The Phoenix Group places wellbeing at the centre of benefits strategy


After an acquisition in September 2018 that saw life fund consolidator The Phoenix Group grow from 800 to around 4,300 employees in the UK, the organisation set out to ensure that benefits provisions are clearly aligned, and that there is a strong emphasis on employee wellbeing.

Although the acquisition of Standard Life Assurance was firmly aligned with the organisation’s growth plans, it presented a challenge in terms of ensuring that the employee experience and benefits offering is fair and universal, not least because it added an Edinburgh office to existing sites in Basingstoke, Bristol, Glasgow, London and Wythall.

Vicky Campbell, HR consultant at The Phoenix Group, explains: “It’s a real, big piece for us, two organisations coming together with two different benefits packages. Part of the review [that began in March 2019] is about [aligning] the two, so that when we do come through [with] a group solution, it’s one that’s fair and equitable to all.”

One way the business has sought to achieve this is by rolling out its private medical insurance (PMI) benefit to all employees. Offered on an employer-paid basis for staff and their partners, PMI used to be offered only to those in the highest three of the organisation’s five pay bands; in March 2019, it became available for all staff.

Campbell and her team are also exploring how to equalise on-site events. The Phoenix Group’s head office in Wythall (pictured) boasts expansive outdoor space, used regularly for events such as organisation-wide barbecues and festivals, as well as an annual summer half-day.

“It’s a very different culture,” says Campbell. “Edinburgh has an office within the city centre, so we have to try and make sure that what we are doing going forward is bespoke to each of the sites but is also [fair].”

The Phoenix Group is in the process of devising a new set of values, to better align the two businesses as one.

Employee wellbeing

In the midst of so much change, employee wellbeing has undoubtedly been confirmed as an important agenda item, linking to engagement, attraction and retention strategies, as well as wider corporate aims.

Sally Glarvey, head of engagement, corporate social responsibility (CSR), diversity and events at The Phoenix Group, says: “Wellbeing has become a standalone part of the whole strategy, in terms of looking after the mental health of our employees and their physical health as well. [We take pride in] things like the events that we do, the engagement activities that take place; those are the kinds of things that attract and retain people.”

With this in mind, The Phoenix Group has been piloting the provision of an on-site counsellor since January 2019, alongside its existing employee assistance programme (EAP). The initial four-week pilot has been extended until Campbell can confirm the provision on a permanent basis.

A focus on wellbeing is also reflected in the organisation’s flexible benefits offering, which includes subsidised gym memberships, and in the on-site events and facilities it operates at its Birmingham-based head office, where staff can access free healthy lunches, an on-site gym, tennis courts, a nature reserve walk and a putting green.

A network of support

The acquisition has enabled The Phoenix Group to build upon its existing employee offering. For example, although the organisation launched a small collection of employee networks last year, it has now amalgamated these with Standard Life’s, to align with both business strategy and its diversity and inclusion agenda.

Relaunched in February 2019, and originally launched for Standard Life employees in Edinburgh in August 2018, the Mind Matters network promotes the EAP and on-site counsellor, and provides access to work-based stress assessments.

Members are also encouraged to complete mental health first aid training. In June 2018, 50 employees underwent this training and a further 50 will complete the half-day course in May 2019. Six individuals, including Campbell, will attend a more intensive two-day training session, also in May 2019.

Diversity and inclusion

The Phoenix Group’s diversity and inclusion agenda launched in June 2017 and aims to attract, develop and retain a diverse workforce across all levels of the business, as well as share gender pay gap statistics. The Phoenix Group signed the Women in Finance Charter in 2016, a pledge for gender balance across the financial services sector, and introduced a mentoring scheme in March 2018.

Diversity and inclusion underpins the existence of employee networks such as Balance, which is currently designed for working parents, with plans to extend for all carers, Mosaic, for black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) staff, Young People’s Development, introduced at the end of 2018, and the LGBTQ network.

Campbell says: “[It is] very much a case of utilising networks to align with the business strategy in terms of the diversity and inclusion agenda, making sure that we’re trying to reduce the gender pay gap and other issues, and looking to meet our targets for the Women in Finance Charter.”

The Phoenix Group actively promotes flexible options for new and existing roles, such as part-time hours, home working and job sharing. “Flexible working, for us, [has] always been there, but I think the focus and the spotlight has really come on over the last couple of years,” Campbell explains.

The organisation has also amended its recruitment practices, standardising CVs and using a skills matrix to match applicants with job roles.

Giving back

The Phoenix Group provides staff with at least 14 hours a year for volunteering activities; this time is used not just to positively impact the local community, but also for building new skills to be brought back into the business.

“How people are achieving their objectives, part of that story is very much around extracurricular activities,” Campbell says. “We have cherry picked the types of volunteering activities that utilise team building skills and development. It is about utilising people’s skills to give something back to the department or the organisation.”

Employee feedback

With all this effort to enhance and unify the employee experience post-acquisition, measuring engagement is of the utmost importance.

In November 2018, The Phoenix Group swapped its traditional annual engagement survey for a culture survey, and the new influx of employees means that Campbell is continuing to review how to best structure this moving forwards. In previous years, participation has typically reached approximately 90%, and the organisation’s engagement index has been around 80% for the past nine years.

The organisation also uses weekly pulse surveys and an online poll on its staff intranet, asking for feedback on specific issues, events or benefits.

Last year’s acquisition has been a key influence on The Phoenix Group’s benefits strategy, and has helped create a new focus on wellbeing and fairness, Campbell concludes: “Keeping our staff motivated [while] we’re going through this transition, keeping our minds eye on diversity and inclusion, making sure we have the right make-up of people, and giving people equal opportunities within that, is definitely a big driver for us.”

At a glance

The Phoenix Group is a consolidator of closed life assurance funds, based across UK sites in Basingstoke, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Wythall. Since acquiring investment management organisation Standard Life in September 2018 the organisation has around 4,300 employees.

Typical roles include actuaries, accountants, lawyers and risk consultants, as well as functions such as HR, internal auditors and a customer team. The average age of employees is between 35 and 45 and the average length of service is nine years. The organisation’s gender split is approximately 60% male versus 40% female, with a gender pay gap of 24% in favour of men.

Business objectives

  • To spend the next 12 months fully embedding Standard Life within the current business, as well as focusing on branding.
  • To keep staff motivated throughout the transition period surrounding the acquisition.
  • To continue the acquisition trail in order to further grow the business.
  • To focus on diversity and inclusion to ensure equal opportunities.

Vicky-CampbellCareer history

Vicky Campbell, HR consultant, joined The Phoenix Group in September 2011. Prior to this, Campbell’s career centred around recruitment, primarily dealing with resourcing, resourcing consulting and head hunting, both at The Phoenix Group and other financial services organisations, such as Lloyds Banking Group.

In the last 12 months, Campbell’s focus has switched from recruitment to generalist HR and, in particular, HR consulting.

Although Campbell is proud of the project work she had done around direct sourcing models and cost saving structures, for her, brand awareness and raising the profile of The Phoenix Group is very much the key.

“Brand awareness is the biggest thing for me,” she says. “Just to make sure we’re selling the external brand as well as the internal; making sure that we’re hiring the right people [and] being a conduit of bringing all our departments together so that we act as one.”