Virgin Pulse was founded in 2004 as part of entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, with the aim of designing technology that cultivates good habits in employees and improves their health and wellbeing, boosts company culture, and generates potent outcomes, ROI, and VOI for organizations around the globe.
For this edition, we spoke with Chris Michalak, CEO, and Garrett Browne, Regional Manager, Europe and LATAM.
Chris, organizations globally are in the midst of building post-pandemic actions. What are the challenges you are currently facing in your role?
As a global leader in digital health and wellbeing, our mission is to change lives and businesses for good.
Our biggest challenge right now is how significantly work and life are changing for our members. Their need for wellbeing programs that empower daily habits and personal care are critical to their mental and physical health. Virgin Pulse provides highly scalable, dynamic solutions for employers, health plans, and health systems so they can evolve for their people. We are doing that in four main ways:
1. More personalized and in the moment: More than ever, our customers need a solution to address all individual needs of their people. Often, it is not so much the resources that are lacking, but rather the awareness and empowerment about how to use the right resources at the right time. Personalization is paramount to ensure people engage with the resources available.
2. High-tech and human touch: Due in large part to the pandemic, there is growing adoption of clinical needs being met with telehealth and other virtual care services, as well as increased use of mobile health applications. Approximately three out of four patients say that wearable devices and other digital health tools help them cope with and manage their conditions. At Virgin Pulse, we have seen a 46% increase in customers offering live services (coaches and guides) for their collaborators. There is a deep need for connection and support that has resurfaced and is here to stay.
3. Meet the needs of a hybrid workforce: Employers are navigating a highly-varied workforce that is in-person and remote, domestic and international, full-time and part-time. Our on-demand mobile application is rated 4.9 stars (out of 5) for ease of use and flexibility. Individuals can log in at any time to engage with health and wellbeing resources, their community, or even a global activity challenge. We meet members wherever they are.
4. Mental health support: Nearly two years of quarantine, shutdowns, political unrest, and protests have brought mental health to the forefront. Our customers recognize how vital it is to have support in this area, but that doesn’t mean they know how to provide it. Although there is less stigma around mental health today, there are thousands of mental health support solutions on the market for them to choose from. Businesses need help understanding what is best for their population and, specifically, for this continuum-of-care spectrum. Perhaps most notable in recent months is that the end user is exhausted and looking for more balance in this new hybrid world. Our clients are dealing with the fallout from the year dubbed The Great Resignation. But burnout can be prevented in part through balance and strong wellbeing: our area of expertise.
We are also navigating external challenges. The VUCA world we live in forces us to be agile and innovative while anticipating and planning to deal with the various risks and obstacles we will inevitably face at some point.
The only viable way to overcome all these challenges is if people are healthy and happy to work toward a common mission, no matter what their role is within Virgin Pulse.
Garrett adds: “Virgin Pulse is enabling its members to take better care of their own health and wellbeing, and we do this in a holistic way – not only addressing the physical and mental wellbeing, but also social and financial wellbeing.”
Michalak was recognized for his leadership in Software Report’s 2020 Top 50 Technology Services CEOs list.
In your experience as CEO, what has been the evolution of wellbeing as an agenda in organizations?
Let me develop this from a global perspective as there are differences internationally versus what we experience in the U.S. due to the specific nature of the American healthcare system. What we have seen in recent years outside the U.S. is that wellbeing has gone from being a “nice to have” to “mission critical” for organizations across the board. The pandemic has accelerated this and opened the eyes of many CEO and leaders. However, despite the devastating impact the pandemic has had on people around the world, there can still be some hesitation when it comes to investing in health and wellbeing. Our job is to demonstrate to leaders how we can successfully and sustainably address and improve health and wellbeing for those who work in their organizations on a hyper-personalized level while also meeting business objectives. In essence, we are generating value and a positive return for all people.
The post-pandemic hybrid reality is becoming more relevant in the world and breaking the myth of work-life barriers. How do you see this from the Virgin Pulse culture?
Several years ago, prior to COVID-19, Virgin Pulse implemented a hybrid work model that allowed our people to easily work from home. During the pandemic, many people adopted this hybrid work model as a way to reduce the risk of infection and also to support a better work-life balance.
Two years after the start of the pandemic, I feel that people have largely adapted to the hybrid way of working and that this model is here to stay, not just for Virgin Pulse, but for organizations around the world.
While there are those who continue to struggle with separating work and personal life in the post-pandemic world, I believe leaders should have open conversations with their people to foster flexibility, to encourage them to maintain balance in their lives, as well as provide them with what they need to learn to self-manage the work-life balancing act due to different personal situations and circumstances.
We pride ourselves on giving people the flexibility they need to be the best version of themselves and, therefore, the best for our clients.
What are the Virgin Pulse values?:
– One Team, One Dream: Our diversity is our strength. We collaborate as a team —we learn, grow, adapt, succeed, and celebrate together. No matter our background, we are all committed to the same vision — changing lives and businesses for good.
– We Deliver: We are accountable to each other, to our company, and to our clients. Others make promises — we deliver. We have a responsibility our clients to continue to innovate and lead the industry. Therefore, we must think big, take risks, and ask the tough questions to be able to consistently deliver.
– Live it and Breathe It: We believe in this company and its vision. We lead by example and are a culture of health and engagement; focused on personal and professional growth, development, and wellbeing; and support each other in bringing our best selves to work, every day.
What would you recommend to other leaders about the importance of wellbeing in their companies?
Our employees can only be engaged, happy, eager to learn, and productive when they show up to work physically and mentally healthy. Having a strategic wellbeing program in place that supports each person regardless of where they are on their own personal journey is business-critical for any organization to grow, thrive, and retain key talent.
Implementing and executing a wellbeing strategy may take time and effort, but the investment is definitely worth it in the long run. Our research shows that an effective health and wellbeing platform can reduce sick days, increase employee engagement, reduce healthcare spending, and improve the lives of employees and their families. Today’s leaders must see the connection between wellbeing and productivity and invest in programs to generate better results for their customers and shareholders. It’s an investment with a clear and tangible ROI.
How does Virgin Pulse promote diversity and inclusion?
Garrett: Wellbeing and DEI are inextricably linked. Companies must implement policies and programs that address employee wellbeing and DEI holistically. But one single solution won’t accomplish this. Employers must take a series of actions to ensure every part of their workforce has the resources and information they need. Some examples from within Virgin Pulse are:
– Upskilling our managers and providing training for leaders on how to manage during times of social unrest.
– Embedding mindful DEI practices into our talent strategy – e.g., adding more inclusive language in job descriptions to encourage applicants whose experience and resume looks a a bit different from the listed summary and qualifications.
– Bringing in and compensating subject matter experts – hiring a Director of DEI and adding further Health Equity and Diversity experts to our Science Advisory Board.
– Showcasing diverse employee stories
– Creating wellbeing-centered Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
A piece of advice for young people looking for a new job
Chris: My advice is to take a risk in the pursuit of your passion. Today’s job market provides unlimited opportunities to explore and find an organization and role that truly inspires you. Be curious, open-minded, take responsibility, and do the best you can in whatever you choose for your vocation.
Garrett: Similar to what Chris mentioned, it is so important to seek out companies that have a clear mission and purpose that you can identify with.
For Chris Michalak, the top 5 skills for jobs in the future are:
– Authenticity: being your true and best self is the best skill to bring to work every day.
– Teamwork: encourage collaboration and sharing of ideas among diverse teams.
– Self-management: manage your time and workload but, more importantly, manage your perspective and positivity.
– Problem Solving: adopt innovative thinking.
– Learning/Adaptability: Change is constant. We must learn to deal with change, be resilient, and adapt when the unexpected happens.
Chris Michalak | CEO at Virgin Pulse
Garrett Browne | Regional Manager, Europe and LATAM at Virgin Pulse