UK Power Networks uses benefits to switch on employee engagement

UK Power Networks

For those that work or live in the south east of England, a UK Power Network van and engineer is a familiar sight. With 6,000 employees that help power homes and businesses across East Anglia, London and the south east of England, the electrical network operator distributes around 27% of the UK’s electricity.

Operating around London and the south east means that the organisation faces the talent management issues familiar to many organisations in these regions: the attraction and retention of employees in one of the most expensive parts of the country to live.

Steve Remnant, head of reward and HR services, explains that UK Power Networks has made strides within its reward strategy to tackle this. “If we have any particular issues, it’s going to be around things like mobility<‘ he explains. “It’s never easy to attract people who are living in say, Scotland, for a key role. We might be able to attract them to the south east, but as soon as they look at things like living costs, it tends to put them off. We have been trying to make that a little bit easier. For example, [in April 2017] we signed up to the Mayor of London’s initiative of employers giving interest-free loans for tenancy deposits. We’ve embraced that, not just for London but for the whole of the [organisation].”

The scheme allows all employees to borrow a tenancy deposit interest-free to move into privately-rented accommodation. In addition, the organisation recognises that many of its employees have to travel to and from London, so it offers an interest-free season ticket loan to help spread the cost of commuting. “An employer like ourselves [has] got a lot of people required to work in central London, [but] they can’t afford to live in central London, so we have to find some fairly inventive cost-effective ways in which to be able to make us an attractive proposition for a prospective employee,” says Remnant.

Focus on financial wellbeing

UK Power Networks recognises the different financial struggles faced by its multi-generational workforce today. Its workforce demographic ranges from employees who have been with the organisation for many years, through to graduates straight out of university. Due to employees’ varying financial requirements, the organisation wants to offer benefits that can help everyone, says Remnant. In 2017, UK Power Networks introduced an employee loan scheme, provided by Neyber. It also launched an online financial education programme, provided by Nudge, to supply employees with personalised financial information. Its focus on financial wellbeing was driven by employee suggestions, as well as general trends were highlighted through calls to its employee assistance programme.

Supporting employee savings 

UK Power Networks strives to offer employees as broad a range of benefits as possible. In this respect, its voluntary benefits site, Switched On, is its most popular scheme among employees, says Remnant. The organisation launched the scheme, which is provided by Reward Gateway and includes a range of retail discounts, five years ago. In the first 12 months, the organisation achieved 60% take up of the scheme, and since its launch employees have spent over £12 million through the platform.

As many of UK Power Network’s employees are field-based, the organisation ensures its benefits are communicated through a range of media. “If we want to promote a benefit it’ll be through a combination of a [organisational] announcement, through team talk, which is a cascade of employee communications down through the organisation, and digital signage in most of our depots,” says Remnant.

The organisation also uses SMS text messaging, competitions, new employee induction packs and payslip inserts for the field-based employees who receive paper payslips.

Prior to the launch of its Switched On platform, the organisation ran a teaser campaign to pique employees’ interest. “When we did the launch there was a lot of interest,” says Remnant. “It’s about pitching it at the right level and making sure [we] get the message and timings right. We are always careful when it comes to benefits that we don’t overload [the information] and we take into account other things that are going on in the business.”

Employees’ opinions on their benefits are important to the organisation. It runs an annual engagement survey and has been named one of the Sunday Times’ Top 30 Best Big Companies to Work For in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The list is based on a survey that reflects employees’ views on topics such as pay and benefits, and development opportunities.

The organisation also ensures that schemes are promoted at prominent times throughout the year to ensure employees get the most value from their benefits. “We do promotions around Christmas as a reminder that there are significant benefits and savings to be had from using these staff discount schemes,” says Remnant.

Benefits administration

To further promote the value of benefits, UK Power Networks also compiles an annual total reward statement and benefits brochure. Its in-house reward and benefits team extracts the data and produces a breakdown of employees’ remuneration over the previous 12 months along with the benefits brochure, and just uses an external mailing house for the task, explains Remnant.

In the coming months, UK Power Networks plans to further develop its benefits provision in order to offer its employees as broad a range of benefits as possible in order to attract and retain key talent.

At a glance

UK Power Networks is an electricity distributor for homes and businesses across London, East Anglia and the south east of England. It invests more than £500 million in its electricity networks each year.

The organisation has around 6,000 employees, around 80% of which are male. Many of its roles are field-based electricians and engineers. It is owned by the Cheung Kong Group, which has electricity distribution businesses in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.

UK Power Network’s brief history consists many mergers and acquisitions. In 1998, Eastern Electricity became TXU Energy and merged with London Electricity to form 24seven Utility Services in 1999. The organisation expanded when Seeboard, formerly South Eastern Electricity Board, joined under the ownership of the LE Group in 2002. In 2003, the firm rebranded to EDF Energy and was then acquired by the Cheung Kong Group in 2010, and renamed UK Power Networks.

Business objectives 

To be the best electricity distribution operator.

To become an organisation which is an employer of choice; a respected corporate citizen; and sustainably cost efficient.

Career history

Steve Remnant, head of reward and HR services, has worked in the electricity supply industry for over 30 years, and in that time has seen a lot of change, particularly during his time at UK Power Networks.

“One of the [big achievements] is being able to adapt to that constant changing environment,” says Remnant. “I actually like it, I think it’s quite refreshing. [I] could argue that one of the biggest things is being able to adapt to that and ensure that from a cultural perspective, we morph to reflect the cultural values of the owners.”

Remnant’s background was in production control-type roles until he joined the organisation when it was Eastern Electricity, at which point he moved into the HR function.

Benefits available:

Pensions and financial wellbeing

  • Electricity supply industry final salary pension scheme, closed to new entrants.
  • EDF Energy defined benefit scheme, closed to new entrants.
  • Defined contribution (DC) group personal pension scheme open to all employees. Matching 2:1 contributions, up to 10% from the employer.
  • Tenancy loan deposit scheme.
  • Financial education programme.
  • Workplace loans scheme.

Healthcare and group risk

  • Self-insured private medical trust for managers and collective agreement staff on single person level.
  • Life insurance at four-times salary.
  • Dental insurance for managers and above.
  • Employer-funded health cash plan for all employees.
  • Employee assistance programme.

Company cars and travel

  • Company car for business use only.
  • Car or cash option for managers and above.
  • Season ticket loans.
  • Bikes-for-work scheme.

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Worklife balance

  • Career break option for six months or one year.
  • Flexible-working hours.
  • Childcare vouchers scheme.
  • 25 days holiday per year as standard.

Other benefits

  • Voluntary discounts scheme.
  • Long-service awards after 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years’ service.
  • Discounted sports and social clubs.