the wellbeing needs of employees. But, how successful has this been so far? The package has been rolled out for less than a year, and therefore Virgin Money’s key review of its overall efficacy is several months away. However, anecdotal evidence has suggested that the initial uptake across the company has been successful. Brown continued: “We’re seeing an outpour of positivity towards ['A Life More Virgin’]. People are constantly sharing the ways in which ‘A Life More Virgin’ has benefitted their wellbeing.” Virgin Money’s HR lead has good reason to be positive about this initial indication of success. Not only can supporting wellbeing at work benefit staff, but Gallup data has found that companies creating wellbeing-focussed employee experiences are 21% more profitable and enjoy 37% higher sales than their competitors.
We established that people were welcome to have control over where and how they work
Aside from the benefit that this is starting to have on internal employees, prospective talent appears to be taking note and are applying in record numbers, according to Brown. “We saw our applications double in those first six months, and people who were applying who wouldn’t normally apply, have cited the stories told by our colleagues in the process,” she explained. So, not only is this employment package supporting the wellbeing needs of internal talent, but it appears to be attracting new talent into the business who are looking for an employer that genuinely supports their wellbeing.
Whilst initial responses are positive, Brown appears to be taking a pragmatic approach to the future of the initiative. From the initial conversations with staff, to the implementation, and early responses from colleagues, ‘A Life More Virgin’ was rolled out because the firm wanted “to create a more invigorated colleague proposition” – and one that put workplace wellbeing at the centre. And whilst it appears to be getting positive feedback currently, Brown believes that continued traction means being realistic about the shifting needs of her workforce.
Our CEO is the first to post about how he’s using the scheme
“We’ll carry on measuring its success. [‘A Life More Virgin’] is in place to ensure that workers are getting the best balance between work and home life possible, and that their careers work around their lives,” she explained, adding that, if employee wellbeing needs change in the future, Virgin Money won’t hesitate to alter plans. “However, it seems to be working well. Fundamentally, employees feel that their wellbeing is being considered. From that, we knew we [were] going in the right direction,” Brown concluded.