Weight Watchers auto-enrols second group of staff

Weight Watchers will auto-enrol its second cohort of staff into a pension on 26 October. These will be drawn from the 1,600 people who lead Weight Watchers meetings, called ‘leaders’.

To date, 5% of its 200 head office staff, who were auto-enrolled on 1 August, have opted out of the pension scheme. Before staging, 80 head office staff were not in a pension. Now just 11 are not.

Already 4% (65) of the 1,600 leaders have chosen to go into the pension ahead of their staging date this month.

On 28 October, the weight management services company’s leaders, who are on variable earnings, will be informed as to whether they qualified to be auto-enrolled.

Speaking at the National Association of Pension Funds annual conference in Manchester this week, Sara Harper-Holten, human resources director at Weight Watchers, said: “When I looked at auto-enrolment, it was [a case of] actually, we have to do it so let’s make it a real opportunity in terms of our employees.”

For head office employees, it used the opportunity to introduce salary sacrifice on pension contributions. It will now look at future benefits that are offered on a salary sacrifice basis.

“This will increase the value of the overall package. We got NI [national insurance] back as an employer so that have been reinvested into other benefits,” said Harper-Holten.

As part of the auto-enrolment process, Weight Watchers partnered with advisory firm JLT and is now using its reward portal, BenPal, which launched to head office staff in May 2013.

Because the BenPal product has full flexible benefits functionality it gives Weight Watchers the option to consider introducing flex in the future. “Auto-enrolment is this year, but now we have got a system that is future-proofed which means we can offer flexible benefits at a later date,” she explained.

Having two groups of staff presented Weight Watchers with a number of challenges when looking at auto-enrolment.

Firstly, it had to deal with the variable pay of the leaders. Unlike the head office staff, its leaders work part time and their earnings are calculated on a four/four/five week pay reference period and paid in arrears.

This was compounded by the lack of clarity from The Pensions Regulator on some of the details of auto-enrolment.

“So when you get into the detail around assessment of earnings when auto-enrolling there is a lot of learning that we still need to do.

“There are still points where we have gone with what we believe what they are saying in interpreting their guidance, but only time will tell if that is true.”

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Secondly, it wanted to avoid a two-tier approach between the two groups.

It did this, partly by switching pension provider from Standard Life to a group personal pension with Aegon. “The rationale for that was preparing for when we did auto-enrolment for leaders because we needed a scheme which could go across both populations with one provider.”