Ipsos Mori ensures employee wellbeing ranks high on the agenda

At Ipsos Mori, employees are at the centre of everything the organisation does, and it follows that any benefits that are introduced serve the purpose of meeting employees’ needs. This approach means the market research organisation has made a number of changes to its reward stategy in order to support staff, such as implementing group income protection, changing pension providers, and introducing the lifetime individual savings account (Lisa) following an enquiry from younger members of staff. Shortly after Michaela O’Reilly, head of reward and HR analytics, joined the organisation four years ago, Ipsos Mori began the implementation of a financial wellbeing programme. “We all know that for anybody who is going through financial hardship, it has an impact on everything else that they do,” she says. “It’s the main trigger for any sort of mental ill health, so our strategy is completely built around that.”

Financial wellbeing focus

Ipsos Mori has introduced a number of benefits as part of its focus on financial wellbeing. It introduced group income protection (GIP) in 2017 and has since received great feedback from employees. “[It] probably received the most feedback of any benefit that we’ve ever introduced with employees because it gives them financial security,” says O’Reilly. “When [we] receive feedback that employees appreciate a benefit, that lets [us] know that [we’re] doing the right thing.”

As part of the financial wellbeing approach, O’Reilly and her team introduced a financial education programme in 2016 and, more recently, the Lisa in September 2020. The monthly financial education sessions include information on credit ratings and financial wellbeing, savings and investments, protection policies and inheritance tax and planning.

The initiatives were introduced to ensure that employees are fully aware of how their benefits can support them in all areas of finance, at any stage of their career.

Our research shows that students leave college with almost £50,000 worth of debt, so it’s very hard to encourage employees to save for their short, medium and long term,” says O’Reilly. “We felt it was important that as part of our graduate programme we bring in financial education as part of their induction, and to make sure they have all the tools there that will help them to make financially savvy decisions.”

Ipsos Mori also ensures that its other benefit schemes do not encourage unnecessary spending or put employees at risk of running up debts: its bikes-for-work scheme, for example, has a cap on the cost of a bike employees can buy through the scheme so that those on junior or graduate salaries cannot sign up to buy a bike that is out of their budget.

Its financial education programme also highlights the importance of pensions engagement and how a small contribution increase can help individuals save more for retirement.

Pensions changes

With a focus on employees’ financial wellbeing, Ipsos Mori made the decision to undertake a pensions change project to further engage employees with their retirement savings, and help them to understand the value of their employer’s contribution. Previously, the organisation had five different pension plans in place all with different management charges and different funds. “It’s very hard to provide a holistic financial education programme and to talk about what we have, when a lot of people had different [plans],” explains O’Reilly. “So one of the first things I wanted to do was get one provider so we could provide the education that we needed to.”

Ipsos Mori introduced a group self-invested personal pension (SIPP) in 2018 and moved existing pension scheme members into the new plan with the aim of creating a consistent and fair offering for all employees. “Employees are really engaged: 93% of the company are in the pension,” says O’Reilly.

It was this overhaul of its pension provision that led to Ipsos Mori receiving the award for Best defined contribution (DC) pension strategy at Employee Benefits Awards 2020.

Mental wellbeing

As well as supporting employees’ financial wellbeing, Ipsos Mori also places a lot of importance on their mental wellbeing. This support has seen its chief executive officer (CEO) sign the Time to Change mental health employer pledge, and the introduction of mental health champions across the organisation who are trained in mental health first aid. The wellbeing team at Ipsos Mori ensures that all employees are aware of, and have access to, support if they need it. The organisation has also introduced a flexible-working policy; it has no core hours so employees can work in a truly flexible manner to balance their work and life commitments. Managers are also equipped to ensure they recognise any signs of mental ill health in their employees. “We’ve developed strategies to make sure that we can help managers to spot when somebody in their team is maybe not being themselves,” explains O’Reilly. “Like on video [calls]: we encourage everybody to use the video because if they’re not, then we can’t make sure that they are okay. So if somebody doesn’t use the video for a long time, the manager will check in to make sure that they are okay. We also have wellbeing one-to-ones where we can sit down and talk to our team about anything they want to, it’s completely wellbeing focused.”

Ipsos Mori also won the Employee Benefits award for the Best mental health strategy at 2020’s ceremony. This strategy, along with the pensions change project, led to Ipsos Mori winning the coveted Grand Prix award.

Benefits engagement

As with many organisations, during the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, Ipsos Mori increased its communications with employees through virtual means. As well as the wellbeing one-to-ones, teams have work-based catch ups and weekly catch ups with the whole business. Employees receive their annual benefits statement every November, but weekly internal communications are used to keep them updated with any timely information. Ipsos Mori also has a number of employee networks through which the people team also feeds information.

For O’Reilly, one of the most rewarding aspects of her role is seeing the result of employees engaging with their benefits. “It’s trying to encourage people to look at the benefits a lot more,” she says. “We provide free mortgage advice, and the provider has teamed up with our Lifetime Isa [provider], talking to first-time buyers and they can refer back to the benefits programme. So the [financial] education that we provide relates back to our actual benefits, and employees are more engaged.”

At a glance

Ipsos Mori is a market research organisation. It carries out quantitative and qualitative research in all areas from social research to healthcare and pharmaceutical, to audience measurement for television channels. It recently conducted the early years study commissioned by the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on how Covid-19 (Coronavirus) has impacted the perceptions and experiences of parents and carers of the under-fives.

It has 1,500 employees working in positions such as data science and project management, as well as researchers and call centre employees, and its business operations areas.

The average age of its employees is 36, and the gender ratio is 60:40 female to male. The average length of service is seven years, but it has some employees that have been at the organisation for over 40 years.

Business objectives that impact employee benefits

To continue to report and address its gender and ethnicity pay gaps and follow up with action plans.

Career history

Michaela O’Reilly is head of reward and HR analytics at Ipsos Mori. Prior to joining Ipsos Mori in 2016, O’Reilly was a UK pension manager for a large financial organisation. She has also held roles as a pension consultant and a financial advisor.

O’Reilly cites her efforts of implementing a financial wellbeing programme and group income protection at Ipsos as a proud moment in her career. “Benefits cost businesses money, and being able to convince your [chief financial officer] CFO and your CEO to introduce an expensive benefit because it will benefit employees, and was probably one of the biggest things that we have done,” she says.

Her work as a financial advisor in Ireland also saw her make strides as a woman in a typically male-dominated industry. “Being a female financial advisor, females want to talk to you more than the male counterpart. So becoming the dedicated female financial advisor within my organisation was pretty good.”