Virgin Management receives 2016 Health and Wellbeing Award

The company behind the licensing of the Virgin brand was recognised this week for its efforts to put employee wellbeing at the heart of its operation. We look at how Virgin Management won the Personnel Today Award for Health and Wellbeing and the submissions of the other finalists.


Virgin Management

About the organisation
Virgin Management Limited (VML), based in London, provides advisory and managerial support services. It identifies new brand investment opportunities; manages the licensing of Virgin brand; and develops the brand globally through collaborative marketing and partnership opportunities. It also collaborates with existing portfolio companies to enhance performances through data insights.

The challenge
It became apparent in 2013 that the health and wellbeing of employees was playing second fiddle to mergers, acquisitions and day-to-day business, and VML needed to break the cycle. It wanted to make a wholesale change rather than a simple HR initiative: something that would make wellbeing a business imperative. It initiated a full-scale culture change among the workforce, placing wellbeing and work-life balance at the heart of it.

Health and Wellbeing – the judges

Dr Fiona Robson, University of Roehampton
Lawrence Mitchell, RBI
Eugene Farrell, Employee Assistance Professionals Association
Noel O’Reilly, Occupational Health & Wellbeing

What the organisation did

  • Introduced “super-flexible working”, meaning that employees can now work contracted hours whenever/wherever they like. This could include compressed hours during school holidays or enabling some to visit family overseas.
  • Allowed staff to take as much annual leave whenever they want. New holiday/absence management software identifies who isn’t taking enough leave and why, and helps managers better understand sickness absence, which was never formally recorded.
  • Launched a new initiative that allows partners to share 50 weeks’ leave and 37 weeks’ maternity pay – typically at statutory rate. Also offers working parents with more than four years’ service 100% of their basic salary over 52 weeks.
  • Partnered with Virgin Pulse, giving employees the technology to track their fitness/nutrition using wearable devices.
  • Introduced a variety of health initiatives, including the ability to earn “HealthMiles”, with rewards including veg boxes and massages; quarterly challenges, with cash/wellbeing-related prizes for progress; free taster sessions in massage, yoga etc; and free health assessments with Nuffield Health.
  • Offered subsidised gym membership through Virgin Active, onsite mini-health assessments, and free day passes during gym open weeks; and free/subsidised entrance to race events.
  • Supplied free lunches, fresh fruit and nuts, daily – alongside free chocolate on payday, “pastry Fridays” and bake-off competitions.
  • Introduced “Nudge”, an online financial education and wellbeing tool, which provides financial advice ranging from monthly budgeting to mortgage assistance. Employees can share Pulse with up to five friends/family members for free.
  • Promoted all initiatives through VML’s active employee forum and “wellbeing champions” using media including email, videos, FAQs, focus groups, the internal magazine, intranet and team meetings.

Benefits and achievements

  • The latest employee engagement survey, conducted by People Insight, shows engagement has increased by 11.3% from 2011 – to 88%.
  • In 2012, only 25% of those on maternity leave returned to work. In 2015, the figure was 100%.
  • Overall, voluntary turnover has decreased 51% (15.94%: 2012-13; 7.8%: 2015-16).
  • Employees take four days above their contractual holiday allowance.
  • Sickness absence averages 0.2% (April 2015 to March 2016).
  • Majority (95%) of all employees earn HealthMiles.
  • Pulse platform enrolment is 63% (Pulse customer average: 35-40%).
  • More than half (52%) of VML Pulse members take recommended amounts of activity, averaging 7,939 steps/day.
  • There has also been uplift in employees agreeing with the following statements, versus 2014: “I’m able to take advantage of flexible working” (+3% to 83%); “My company cares for its people and their wellbeing” (+7% to 87%); “I’m able to take advantage of unlimited leave” (+4% to 55%).

Judges’ comments
“Innovative combination of flexible working practices and cutting-edge communication make the company’s approach really stand out.”

Virgin Management collect their 2016 Award for Health & Wellbeing

Virgin Management collect their 2016 Award for Health & Wellbeing


British Gas

About the organisation
British Gas is an energy and home services provider. Serving around 12 million homes in the UK, it is the biggest UK energy supplier and is considered one of the “big six” dominating the gas and electricity market in the UK.

The challenge
British Gas recognised that its employees spend a large amount of time at work and felt it was important to promote a healthy work-life balance where its people are valued and their individuality respected. It wanted to integrate wellbeing both at home and in the workplace to help its employees benefit from a holistic joined-up health and wellbeing approach, while assisting employees to avoid ill-health through injury or disease.

What the organisation did

  • Partnered with Nuffield Health to develop a wellbeing programme that included face-to-face, seminar and digital support and analysis.
  • Enabled British Gas employees to access health checks through Nuffield Health to identify body composition, pathology, musculoskeletal and mental health risks.
  • Delivered bespoke events following health checks, on topics such as “sit less/move more”, “small victories”, “stretch and flex”, “men’s/female health” and “mindful eating”.
  • Launched a wellbeing app to provide employees with information on sleep, employee assistance programmes, money advice, keeping fit, healthy eating and preventing muscular aches and pains.
  • Encouraged each part of the business to elect a wellbeing champion or a team of champions to deliver the wellbeing message across the sites working closely with senior management, wellbeing management and Nuffield Health.
  • Compiled questionnaire data, which was sent to Nuffield Health for analysis.
  • Produced annual bulletins (digital and hard copy), which included seasonal and general hints and tips on staying fit and well.
  • Installed health kiosks at a number of their offices that move around the country every quarter; again further enabling employees to check their wellbeing measurements.

Benefits and achievements

  • Since the launch of the wellbeing app, there have been more than 55,000 hits.
  • More than 9,000 health checks have taken place using the kiosks.
  • Employees rated wellbeing events nine out of 10 overall.
  • Nuffield Health manages to support a further 5,000 employees per year using interaction sessions.
  • Employee questionnaires revealed that between 2013 and 2015, 9.5% improved their body mass index, 17.5% improved their cholesterol, 9.5% improved their blood pressure and 2% improved their glucose levels.
  • Employees witnessed an improvement in overall body composition by 3.7%, in blood pressure by 1.9%, in cholesterol levels by 6.4%, in postural stability by 4.4%, in hydration by 10.7% and a positive reduction in alcohol consumption by 4.3%.

Judges’ comments
“Comprehensive approach to health checks and good to see online support for employees.”

Department for Work and Pensions

About the organisation
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is responsible for welfare, pensions and child maintenance policy. As the UK’s biggest public service department it administers the state pension and a range of working age, disability and ill-health benefits to more than 22 million claimants and customers. It employs around 84,500 people across 950 locations.

The challenge
DWP challenged itself to be “Fit for the future” by bringing together key policy teams under one umbrella, allowing a strategic focus on: the need to support ageing workforce and carers; cutting absence and increasing take-up of existing services; increasing its understanding of mental health; and adapting to meet the changing needs of its customers by making services available over longer periods of time. It also wanted to reinforce individual responsibility for looking after health.

What the organisation did

  • Worked with its partners in employee assistance and occupational health to design and deliver mental health workshops, and introduced mental health first aiders.
  • Piloted “Healthy high performance”; a holistic programme that works closely with employees to get to the heart of issues impacting business performance and focuses on solutions.
  • Undertook a clinical coaching pilot to support line managers with resolving recurrent short-term absence cases.
  • Established an ageing workforce steering group and a “Fuller working lives” intranet site.
  • Promoted wellbeing activities through a network of wellbeing champions (supported by its health and wellbeing partner HASSRA, which delivers grants for wellbeing activity).
  • Delivered pioneering support through the physiotherapy advice line service, cutting sickness absence, and focused on a “fit-for-work” approach, with reasonable adjustment specialists supporting employees.
  • Upskilled line managers to become disability confident through a series of broadcasts, covering topics including reasonable adjustments and assistive technologies, and delivered popular doctor-led broadcasts covering issues such as working for longer, mental health conditions, musculoskeletal conditions and pregnancy.
  • Developed a newsletter, Flourish, focusing on disability and wellbeing, to complement the existing occupational health, employee assistance and wellbeing newsletter.

Benefits and achievements

  • Average working days lost metric has been cut to 6.18 from 11.1 in 2007 (demonstrating savings of £39 million per year).
  • The latest “People survey engagement score” was 56%, from a starting point of 46% (in 2009).
  • The Livelife Challenge in 2015 saw more than 28,000 people apply to take part in a variety of activities, ranging from a day of healthy eating to ongoing weight loss clubs, fitness clubs and the purchase of fitness equipment.
  • Perception of DWP as a caring, proactive employer has been hugely enhanced through sustained commitment to wellbeing. Quotes from employees include: “All the work being done on wellbeing shows the department cares about its staff. It makes me proud to work for the department and want to give my best,” “I felt more supported at work as a disabled employee” and “I urge everyone to take up the offer of an eye test – it may save your life – it’s possibly saved mine. I’d like to thank both the optician and the department.”

Judges’ comments
“A very broad and well-developed program that has returned excellent results.”

Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service

About the organisation
Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service aims to reduce the risks of fires, road traffic accidents and other incidents across the county through its activities. It employs more than 1,000 personnel and has a total of 31 fire stations based in strategic areas.

The challenge
Project Well4Work sought to address the rise in absence levels in 2014/15, which meant the cost of sickness absence increased to £579,072, with 8,143 shift days lost. An appraisal showed that a lot of the absence could be attributed to mental health issues; there was a lack of ownership of processes by managers; and limited information on health matters. Taking a holistic approach to health and wellbeing was an essential part of the commitment to simplify management processes and improve health referral and support routes for employees.

What the organisation did

  • With senior managers’ approval, HR led the “Well4Work” project with the primary objectives of: improving systems; increasing managers’ capability for responsive intervention; developing a network of prevention solutions; advancing employees’ understanding of health risks; and reducing absence levels.
  • Developed an electronic notification system for absence, which automatically notified managers with pre-populated forms prompting return to work or monitoring meetings.
  • Sent automated follow-up reminders and escalation workflow emails to line managers to ensure processes were followed.
  • Emailed monthly automated reports to senior managers and HR to monitor and offer support where needed, and held monthly casework review meetings involving senior managers and HR.
  • Developed the “Well4work” website to include a wider range of content for all employees, including information on diabetes and menopause.
  • Held several one-day “MOT” health checks for all employees for blood pressure and weight, and supported “Movember” testicular cancer awareness campaign.
  • Developed initiatives including the “999 Circuit Challenge” encouraging employees to engage in physical circuit activities; the “Derbyshire Workplace Challenge” enabling employees to log and increase their physical activity; and the “iPerform” programme encouraging self-reflection and analysis.
  • Introduced the “Taking the Time to Change” pledge to publicly demonstrate commitment to supporting mental health in the workplace, and provided training for managers to recognise potential signs of mental health issues.
  • Introduced critical incident support for employees, which provided more information on mental health matters and routes to further support.

Benefits and achievements

  • Saw a 14% reduction in cost of sickness absence; 21% reduction in total shifts lost; and a 23% reduction in shifts lost to long-term sickness
  • Mental ill-health is no longer the top reason for absence.
  • Achieved an 85% overall engagement score in an independent cultural survey.
  • Chief Fire Officer Terry McDermott says: “Our benchmarked engagement score of 85% is the headline result for our survey and analysis indicates that this project has been a key engagement driver which has inspired, motivated and engaged staff.”
  • Deputy Chief Executive Joy Smith says: “Providing our employees with a wealth of support means that we are able to confidently assure our communities that we remain fit to respond.”

Judges’ comments
“Excellent use of automated forms to tackle absence management combined with a range of preventive wellbeing activities that have produced solid results.”

Golding Homes

About the organisation
Established in 2004, Golding Homes is a non-profit making organisation dedicated to providing high-quality housing at affordable rents for local people in Kent. The company employs 145 staff across a range of occupations including mobile cleaners and caretakers, support coordinators and neighbourhood advisers.

The challenge

In March 2015, the senior management team was becoming increasingly concerned with the level of sickness absence which stood at 5.5% or, on average, 14.2 days per employee. Various initiatives for managing absence were in place with a few ad-hoc health and wellbeing activities, but there had never been a focused health and wellbeing programme. Management wanted to see whether or not a more proactive approach to employee health and wellbeing would have a positive impact on staff absence.

What the organisation did

  • Established a Golding Wellbeing Project Team, which would run for 12 months to 31 March 2016. The required outcome was to to develop and implement a programme of events, activities, initiatives to enhance the health and wellbeing of Golding employees.
  • The research included reviewing: health and wellbeing best practice from other housing and non-housing organisations; information from professional bodies (CIPD etc); national health and wellbeing events; information from specialist organisations (Preventative Healthcare; Benenden Healthcare and Insight); and charities supporting health and wellbeing (British Heart Foundation; Mind; Blood Pressure UK).
  • Identified that branding and communications would be key elements to the success of the health and wellbeing programme, from which a Golding wellbeing logo was developed.
  • Used a wide variety of communications to promote health and wellbeing including free giveaways to support events (pens; fruit; healthy snacks; water; branded bag).
  • Delivered more than 50 Golding wellbeing activities, including exercise challenges, health check stations, fitness advice sessions, healthcare questionnaires and stop smoking initiatives.
  • Introduced additional healthier meal option on the menu in the staff canteen, published guideline daily amounts for each meal, provided healthier snacks and fruit for events, replaced some of the vending snacks with healthier snack options, and provided mocktails and healthy canapes at the “mocktail party”.

Benefits and achievements

  • The project team produced and presented an end-of-project review report to management, which included six recommendations on the future strategy of health and wellbeing within Golding Homes.
  • The team clearly demonstrated, for very minimal direct cost (£3,000), significant financial and non-financial benefits to the organisation and its staff including:
    • a 38% reduction in absence;
    • a significant reduction in absence related to muscularskeletal (23%) and stress/depression (61%);
    • sickness absence costs reduced by in excess of £112,000; and
    • a 50% reduction in staff turnover (voluntary).
  • The organisation raised general awareness of health and wellbeing, and, as a result of the programme, many staff have made changes to their lifestyle, which will have a long-term positive impact on their personal health and wellbeing.
  • Facilitated the replacement of the staff bonus scheme with no employee relations issues and a positive staff response.
  • Number of staff joining gym corporate scheme increased.

Judges’ comments
“A varied and active program that has gained excellent participation.”

John Lewis Partnership

About the organisation
All 88,900 permanent staff of John Lewis are partners, who own 47 John Lewis shops across the UK (33 department stores, 12 John Lewis at home and shops at St Pancras International and Heathrow Terminal 2), 350 Waitrose supermarkets, an online and catalogue business, a production unit and a farm. The business has annual gross sales of more than £11 billion.

The challenge
Many of the job roles can be physically demanding. Historically, John Lewis Partnership (JLP) provided physiotherapy for its partners, but this was delivered differently across the business divisions. This approach also lacked clear transparency over the service outcomes, potentially resulting in extended absence and reduced productivity. JLP wanted to offer all partners consistent and timely access to physiotherapy services, to help reduce the incidence, duration and recurrence of musculoskeletal injuries and associated sickness absence.

What the organisation did

  • Began working with Physio Med to implement an enhanced occupational health physiotherapy service, including display screen equipment/workplace assessments and functional capacity assessments, for all partners.
  • Worked with Physio Med to implement its innovative, and award-winning, physiotherapy advice line service, which provides speedy access to a blended approach of fast-track telephone triage, remote multimedia self-management and on-site face-to-face treatment/advice.
  • Provided personalised treatment plans, exercises and advice on the best ways to assist the healing process, including: appropriate advice regarding work stations; lifestyle; medication; posture and symptomatic relief methods; and realistic advice on modifying the working day to accommodate injuries.
  • Created an individually tailored progressive exercise programme to speed up healing, communicated via comprehensive video exercise files, and accessed via computer, smartphone or tablet.
  • Made it possible to request functional capacity assessments, conducted by physiotherapists, to determine employees’ functional abilities with regards to both daily living and work tasks.

Benefits and achievements

  • Between February 2015 and January 2016, 3,200 partners used the service, receiving an initial assessment on average within 2.5 working days of the triage call.
  • Of the 1,143 who went through the blended treatment service, 70% of the cases were managed remotely, 16% were referred for face-to-face intervention after initial assessment and 14% referred for face-to-face after the full 10-day remote intervention. Majority (70%) of partners were discharged after 10 days.
  • At the point of referral, 21% of employees were absent from work, with 26% at work on modified duties and 53% at work but suffering pain and therefore operating at reduced productivity levels.
  • Of those off sick at the point of referral, 96% returned to work following treatment, representing 601 partners successfully rehabilitated back into the workplace.
  • The reported average reduction in partners’ pain was 55% and productivity and function improved, in real terms, by 26% (54.5% to 80.3%) equating to 1.3 days per person, per week on a five-day week.
  • A further 958 referrals were made for workplace assessments and functional capacity assessments.
  • JLP estimates it saved 73,700 working days, through a combination of productivity improvement (26,987 working days) and avoidance of delay through NHS availability (46,613 working days) delivering an estimated saving of more than £6.6 million – which equates to a return on investment ratio of 11:1.
  • For the 2015-16 period, the overall satisfaction level of the service was recorded at 94%.
  • In 2015, JLP in partnership with Physio Med won the 2015 Rehabilitation First Employer Award for such a proactive service.

Judges’ comments

“Excellent example of an employee benefits intervention with an impressive range of cost savings.”

Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service

About the organisation
In addition to fighting fires and dealing with other emergencies, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service is helping to keep communities safe by working closely with police, health services, local authorities and other agencies to plan for major incidents such as train derailments, floods, chemical leaks and terrorist attacks.

The challenge
As an emergency service, staff attend traumatic incidents, so mental health support is vital. Also, in a historically male-dominated workforce, the initial challenge was to change culture to ensure that men felt comfortable talking about mental health and that it is not a weakness or something to be embarrassed about.

What the organisation did

  • Introduced a support programme for staff following exposure to traumatic events such as fatalities and serious injuries.
  • Ensured that employees are trained to deliver mental health first aid (MHFA), enabling employees to recognise early signs and symptoms of mental ill-health, make emergency interventions and signpost support.
  • Introduced family liaison officers to provide appropriate support for the bereaved family if a death of a colleague on duty occurred. They have been used for additional duties, for example, to offer emotional and practical support to an individual involved in a road traffic accident.
  • Introduced stress risk assessments. These help the person return to work with a plan to help minimise their perceived stressors; assisting them to positive wellbeing.
  • Provided 24/7, 365 days of the year legal, financial, emotional and practical support to employees and their immediate families and face-to-face and telephone counselling.
  • Established the “Alcohol pathway of care” to support colleagues who are experiencing alcohol addiction issues.
  • Ensured all stations have fully functioning gyms, and that staff are given time in their working day to undertake personal and group fitness activity.
  • Represented at board level on the Cheshire and Merseyside Suicide Reduction Network and remained at the forefront of the “Zero suicide” campaign.

Benefits and achievements

  • Since launch of support programme, more than 150 critical incidents have been declared with more than 450 staff being defused post incident.
  • More than 13% of the workforce have been trained in MHFA.
  • The service has been contacted by other services for assistance with their mental health initiatives such as Merseyside Police, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service to further afield services such as Durham and Darlington Fire Service and Surrey Fire Service.
  • Showcased initiative at the regional MIND blue light conference in March 2016, highlighting how extensive the organisation’s mental health support is compared to other blue light services in the North-West.
  • Signed the Mind blue light pledge; and legacy to this project was an award of £100,000 to the Wirral Mind Blue Light Mental Health Network, a project which MFRS has been requested to show leadership and direction.
  • Stress assessments have been successful, with 97 having been undertaken.
  • Long-term sickness has decreased by more than 50%.

Judges’ comments
“A well-considered program with well-managed solutions that are delivering very good results for the organisation and the individual.”

Network Rail

About the organisation
Network Rail is the owner and infrastructure manager of most of the rail network in England, Scotland and Wales. To cope with quickly rising passenger numbers, Network Rail is currently undertaking a £38 billion programme of upgrades to the network, including Crossrail, electrification of lines, upgrading Thameslink and a new high-speed line (HS2).

The challenge
The Everyone Fit for the Future (EFFTF) strategy was set up in conjunction with Robertson Cooper in 2013, but there were still improvements needed. National Rail wanted to truly engage the largely male, disparate workforce, ranging from office staff to frontline shift-workers, demystify wellbeing, and encourage employees to take ownership of their wellbeing and improve their “mental fitness”. Other challenges included the fact that frontline workers did not have access to computers, and the workforce was predominantly male and therefore less open about health issues.

What the organisation did

  • Commissioned psychological wellbeing specialists Robertson Cooper to design and implement a data-driven, holistic approach, which connects wellbeing with positive outcomes, such as productivity gains.
  • Recruited 65 wellbeing champions across all sites to advocate the strategy at a local level.
  • Provided compatible iPads and started to develop a mobile app for frontline workers without computer access.
  • Introduced a bespoke online assessment tool, Wellbeing Snapshot, and tailored the language and communications to suit different audiences and levels of understanding, and made it available 24/7.
  • Delivered ongoing, consistent communications highlighting benefits to employees’ own wellbeing, along with incentives, including a personalised report with a “wellbeing age” to provide understanding of how behaviours impact an individual’s lifestyle and age, with tips to be happier inside and outside of work.
  • Enabled peer-to-peer support to combat the issue of a male workforce being reluctant to discuss health issues.
  • Installed health kiosks in offices (and rotated around track-bases) for employee medical checks.
  • Provided free access to Validium, an external service, offering 24/7 helpline, counselling and therapy for those who need it.
  • Organised talks on mental health and safety, and introduced a dedicated health and wellbeing portal.
  • Produced articles/advice on the intranet, with many specifically about men’s health, and a printed magazine for frontline staff.

Benefits and achievements

  • Employee wellbeing levels increased from 52.9% to 66.1%.
  • Perception of Network Rail supporting employee health rose from 56.5% to 78.9%.
  • EFFTF achieved board approval – one of only five board-approved strategies across the business.
  • After the training, managers’ confidence in their ability to spot the signs of stress increased by 18%; in having the knowledge and skills to support their teams through change increased by 15%; in their ability to host wellbeing conversations in their teams increased by 14%.
  • Data indicates that the company connected wellbeing to potential productivity gains of £7,304 per employee and by supporting employees with low wellbeing levels, it could save an estimated £1 million/year in productivity.
  • Improved employee trust and understanding, for example, a project director who became a wellbeing champion said: “I was initially sceptical, but it wasn’t complete nonsense – it makes sense.”
  • Network Rail continues to improve engagement and outcomes, including a mobile app, with other incentives being considered, such as free gym sessions.

Judges’ comments
“Very interesting that the organisation have chosen not to do the ‘norm’ and hasn’t been frightened to try different things.”

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