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Virgin Holidays

How Virgin Holidays make the employee experience live up to the brand

Kate Fenton

Former Internal Communications Manager

Virgin Holidays

I have always been impressed with how customer-focused People Insight has been. They are incredibly supportive throughout the whole process and always willing to discuss new ideas and new trends for measurement.
Kate Fenton

About Virgin

Virgin is one of the most successful brands ever – a spectacular collection of energetic and vibrant businesses run by Britain’s best-loved entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson.

So, with its high profile and glamorous image, surely Virgin Holidays has no need for employee engagement? Not so, says Virgin Holidays Internal Communications Manager, Kate Fenton. In fact, ensuring they live up to the hype is one of the company’s biggest priorities.

“Understanding our staff is a key objective, and delivering an engagement survey to our employees across the world is one of Virgin Holidays’ priorities to achieve this.”

Kate explains: “I have always been impressed with how customer-focused People Insight has been. They are incredibly supportive throughout the whole process and always willing to discuss new ideas and new trends for measurement.”

“We have used them for a number of years now and that’s because they truly understand our very complicated structure. They understand it isn’t just people using traditional reporting lines at Virgin Holidays but it’s a multitude of teams based around the world.

“Virgin Holidays is unique and I have never worked in a place that is so focused on their staff. Our staff, regardless of where they are, get messages very quickly and are at the centre of everything we do.”

So how has Virgin Holidaysused the survey feedback?

On the back of these surveys we implemented think tanks to get a further understanding of the results we were seeing. Each area implemented a ‘high five’ plan to tackle the top five trends from their specific section. Rather than put a one general plan forward, we focused on individual departments because they all face different challenges.

“We are so driven to improving the lives and careers of employees that our surveys are more about ‘what else can we do?’ than ‘what are we doing wrong?’. It’s showing people that we care by actively encouraging them to ask ‘what else do you want from us?’, particularly as we have a lot of staff who are Generation Y.

“We also want to find out whether this experience differs for staff who may be working overseas. Our retail business has expanded rapidly since 2007 so now half of our staff work away from headquarters. What does that mean for them? We want to find out.”

It would be easy for Virgin Holidays to be complacent about staff engagement. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

“We see it the other way,” says Kate. “We have to live up to our brand and give people the best working experience they can ever have. Our aim is to make them feel valued and for each one to be a real ambassador for this business.

“We have had great scores from our most recent survey, both in terms of the volumes of people completing the survey and their engagement rate. We are so far ahead of the benchmark figure for companies of our size and while you would expect that from a Virgin business, it’s also a reputation we have to live up to each and every day.

There is always a competitive element when it comes to doing our surveys. We want to improve completion rates (our last survey was 93 per cent) and there is a lot of competitive rivalry between the different departments. We give staff regular updates and everyone can see that being involved does make a real difference.


A lot of the work for the surveys is done in-house beforehand just to create enough noise so that people actually look forward to completing them. Last year we branded Time Out bars and went around the country with a roadshow to promote it. That’s how seriously we take this exercise.

As you would expect, Virgin Holidays has become so good at talking to its staff that there are countless opportunities to raise matters of importance.

“We have a staff committee and we have encouraged every member to talk back to us,” she said. “The survey is by no means the only chance they have to get their points across but we need to provide a multitude of options for everyone as they all want to communicate in different ways.”

The High Five plan explored the things we were doing well and celebrating them, not just looking at areas which need attention. Spreading positivity is important because it’s infectious.

A lot of emphasis has been put on staff wellbeing, adding to their programme of benefits to improve their health as well some of the perks like travel and pensions. We really want to listen, so one of the things we have introduced is a singing group. A lot of research has shown that singing improves your health and wellbeing. We are also offering massages at work as well as health checks for staff. It’s part and parcel of looking after your staff.

“Of course, given the competitive nature of the company, the director team at Virgin Holidays are hugely focused on improving the scores each year,” says Kate.

They value this feedback enormously. Our director team fully embrace the fact that people who are engaged are more productive. Whether you employ two people or 20,000, it’s so important to know what they’re thinking and how you can capitalise on every situation.