Tackling the last workplace taboos

first_imgPersonal Group’s business has morphed from cash plan provider, to benefits provider, to all-round employee services go-to. We speak to the firm about driving employee engagement and happinessFluidity for any company is useful. For a coach or bus operator, being fluid, adaptable, and easy to change has often been the difference between failing and carrying on. It’s a common theme in routeone profile articles: By changing the business model a little, operators have often thrived.Scott Read: ‘Great respect for the knowledge and innovation that comes out of the bus sector’And so it is for Personal Group. Established in the 1980s as a personal insurance provider, this employee benefits business has already changed its model once.And it is currently going through another transformation, morphing from a benefits provider to a more all-round employee services provider. The change is coming rapidly, thanks to both the talent of the company’s in-house software design team – and the innovations and ideas of the bus industry.Hapi platformWith a large purpose-built HQ in Milton Keynes, Personal Group is an impressive business that covers a great range of industries, but it has a specialism in the bus sector, and indeed, most of the major bus operators in the UK use it in one way or another.Championing this specialism within the company is Scott Read, Account Development Director. He explains how the company started in the 1980s; Personal Group was an insurance company offering employee cash plans, and there are still operators that use the company on this basis alone.Over the years, it has branched out to offer a range of benefits alongside its cash plans. These include salary sacrifice schemes for childcare vouchers, cycle-to-work and technology; holiday and leisure discounts; and discounts from an ever-growing list of supermarkets and high street stores.This led to the creation of the ‘Hapi’ platform – an online hub, customised to each operator that uses it, where employees can go to access all the company benefits. Routeone visited Oxford Bus Company last year and saw Hapi in use. As well as the discounts and offers, Personal Group offers employee health checks, debt consolation, and Hapi-Life, a wellbeing and lifestyle service. “Our relationships with different companies allow us to open up different features,” says Scott. And it’s all on a very simple, attractive platform, customised with the operator’s branding.Operators were soon requesting to add all sorts of other services to the Hapi hub, such as their company handbook information, and even a link to routeone magazine. “Oxford Bus Company use Hapi as their corporate intranet. Instead of building an expensive intranet from scratch, we can host all that HR information on Hapi,” says Scott. The beauty is that it can also provide a platform for access to an operator’s existing benefits.New employee servicesThe platform has developed to the extent that Personal Group now offers employee services as well as straight-forward benefits, such as a 24/7 Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), which allows staff members to make confidential calls to a helpline for advice and support on any worries – whether they’re work-related, marital, financial or legal.Personal Group’s impressive headquarters are in Milton KeynesA particularly important point is that through Hapi, employees can access the helpline confidentially and in their own time. “For an employee who doesn’t want their colleagues or family to know about an issue they have, they’re more likely to use EAP because they can use it in their own time,” says David Walker, Chief Commercial Officer at Personal Group.He adds: “Because phones are so central to our lives now, employees are much more likely to allow their employers to communicate with them and help them if it’s through their device.”The nature of the bus industry, where workers are dispersed over a wide area, makes that particularly important, and it’s a great opportunity for employers to save money. Instead of posting HR documents to hundreds of drivers’ addresses, for example, documents can be pushed out to employees via Hapi.Personal Group has also worked with operators to streamline simple office procedures that amount to a high and unnecessary cost: For example, by making the switch to e-payslips on Hapi instead of printing and posting them on special paper.‘The last taboos’It is operators that have driven many of the changes. Personal Group has great respect for the knowledge and innovation that comes out of the bus sector, and is planning round-table meetings with several bus MDs to drive further innovation. “Those guys come up with better ideas than we do,” says Scott.Operators have already requested tie-ups with all sorts of staff-related products, from payslips to telematics, and Personal Group continues to grant these requests to become a full employee service provider.“Listening to them has to be at the core of how we engage with employees,” says Scott. “Those operators are looking at it as a holistic way of communicating with their staff. It’s great to see people engaging with it, and asking ‘what can it do for us?’“Technology is the driver. The old world was all about ‘benefits’; buying up things that would benefit the employee. The new world, the technology in particular, allows us to rethink that. And operators are starting to understand the power the technology can offer them.”David returns to the subject of the EAP, using mental health as an example.“One in four people is likely to have a mental health problem of some kind in any one year,” he says. “So of 1,000 employees, 250 will be dealing with something that is potentially distracting them from work during any year. That can lead to increased absenteeism and increased risks of accidents. It may also affect customer service. “The last two workplace taboos are mental health and financial wellbeing. Employees will rarely seek advice from their employer about financial stress, much less emotional stress. But I think we’re breaking that down. There’s a greater understanding of it, and a will to do something about it.”He adds: “Engagement is driven by lots of different things, such as the office environment, the boss, and the quality of catering. We can’t change all of those. But we can offer lots of helpful products and services, and make it easy to access them.”www.personalgroup.comlast_img

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