I’ve always been passionate about people, purpose and culture at work so it was inspiring to join our People Forum and see how much progress Virgin companies are making in this space, all around the world.
Wellbeing was the focal point of the panel I chaired with Lucinda Gemmel, chief people & culture officer for Virgin Australia; Michelle Bentubo, senior vice-president of people, culture and & travel operations for Virgin Voyages; and Caroline Simoes from the people experience team at Virgin Management.
It was interesting to see the different challenges these three businesses face. Lucinda spoke about mental health in the aviation industry and how it’s often difficult to talk openly about mental health in the industry– even though 1 in 5 of us will suffer with our mental health at some stage in our lives. The industry sector has bene slow to engage with the issue and out of fears the public will perceive the airline an unsafe. In actual fact, supporting the wellbeing of your people is the most responsible thing we can do as business leaders. Virgin Australia are working hard to break this taboo, by speaking out about the topic, providing mental health training to all frontline teams and introducing e-counselling services through their brilliant wellbeing app.
Meanwhile, Virgin Voyages is faced with a unique work-life balance challenge - given the crew will be living where they work and working where they live. They’ve had all hands on deck to ensure their policies and their ships give crew a sense of space, encourage wellness and help their crew stay connected to their lives at home with free WiFi. I was shocked to hear that this is unknown in the industry – and keeping in touch with loved ones can cost up to $150 per month out at sea.
Indeed, it was great to see both companies use technology and connectivity to tackle loneliness as the high seas and airport hotels can be isolating places. Virgin Australia stay connected to their teams and offer services such as e-counselling and wellness plans through their Better Me App, which is now used by over two thirds of their workforce. On the other side of the world, Virgin Voyages are proving that putting the wellbeing of your people first is also great for your business. Being the first cruise line to offer their crew free internet access is already creating a huge impact and, according to Michelle, has been a major recruitment asset.
Here are the top five take-aways I took on how businesses can encourage wellbeing in the workplace:
- Get creative when it comes to measuring your impact. For instance, Virgin Voyages have set an objective to recruit 50 per cent of their people from referrals.
- Find the business case. The economic benefits of a healthy and happy workforce are not hard to find and can help you build a powerful pitch.
- Ensure feedback processes are specific, embedded into the everyday, and qualitative. For example, quick and non-invasive push notifications are sent to Virgin Australia employees using the Better Me app to check-in on how they’re feeling.
- Train your team. Provide first-aid style mental health training and educate your teams on how to recognise unhealthy signs.
- Ditch the top-down approach to creating people and purpose policies. Bring in people at all levels of the organisation and let them brainstorm and evaluate your ideas.
It was inspiring to have such a thoughtful discussion about wellbeing with Lucinda, Michelle and Virgin representatives from all over the world. It’s also important that we stay ahead of the curve when it comes to world class People policies, so we can keep inspiring other businesses to follow suit. This is how we change business for good.