How SSE engages employees to increase pension contributions

Scottish energy multinational SSE was one of the first employers to become accredited by the living pension scheme in 2023. The Living Pension savings target is 12% of a full-time living Wage worker’s salary, of which the employer pays at least 7%. With SSE contributions averaging 16%, it is clear the firm has cracked a winning formula for encouraging staff to engage with pensions.

When Frazer Thomson, head of pensions, joined the organisation two years ago, the most common question he heard was: ‘Am I saving enough for retirement?’ Average contributions were already quite high, so one extra positive of the living pensions accreditation is that it gives comfort to employees that they are getting a good deal.

One reason behind high contribution levels is SSE’s communications strategy. Thomson has run campaigns to talk to as many people as possible through virtual sessions, reaching about 5,500 out of a workforce of 12,000. Making sure communications come from SSE, in its own language, is more effective and engaging than relying only on content from the pension provider, he adds.

Particularly powerful was a session on retirement living standards, bringing to life what a comfortable retirement would look like and translating that back into pounds and pence. “That gets people’s cogs ticking over,” says Thomson. “It’s about helping people to envisage that time, contextualising it in terms of contribution rates, not talking about the mechanics of pensions. It’s more effective to appeal to emotions.”

One challenge is the diversity of the organisation. Not everyone works in an office or on a computer, with many people out day and night on infrastructure projects. Thomson admits getting the message to this population is more challenging (“we love a good poster”). An effective approach has been partnering with colleagues in wellbeing, including pensions and financial wellbeing information in a wellbeing hub. Employees who drive SSE vans were sent a sticker with a QR code to access the hub, encouraging them to engage with it on their phones whenever suited.

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While there was concern at the start of the cost-of-living crisis about people cutting pension contributions, that has not been the case. This is partly due to communications and SSE taking other steps to help financially, such as advancing pay increases. Now at least 100 people per month voluntarily increase contributions.

Honesty is key. Employers should understand that while pensions are important, people have other financial demands, such as debt, that sometimes rightly take precedence. “It’s about helping people to understand what they are giving up so they can make an informed decision,” Thomson says. “Quantify the impact: ‘this is what you will get in your pay packet and this is what you’re giving up in your pension’. People aren’t daft, they are used to making hard financial decisions.”