A breath of fresh air: HR in practice at energy services company E.ON

The business

E.ON is the world’s largest private sector energy services company, employing about 70,000 people in 14 countries, including 15,500 people in the UK. Generating and supplying electricity and distribution of gas are E.ON’s core businesses.

Its electricity output includes energy from coal-fired power stations and renewables like wind power – it operates 20 onshore wind farms, with more offshore.

The challenge

Three years ago, E.ON reviewed the services it offered to its employees and concluded that it wanted to provide health and lifestyle benefits to its entire employee base, not just the corporate staff who worked nine-to-five at its headquarters.

E.ON’s goal was to create a wellbeing programme that could be used by its whole workforce, however far-flung they were. Remote workers were an area of concern as they were identified as being more likely to grab snack food than to eat properly and they were not receiving health promotion advice.

The solution

‘Active Energy’ was launched in July 2006, following a 12-month market research and health needs audit.

E.ON looked for wellbeing programmes that offered behavioural change advice. The contract was won by Nuffield Proactive Health,  a national company with its own private hospitals and experience in promoting behavioural change. Nuffield’s network of private hospitals meant that E.ON could reach its remote workers.

Three staff were hired: two physiologists, called active energy advisers, and a co-ordinator to oversee reports and bookings.

Appointments are offered via business unit conferences, the intranet and the E.ON internal newspaper. An appointment lasts 45 minutes. A medical history is compiled and a lifestyle questionnaire completed. Medical tests include measuring height, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index and hydration levels.

Intriguingly, a heart rate variability test and a Spinal Mouse – a device that measures the shape and mobility of the spine – are both used: the PC-like mouse takes three readings in different positions, with the results shown in a computer version of an X-ray.

Advice about posture is given if necessary and exercises are recommended to improve back resilience. If a more problematic medical condition is identified then employees are referred back to their GPs.

The employee is given the results of the assessment and tests on a CD, which includes all their details and a statement of what has been recommended.

The annual cost is £150,000, a fixed cost for the contract, which includes the use of Nuffield Hospitals’ rooms.

The geographically diverse nature of the company, with employees spread over the UK from Glasgow to Devon, threatened to make the appointments process a logistical nightmare, but so far all is going according to plan – the active energy advisers have covered 26 sites to date.

The outcome

Nearly 1,300 E.ON employees have had health assessments since the programme was launched. Of these, 34% were remote workers, which indicates that E.ON has reached its main target group.

E.ON surveyed 600 of the employees who have taken part so far, and 99% would recommend the assessment to others, while 95% said it helped to influence their future health choices.

Employee perspective

Sam Phillips, 18, is a customer service specialist. She had her first health assessment in December.

She says: “After leaving school I took my first full-time job at Powergen [one of E.ON’s brands]. I found adjusting to leaving home and starting work difficult and I wasn’t eating healthily. My team manager noticed and suggested I took the Active Energy programme.”

The assessment showed that Phillips had low blood pressure and areas of excess body fat. She was given realistic and easy-to-follow recommendations such as using her palm to measure food portions, getting eight hours sleep each night and regularly exercising.

Phillips says: “My energy has soared since regulating my eating, being more active and getting enough sleep. The programme has boosted my confidence and the simple advice has helped me lose weight.”

The assessment prompted Sam to ask her family about hereditary diseases and she discovered she has an increased risk of heart problems.

Since her assessment, Sam visits her GP every three weeks to monitor her blood pressure.

“E.ON has provided great support, but it has been up to me to act on the recommendations,” she says.

Guide to implementing a wellbeing programme in 10 steps

1 Encourage openness in reporting health problems. Only one in three individuals reports their ill-health.

2 Make the goals seem attractive. For example: ‘Become slimmer, more confident, more energetic, clearer thinking, more decisive.’

3 Ensure individuals take more responsibility for improving their health by assessing working hours and working environment.

4 Consider how significant investment in health could improve productivity and reduce absence levels.

5 Focus on helping people to find ‘hidden’ problems such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

6 Ensure your health policy and support system is outlined at induction sessions and at regular intervals.

7 Make sure that you involve other areas of the business (eg, occupational health (OH) and health and safety) in determining your approach. It’s also important to build links between your OH professionals and line managers to ensure individual issues are managed as effectively as possible.

8 Offer a health and wellbeing portal and lifestyle tests online. This is cost-effective and easy to distribute.

9 Offering a different and more comprehensive screening for older employees does not fall foul of the age discrimination legislation.

10 Consider how the information will be used – who will have access to it? How will you meet the requirements of the Data Protection Act?

Compiled by the Chartered Management Institute, CDA, IHC, and the Employee Advisory Resource

If I could do it again…

Darea Flanagan, E.ON’s health and safety adviser, project-managed Active Energy. “We estimated, using industry standards, how many physiologists we would need. We can assess 200 people a month, but demand exceeds this. We’re managing this through a waiting list. Next time, I would carry out a survey or run a pilot scheme” he says.

“We launched Active Energy at business unit conferences and reached many employees based in the same location on the same day. This resulted in a high volume of requests for assessments in the same area, which we would reconsider second time around.”

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