Admiral group: Ahead of the fleet

Admiral Group recently won the Best Workplaces 2012 Award for large employers. spoke to People Services Department Manager Richard Thorne to find out about their award-winning policies.

What does a healthy organisation look like? Admiral Group recently won the Best Workplaces 2012 Award for large employers.

The financial services and insurance firm was praised for developing and rewarding its employees, its extensive training programme to promote career progression, including a new online learning system, and for putting an emphasis on employees’ personal development.

Its overall ethos is based on encouraging staff well being. Work life balance fits within this. “We are constantly trying to make sure we have the correct balance for our employees,” says Richard Thorne, People Services Department Manager at Admiral, The company is so serious about it that it has a group of people from across the business and from different levels which monitors staff health.

“They are all interested in maintaining a healthy workforce,” states Thorne, for instance, they encourage staff to cycle to work. He adds that there is a good business reason for the focus on well being since happy and healthy staff work better.

Recently the group ran the company’s first employee health survey and is looking to come up with a number of actions, such as stress awareness sessions for managers. One of the things that emerged from the survey was that staff want more advice on exercise and nutrition and access to a free gym close to their homes. “We look to our employees to lead us ,” says Thorne.

Applications for flexible working are open to all staff at the firm and managers can agree it at a local level. Mostly it is agreed informally and there is support for managers about how to make it work. “The main driver behind it is that people are happy when they come to work and give 100% while they are here,” says Thorne.

It is currently trialling small-scale homeworking, but it has encountered some technical issues such as data security and adapting a work culture built on team work. “A large part of our business is built on our team environment,” says Thorne.

“We are just a bit cautious because we don’t want anyone to miss out on our team building and camaraderie. It’s about striking the right balance and asking people what support they need without looking like we are being too intrusive and checking up on them.” One way of getting around the team working issue is to combine homeworking with regular team meetings in the office.

Staff development

Admiral has been recognised for its emphasis on staff development. It runs several reward schemes to incentivise employees. All staff, for instance, get free shares based on the business’ performance. “It means staff have a stronger interest in the business doing well, “ says Thorne. “It shows that their performance can directly affect their pocket.” There are also localised incentive schemes. These include general incentives which teams can spend on anything from a lunch to a Wii Fit.

Allied to the focus on incentives is an interest in employees’ personal development. Admiral’s choir, the Inspire Choir, was singled out for praise by Best Workplaces.

The choir was set up to help employees’ vocal health since many spend a lot of their time on the phone. Membership is voluntary. “The idea was to take a small number of people away from their normal work and re-energise them as well as helping with their vocal health,” says Thorne. The choir performs at different events such as staff general meetings and runs vocal health sessions for new starters.

Admiral is also keen to emphasise its career progression plans. “We treat everyone the same and they are given structured career development plans – bronze, silver and gold – to help them progress through each management level. Managers encourage them to get the skills they need to progress to the next level,” states Thorne.

This includes women coming back from maternity leave, most of whom come back part time and may eventually build back up to full time. “Some”, says Thorne, “may need some training if they have taken a lot of time out and technology has moved on.”

The policy of gradual return is open to anyone who takes time out. Thorne says the company is keen that people do not overwork and its chief executive leads by example, always taking a lunch break.

He adds that there is a good business reason for doing so. “If people are stressed out or burnt out they cannot work properly. We want to make sure people enjoy coming to work.”

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