Pioneering wellbeing programme “changing lives” at utility specialist
A wellbeing programme developed by Lanes Group plc is combining cutting-edge digital app technology with professional mental health practitioner support for the first time. The approach, praised by industry leaders and in line to win two national water industry awards, is helping transform the lives of employees faced with major personal problems.
The wellbeing programme has been introduced by Lanes Utilities, part of drainage and utility specialist Lanes Group, which is the wastewater network services partner for Thames Water. A purpose-designed wellbeing app – or happiness app – added to Lanes Utilities’ award-winning phone-based operational app, asks operational colleagues how they feel at the start of every shift. If they respond to the question by clicking the ‘unhappy’ or ‘very unhappy’ buttons, they are offered the choice of being contacted by wellbeing practitioner Kelly Hansford to see if she can help. Kelly offers advice, acts as an advocate, and works with other health professionals to support the colleague. Since the initiative went live in the summer of 2017, she has helped dozens of colleagues.
The innovative twin-track wellbeing programme has been championed by Lanes Utilities Director Andy Brierley. He said: “We want to let our teams know we care about their wellbeing, because that reflects our values as a business. “Wellbeing is also integral to working safely, delivering excellent customer service, and employee retention. So, being able to measure, analyse, and improve wellbeing is vital for us as a business as well.”
Since the wellbeing app was introduced, the number of colleagues who record being unhappy or very unhappy has fallen from eight per cent at the start to just over one per cent. Most of the issues causing unhappiness are personal and not directly work-related, including relationship breakdowns, mental health issues, and debt problems. Work-related causes include disputes with colleagues and dissatisfaction with pay.
Kelly works with colleagues identifying themselves as unhappy and wanting help for weeks and months if necessary. She liaises with line managers, external health professionals, and support organisations that can provide the right expert help. She said: “What Lanes Utilities is doing is transformational. When I worked with a GP on one colleague’s clinical therapy plan he was amazed and delighted with the support I was offering to his patient, and to him, as a doctor. He had never come across anything like it before.”
Wastewater engineer Paul Puzey is one of the colleagues Kelly has been working with. He suffers from depression and clicked ‘very unhappy’ when his relationship broke down. He said: “I love my job, but I don’t think I would still have it without Kelly. In fact, I fear for what would have happened without her. She’s been brilliant. She’s helped me turn my life around.”
Data and insights gained from the wellbeing programme are contributing to other positive changes throughout the business. Since it was introduced, employee retention has significantly improved. Over time, that will save hundreds of thousands of pounds in recruitment and training costs. Additional training has been introduced to improve people skills. Wellbeing feedback has also informed the development of a new pay structure. The wellbeing programme dovetails with a comprehensive wellbeing strategy, Well.Me, designed to help all employees improve their nutrition, fitness, financial support, and mental health.
It has been shortlisted for a Water Industry Achievement Award and regional winner of the Institute of Water’s Innovation Award, making it one of the contenders for the national award. Andy Brierley said: “We’re very pleased we’re now even better equipped to help our people overcome major personal challenges. We believe we are setting new and unique standards in people advocacy and corporate care. “Our people work hard to do a brilliant job for Thames Water’s 15 million wastewater customers every day, supporting the UK’s busiest wastewater network. We owe it to them to help them in return. Our approach shows everyone can gain from improving genuine happiness at work.”
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