EXCLUSIVE: Virgin Atlantic reinvigorates benefits package for 10,000 employees

Employee Benefits Live 2019: International airline Virgin Atlantic has reinvigorated its wellbeing approach and employee benefits package to better reflect and accommodate its growing workforce.

Josie Lazenby, senior manager, wellbeing and benefits at Virgin Atlantic, discussed the benefits refreshment journey during the conference programme at Employee Benefits Live 2019 on Tuesday 1 October; the session, which was jointly presented with Charlotte Dymock, HR business partner at The Poppy Factory, was titled ‘A picture of health: Aligning benefits and wellbeing initiatives’.

Lazenby started her presentation by explaining that, although Virgin Atlantic as a business has grown extensively over the past 35 years, now employing an estimated 10,000 staff, the benefits offering had remained the same; the package was therefore not aligned with the business strategy.

“It seemed fitting that we actually make our benefits match our aspirations to be the most loved travel [organisation], which is our new mission, along with a new three-year strategic plan,” Lazenby explained. “Our aim was to have a benefits offering that drives and promotes the wellbeing of our people at work, that’s valued and understood by employees, wherever they work and whatever stage of life they’re at. It should be flexible to the needs of our people and support us to win the battle for talent. It should be simple, easy to administer, modern, affordable and sustainable.”

This project officially started in 2015, alongside an organisational restructure; this included aligning the internal reward and wellbeing teams for a more cohesive approach. This was followed by the introduction of Virgin Atlantic’s wellbeing strategy, Working Well, Living Better, in 2016.

This approach shifted the focus of wellbeing at Virgin Atlantic, moving from a reactive to a proactive stance. This included changing providers for private medical insurance (PMI) and income protection in order to maximise additional mental health supports.

In 2018, Virgin Atlantic conducted a formal benefits review. This included a 28-question survey at the end of January 2018, which received more than 4,000 responses. The organisation also conducted 10 focus groups with staff across the business.

This survey identified some key problem areas, including around healthcare and retirement. Furthermore, Virgin Atlantic discovered that family was the biggest cause of stress for its staff and that employees wanted additional support with maternity benefits and financial wellbeing. Mental health was also found to be a concern, especially for cabin crew staff who faced being isolated away from home.

With these issues in mind, Virgin Atlantic introduced a new core benefits package for staff; this included awarding each employee with a £500 pot to spend on a new flexible benefits portal, as well as implementing financial education. These benefits align with Virgin Atlantic’s wellbeing strategies pillars: physical, mental and financial wellbeing.

Throughout this process, communications proved vital. Virgin Atlantic created a new brand in order to launch its new benefits package, and used a multi-channel approach to speak to staff. This included stakeholder meetings, intranet posts, videos, letters sent to employees’ homes, roadshows, both physical and virtual benefits fairs, speed-dating style sessions and question and answer sessions.

Senior leaders also had specific communications, such as briefing packs, to ensure they could promote benefits to their teams and clarify details around the new platform and enrolment window.

“We focused heavily on our manager population, because we knew that we needed to get their buy-in to get this change through. So, we had manager only drop-in sessions, we held senior leadership group sessions, we had a hosted manager call explaining exactly what the changes were and how that might impact our employees,” Lazenby said.

The emphasis on communications had the desired effect on staff engagement, with 90% of Virgin Atlantic employees logging on to the new benefits platform, called Eve, and making their benefits selections; the top three benefits chosen related to pension contributions, dental insurance and critical illness insurance.

Despite the work already undertaken, Virgin Atlantic still has more on its to-do list. This includes building a champion network, conducting pensions seminars, hosting lunch and learn sessions and implementing single sign-on, so that employees can more easily access their benefits.