Direct Insurance Group started life as a small, family-built business in 1996 with a handful of staff. It quickly grew considerably to an organisation of 147 employees and achieved its ambition of gaining Lloyds accreditation.
The fast growth and expansion of employee numbers placed a bigger focus on the people side of the business. Following a board restructure in March 2020, Neil Milner was appointed to the role of chief people officer. He explains that the business is committed to creating the best work environment in order to make employees feel secure and engaged, and included in the growth of the business. “Our philosophy around benefits now is that they are a very important part of an employee’s package,” he says. “The days in our industry are long gone of people moving jobs for earning a bigger buck, and people now take the time out to understand what’s on offer. Our package does reflect our ambitions, we want to continue to grow. To continue to grow, we have to attract the best talent and to do that we need an enhanced benefits package.”
Employee health and fitness
A unique part of that benefits package is the personal training sessions that were introduced at the beginning of 2020. “Not only did we roll out the opportunity for people to have one free personal training session a week, we also rolled out that they could take that personal training session at any time of their working day, which I think is a really good benefit to be able to pass on to people,” explains Milner.
The benefit proved to be popular from the start; the employer saw close to 50% take up within the first two weeks. The benefit was offered in its London and regional offices, as well as to those employees that worked from home.
When the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic forced many employees to work from home, Direct Insurance Group realised the importance of extending support of employees’ health and wellbeing. “We have managed to continue that during lockdown and gave everyone access to virtual personal training sessions and nutritional sessions,” says Milner. “That was just another emphasis that we put on wellbeing during the lockdown period, in trying to continue forward with our benefits package.”
The mental wellbeing of its employees has always been a high priority for Direct Insurance Group. It offers an employee assistance programme (EAP) which offers its staff support at any time of the day, and was used prior to, and during, the lockdown. “We pushed that a little bit more during Covid, certainly within the first three or four weeks, just reminding [employees] that they have access to this. We continue to remind them; there are lots of posters available in common areas, and on the display screens and benefits brochure. [We] just let staff know that there’s additional help if they need it.”
Additionally, the organisation realised that there were some difficulties that employees faced that the EAP was not able to help with, so it introduced a one-to-one counselling benefit, paid for by the employer. “The feedback from that has been massive because the impact for [employees] was massive,” says Milner. “It’s definitely had a major impact on their life externally as well as their working life.”
The pandemic highlighted the need to keep employees engaged within the organisation. Direct Insurance Group recognised that the most important factor in this was employee wellbeing. “Early on into lockdown, [the executive committee] met weekly and the subject matter was that we need to make sure everyone’s okay,” says Milner. “We’ve put a lot stronger focus on employee wellbeing. We sent a survey to staff asking for their feedback around how they were feeling, how they were coping and what we could do to help, what they needed from us as an employer.”
Home working for employees presented a big challenge, and while the organisation saw many requests around furniture and equipment, staff also requested regular communication from the executive committee (Exco) on what the organisation’s plans were.
“Along with the HR team, [the Exco] put a high emphasis on regular communication with all employees, encouraging line managers to make regular contact,” Milner explains. “We did encourage Zoom (video) calls as often as possible, but not necessarily focusing on work-related issues. We asked them to take the time out to have individual or team Zooms around the social aspects. Some teams organised virtual drinks and we had some company-wide quiz nights, including one hosted by comedian Lee Nelson.”
Direct Insurance Group also sent out regular gift packages to employees to keep morale high. One was a box of sweet treats and cakes, while another was a ‘create your own doughnut’ package. “You get doughnuts in the post with sprinkles and sweets, to decorate them,” says Milner. “We ran a competition and it went very well, especially for those that have children at home. We know a lot of people are struggling with maintaining working life with childcare and school work.”
The organisation administers the majority of its benefits in house, apart from its group personal pension scheme, and uses a variety of methods to keep employees informed about the perks available to them. Prospective and new employees are given a benefits brochure when they join, which is updated with any new initiatives. The organisation also has a bespoke intranet which is used as its HR repository with regular notices and updates. It also uses display screens around the offices to promote and inform employees about their benefits package.
New initiatives are also promoted through the firm’s employee entertainment team, the E:Team, which is made up of employees from different departments.
The organisation also encourages, and acts on, employee feedback to inform its benefits strategy; a recent suggestion from a few employees was a day to help litter pick on a beach, so up to three paid volunteering days a year were added into the benefits package.
In June 2020, Direct Insurance Group announced that it has introduced a permanent remote working policy for all employees if they with to work from home. The organaisation’s London office reopened at the beginning of July for those employees who wish to return to the workplace, and while they are making the transition, the organisation is continuing its support with regular communication and wellbeing benefits.
At a glance
Direct Insurance Group is a UK insurance intermediary and managing general agent (MGA) manager. Some of its typical job roles include insurance broker and insurance underwriter. The organisation has 147 employees, 96 of which are male and 51 female. The average length of service is six years.
Business objectives that impact on employee benefits
- To invest in a new HR system, which includes a mobile phone app to help manage and communicate the benefits package to all employees.
Neil Milner joined Direct Insurance Group in 2006. He has held a number of positions at the organisation, most recently group operations officer before being appointed chief people officer in March 2020.
Milner is particularly proud of joining the business when it was a small local insurance broker and working hard to help the business achieve Lloyds accreditation in 2013.