Virgin Management renews wellbeing focus

Virgin Management is a global organisation that has its fingers in many corporate pies; it manages and supports businesses across the Virgin Group, and is dubbed the family office for the group.

On the organisation’s current agenda is the potential challenges and implications of major political events such as the European Union referendum result and Donald Trump taking up presidency of the US. Although the impact of these events has not yet been fully realised, the organisation is keeping a close eye on issues such as how trade links between the UK and US could affect its businesses, and how a new immigration framework post-Brexit could impact upon Virgin Management’s large population of European employees.

With this in mind, Nick Lawry, reward manager at Virgin Management, believes that benefits and reward have never been more vital in helping to ensure employees’ wellbeing and peace of mind. Lawry says: “It’s good to be able to have a [benefits] provision that gives people security. If we’re going to invest anywhere, we invest in our people.”

In line with this thinking, Virgin Management rebranded its flexible benefits scheme in March 2017, to create a renewed focus on employee wellbeing. “The rebrand was to recognise that wellbeing is of utmost importance for us, and something that underpins all of our people policies,” explains Lawry.

Its newly branded scheme, Tonic, was designed to align with the organisation’s wellbeing strategy, which launched in October 2014. The wellbeing strategy helps employees to manage their physical, mental, financial and social wellbeing, as well as achieve a good work-life balance. Tonic was developed from the organisation’s previous flexible benefits platform, Bounty.

Health and wellbeing
A key feature of the organisation’s wellbeing strategy is a quarterly challenge using the activity tracker Virgin Pulse. Employees can accumulate points by completing activities such as a certain number of steps a day, eating healthily or achieving weight-related goals. At the end of each quarter they can put the points towards a choice of reward. Employees can opt for a cash reward, make a charity donation, or select wellbeing-related prizes, such as yoga sessions, massages or fruit and vegetable boxes. If staff wish, they can also roll over their quarterly points in order to save for a larger benefit, such as an Apple watch.

Virgin Management uses its flex platform, provided by Thomsons Online Benefits, as an employee hub, including access to a holiday and absence planner to allow staff to self-manage their unlimited holiday days. Employees are able to take as many holiday days as they like, whenever they wish, as long as their absence does not adversely impact on their work. Holiday days still need to be approved by a manager, which can be done via the online system. The hub also includes access to Virgin Management’s in-house voluntary benefits scheme and information about its financial education programme.

Financial wellbeing
This year, Virgin Management is fine-tuning its focus on financial wellbeing. It introduced a financial education programme, provided by Nudge, in 2016, which provides workshops and interactive sessions, and showcases tools such as a mortgage and loan modeller, and a budget planner. This year, its financial focus will include the provision of free mortgage advice and will-writing workshops.

The financial education programme has already had a positive influence on employees, says Lawry. The programme featured a communications campaign in March 2017 about the organisation’s bonus exchange benefit to encourage eligible employees to exchange some, or all, of their bonus for additional pension contributions. All employees, except those on a short-term contract of three months or less, have a bonus allocation, and any employee who receives a bonus can opt to exchange it. Following the communications campaign, 10% of employees chose to do so.

Virgin Management also launched a charitable matching benefit in March. Through this scheme, the organisation will match payroll-giving donations up to £250 a year, or make a donation of up to £250 towards charitable sponsorship, for example, if an employee raises money for charity by running a marathon.

Achieving balance
Enabling staff to strike the right balance between work and home life is a key focus at Virgin Management. It has addressed this by implementing a flexible-working policy, which is internally called the ‘Martini Solution’, in reflection of the fact staff can work anywhere, at any time if they wish, as long as they achieve their target work output.

The organisation removed the traditional nine-to-five working day in April 2013 to enable staff to build a better work-life balance. Lawry says: “We wanted to give people the trust and freedom to be able to work in the way that suits them so that they can more easily balance their home and work commitments. Flexible working and having that relationship of trust with employees really is better for everyone, and it will soon become the prerequisite for [organisations] if [they want] to get the best talent in.”

However, Lawry adds that a flexible-working policy such as this can encourage staff to work excessive hours. “It’s a double edged sword,” he explains. “It does enable people to log in to any device and work at any time, any place, anywhere, but it does mean that [potentially] people can work excessive hours, because they’re enthusiastic about what they do. We’re now trying to think about how we address that.”

Aligned to this thinking around preventing excessive working habits, mental wellbeing is on the organisation’s agenda for 2017. This will see it introduce mental resilience training, mental first aid training, stress workshops and mindfulness courses.

In March, Virgin Management also put in place a weekly digital detox to encourage employees to take down time; it has scheduled a set two-hour slot over lunchtime when staff are not allowed to send or receive emails. During these scheduled two hours, staff are encouraged to take part in exercise classes at a nearby Virgin Active gym or attend a counselling session.

In-house voluntary benefits
Voluntary benefits provide another route for Virgin Management to support employees’ financial wellbeing. The organisation uses its buying power to source cost-saving deals for staff, in order to help then make their net pay go further.

Virgin Management’s voluntary benefits scheme, Virgin Tribe, which it manages in-house, includes offers and discounts from across the Virgin group, such as two free flights a year using Virgin Atlantic. It also includes discounts from selected third-party providers, such as PC World, B&Q and Sainsbury’s.

Virgin Management also has a reciprocal arrangement with Eurostar: the two organisations offer in-house discounts to both workforces. Virgin Tribe, for example, includes discounts on return Eurostar tickets to Paris, the south of France and Brussels.

“With Tribe, we recognise that as a group of [organisations], the diversity of products and services that we offer is unparalleled, and we are fortunate enough to be in the position where we can give our employees access to some fantastic deals, discounts and freebies as part of one big global family,” adds Lawry.

Employees are encouraged to engage with Virgin Tribe through in-house competitions that give prizes to the first 100 employees who log in after receiving a notification. It also includes an inbuilt Yammer-style social media tool, called Connect, that enables employees from across the Virgin group to interact.

Employee communications
Although benefits communications have become more digitalised in recent years, Virgin Management favours a face-to-face approach to avoid swamping employees’ inboxes with emails or creating the need for them to spend time trawling the organisation’s intranet site for information.

Its face-to-face communications include a specific benefits-focused induction for new joiners in addition to the main corporate induction, and quarterly benefits roadshows that focus on one benefit at a time. The organisation also hosts an annual benefits fair, incorporating stalls from all of its providers, prior to its flexible benefits renewal window each March.

The organisation uses its annual staff survey every November to gather staff feedback, as well as smaller pulse surveys conducted throughout the year. It also places a paper questionnaire on a clipboard to collect employees’ views, next to a large glass jar full of different chocolate bars that is left out for staff every month as a payday treat. “We try and include people as much as possible in the conversation because it’s down to them as well to shape the benefits and the culture of what they want to see,” Lawry says.

The people team is very open and receptive to employee suggestions and ideas, he adds. The most recent staff survey, conducted in November 2016, found that 92% of respondents agree or strongly agree that Virgin Management cares for its people and their wellbeing.

Giving staff flexibility threads itself through the benefits and organisational culture at Virgin Management. As Lawry says: “It’s to look after our people but also recognise that they are all individuals. They’ve each got different needs so it’s really important to make [benefits] as inclusive as possible, and have that degree of flexibility.”

At a glance

Virgin Management is considered the ‘family office’ for the Virgin Group; it manages corporate affairs such as investment, acquisitions, divestitures, and licensing, as well as communications for the group through the content, press and external relations teams. Typical job roles include investment manager, content executive, intellectual property lawyer and people business partner. Virgin Management has approximately 200 staff spread between its London and New York offices, with an average age of 36 and an average tenure of four years. The gender split is 62% female to 38% male.

Business objectives

  • To have the purpose ‘changing business for good’ lead working practices and projects.
  • To develop and inspire employees, and the communities it works in.
  • To build and develop valuable Virgin organisations that change business for good; for example, by being ethical and having a positive impact.
  • To enhance the Virgin Group’s financial position.

Career history

Nick Lawry, reward manager, joined Virgin Management in June 2012, initially working across payroll, compensation, benefits and systems. A re-structure of the HR team soon after Lawry joined the organisation saw him then become more solely focused on employee reward.

Prior to joining Virgin Management, Lawry worked as an account manager for employee benefits consultants Redbourne and Mazars UK. He has also held in-house reward positions across numerous industry sectors, including insurance and higher education.

However, it is the recognition of winning Best healthcare and wellbeing benefits – small employer at the Employee Benefits Awards 2016 that Lawry cites as his key achievement to date. He says: “That was a culmination of several years’ work, not just from me but from the team as well. It was great to win. It was a great recognition of the journey that we’d been on.”


Pension and group risk

  • Group personal pension plan with a minimum 1% employee contribution and 2% employer contribution. Contributions are matched on a one-for-one basis up to a 5% employer contribution.
  • Income protection of up to 75% of salary.
  • Life assurance for four-times salary, provided as a core benefit.
  • Critical illness insurance, via voluntary benefits, which can cover both the employee and a partner.

Healthcare and wellbeing

  • Healthcare trust. Single cover is employer-paid for the first year of service; up to family cover is employer-paid after one year’s service. Covers major treatments up to annual limit of £50,000, complimentary therapies and full diagnostics.
  • Dental insurance. Single cover is employer-paid, employees can add dependants via voluntary benefits.
  • Eyecare vouchers.
  • Gym membership subsidy.
  • Running club.
  • On-site yoga classes.
  • Mindfulness training
  • Health assessments provided as a core benefit after two years’ service.
  • Employer-paid flu vaccinations.
  • Employee assistance programme.
  • Free fitness device and quarterly wellbeing challenge.

Work-life balance

Pay and reward

  • Annual performance bonus for all staff, except those on a short-term assignment of three months or less.
  • Bonus exchange scheme where all employees, except those on a short-term contract, can exchange all or part of their bonus allocation for additional pension contributions.

Other benefits

  • Staff recognition scheme.
  • Group-wide annual party.
  • Voluntary benefits scheme.
  • Birthday off, experience voucher or £75 charity donation for staff birthdays.
  • Free lunch every day in on-site kitchen and canteen.
  • Free fruit and Friday pastries.
  • Subsidised tuck shop.
  • £100 retail voucher for first aiders and fire wardens.
  • Two free flights a year using Virgin Atlantic.
  • Bikes-for-work scheme.
  • Matched payroll-giving donations up to £250 a year.
  • Long-service awards at five, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years’ service.
  • Season-ticket loans.
  • Employee referral programme.
  • Mortgage advice.
  • Financial education.