Virgin Media cures high sickness rates with analytics

Janine Milne Profile picture for user jmilne October 26, 2015
A small analytics team can make a big impact as Virgin Media can testify. 

Telecoms giant Virgin Media is about to embark on a huge infrastructure project, digging trenches that laid end-to-end would stretch round the equator and connecting to another four million homes in the UK.

Aggy Dhillon, head of People Insight at Virgin Media, says:

As you can imagine, we’re going through huge amounts of change and we’re in planning mode. We think HR analytics will really help drive that strategy.

HR Analytics has quickly become an indispensable HR tool, becoming one of the five pillars of HR to drive through the change, even though the People Insight (analytics) team was only set up a year ago.

Yet out of 100-strong HR team servicing Virgin’s 13,800 employees, just three are in the People Insight team. But Dhillon is keen to demonstrate that:

 You can do quite a lot with a lean number of people over quite a large organization.

The Insight team’s first project was to look at absence figures. But before it could begin any analysis, it needed to locate the data and verify how clean it was.

A lot of this data was held in separate systems: core data is in Oracle, while there are separate systems for talent management and resourcing.

Despite these disparate data sources, Dhillon believes this is no barrier to starting analytics:

You don’t need to invest in a huge amount of systems integration and we did a lot of work in Excel.

A high proportion of Virgin Media’s employees work in call centers. Analysis showed that there was high engagement and low attrition rates among this 20% of the workforce.

While that was clearly a fantastic result, the Insight team also noted that there were very high absence rates of on average 20 days each a year, which clearly had huge financial implications for the company. Dhillon expands:

We identified which particular contact centers had particularly high absence rates and we went into the business and showed them the data.

There was a feeling with contact centers that they didn’t have sickness or absence problems, so we did a lot of work around really validating that data for them.

What they found was that there was a real lack of knowledge about absence policies and that Virgin’s policy was also more lenient than the industry standard.

Through a combination of tightening up the policy, educating line managers and introducing sickness champions to help push through the message and ensure actions were taken, absence rates did fall.

In some contact centers there was a dramatic reduction in absence rates from 9% to 4%, making savings of about £750,000. According to Dhillon:

The reason we were successful was we had a load of untapped data sources, we had a growing reason for doing the project and when the leadership team saw the data, they believed it.

Dhillon stresses that none of this would have been possible without first having the right environment within the HR team.


As analytics is fairly new to Virgin, the Insight team took time to educate business partners and HR partners through workshops and training, in a bid to make analytics part of the everyday language of HR.

Initially, the training focused on explaining the business benefits of HR analytics, largely through presenting case study examples of how it’s been successfully applied.

The second part of the program covered the technical aspects of creating graphs, data visualization and making effective presentations.

The team was also able to call on existing relationships with HR business partners. Dhillon adds:

With three people in Insight, we realized we can’t do everything, but we used relationships that already existed. And the other thing we had is we had a measurable outcome.

According to Dhillon, the team is now trying to embed analytics further into the HR ethos:

The next thing for us and it’s a real opportunity and challenge for us is how do we change the culture for in our HR community?

It’s aiming to do this by incorporating analytics experience into its recognition scheme, by nominating champions to help out the agenda and by including it in the recruitment process.

With this early success under its belt, the Insight team is now thinking of its next analytics challenge and delving into predictive analytics. Dhillon says:

We’ve concentrated on things people can see and touch, and that’s given us a strong business case, but the next challenge is to look at some intangibles.

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