Business News

A swimming pool, gym and staff restaurant – just some of the ways Irish Life looks after its employees

By Business & Finance
27 July 2018
Employee Experience Breakfast Briefing, hiring, future of work
Professor Niall Moyna, School of Health & Human Performance, Dublin City University (DCU); Sarah Manning, HR Director EMEA, Zendesk; Simone Macleod-Nairn, Executive Director & Head of HR, Irish Life and Lisa Finnegan, HR Director, LinkedIn (Photo: Karl Burke).

In the Employee Experience series, sponsored by Irish Life, we ask leading companies’ HR departments about their employee engagement initiatives and how they have created the most optimal workplace for their staff. This week Irish Life’s Chief People Officer and Group Head of Corporate Resources Simone Macleod-Nairn speaks on the company’s many initiatives.


Irish Life has been helping people in Ireland look after their families’ life insurance, pensions and investments for over 75 years. In 2016 the company launched Irish Life Health to offer health insurance too.

In July 2013, Irish Life became part of the Great-West Lifeco group of companies, one of the world’s leading life assurance organisations with an estimated $1.4 trillion in assets. With more than one million customers in Ireland, it’s fair to say Irish Life is one of the country’s leading financial services companies.

Simone Macleod-Nairn, Chief People Officer and Group Head of Corporate Resources, oversees almost 3,000 Irish Life staff. We spoke to her about Irish Life’s initiatives for their employees.

World-class employee experience

Simone Macleod-Nairn

Having recently returned to Ireland after being based in London for many years with different global companies, Simone was struck by the world-class standard of employee benefits offered by her new employer when she joined Irish Life last year.

“The employee benefits package for Irish Life staff is really extensive,” she said. “It focuses on salary, integrated benefits, health and wellbeing – a holistic employee experience that’s second to none with health insurance for all staff and a great pension scheme. People come here for a job but they stay long-term because of the benefits, the development support and the challenging and fulfilling opportunities available.”

In a competitive employment marketplace, Simone firmly believes that offering employees a full and rounded package is imperative:

Because the jobs market is buoyant at the moment, candidates are making decisions not just about roles, but about the overall employee experience and the culture of the company too. It’s about the entire opportunity, not just the benefits—Irish Life is a standout employer that offers the complete employee experience.

Values driven

Simone reveals that the organisation is incredibly varied in the staff it employs, but shared values are the glue that holds it all together. “We hire such a wide range of professionals. The breadth of our business and skill set is phenomenal—from actuarial to communication roles; from customer service to IT. After the IT/tech giants we are the largest employer of IT specialists in Ireland. We have six different businesses and Group Functions that offer multiple opportunities,” she said.

Simone continued, “We are a values-driven organisation. Our core values; customer-first, integrity, professional people and respect and reward, guide everything we do from the top down. Living these values is a real focus for our strategy.”

Looking outwards there is a significant CSR programme that the company invests more than €800,000 in every year. There is also a strong offering for employees on-campus, including a swimming pool, a gym and staff restaurant.

“We’re trying to think about our employees from the moment they enter the door in the morning until the moment they leave and how we can make them feel it’s a good employee experience,” explained Simone.

Direct Engagement with employees

The company run an employee engagement survey with employees on a yearly basis. According to Simone, the follow-up to that survey is what really matters:

“What’s very important from my perspective is that we act on those results, so employees feel that when they engage, they can be open and honest and we respond to their feedback. One of the outcomes we had from our employee engagement survey is that we set up cross-functional programmes that are completely employee-led, not run by HR.

A group of between seven and ten employees in each function follow up on the results of the employee engagement survey, and create new initiatives such as health and wellbeing programmes.

“We have also implemented a Live Your Life policy. This year we launched ‘Six Reasons to Smile’ where we’ve made real changes to six leave policies. We’ve enhanced our maternity leave policy to 26 weeks and our paternity policy with 8 weeks full paid leave. We launched a sabbatical policy for employees with more than 10 years’ service. We’ll also be giving employees two days off for significant ‘lifetime events’ so it doesn’t impact their holiday leave —whether it’s moving house, your child starting school, getting married—staff will get an additional 2 days leave per lifetime event.”

Constantly listening

“We’re no different to any other organisation, we have constant challenges. The Irish market is very buoyant at the moment and we are reacting to that in a very agile way.

We are constantly listening to our employees. I’m lucky in that it’s an amazing organisation with a fabulous culture with really talented, passionate people.

Based on insights from our employees, we set up our diversity and inclusion committee about 18 months ago. The steering committee, of 25 employees from right across the organization and from all levels, makes sure that everything we do now has a diversity and inclusion lens.”

A progressive employer

“We perform strongly in a highly competitive market. We have a solid reputation in the marketplace; one we’ve had for a long time,” underlines Simone. “I want people to know that as well as our strong heritage, we are a progressive employer. We attract and retain diverse talent across the various disciplines Irish Life offer.”

As a big company, Irish Life looks to give its employees a positive employee experience and movement upwards in the business: “We are a large organisation and are committed to giving employees ongoing opportunities to upskill, with continuous development on offer. We are trying to introduce an agile way of working across the organisation and we are introducing workshops and methodologies to do that.

We’re also launching a ‘top talent programme’ and a key focus of mine personally is our accelerated programme for female talent.”

“A lot has changed since Irish Life was established in 1939”, Simone concluded by emphasising the importance of companies moving in step with the times: “The culture has evolved while retaining the best of its welcoming, professional, customer-focused nature. It’s a very open culture. We have employees who have worked here for a very long time, which I think is testament to the culture and we have no problem attracting millennials either.”

Simone continued, “From the feedback I am getting, employees are motivated, happy and proud to be part of Irish Life. That’s what it’s all about; a happy, healthy workforce – delivering for our customers, because of their positive employee experience.”

The Employee Experience Award sponsored by Irish Life will be held in October and nominations are open now. Categories include: Diversity, War for Talent, Agile Working and the overall Employee Experience Award. If you wish to nominate your company please fill in a very short questionnaire here.