Public services provider Amey is focusing on staff health and wellbeing to help it cope with rapid expansion, says Nicola Sullivan
Business is booming for public services provider Amey. The company has a forward-order book of work worth
more than £7 billion, subject to the finalisation of a £2.7 billion highways maintenance and management private finance initiative (PFI) contract with Birmingham City Council. Under the deal, Amey will be responsible for improving and maintaining Birmingham’s highways infrastructure, including 2,500km (1,550 miles) of roads, nearly 100,000 streetlights, and more than 850 highway structures and bridges.
And in September, Amey, along with Colas Rail, won a £250 million track renewals contract from Network Rail. This UK-wide, five-year contract, which is extendable to seven years, aims to deliver increased track renewal capacity, greater efficiency and improved track quality.
Such major projects will see a significant number of new employees join Amey under Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (Tupe) arrangements. Since the beginning of 2008, the company’s workforce has grown from 7,905 to 10,281 staff, and is expected to increase to 11,000 by the end of this year. Such a rapid rise in employee numbers poses challenges around reward and benefits, as well as staff engagement.
Flexible benefits plan
Amey’s flexible benefits plan has played an important role in placing all its employees on an equal footing by ensuring reward and recognition are embedded in the organisation’s culture, and are linked to its brand and values. Since the flex scheme was launched three years ago, take-up has increased from 2% to 15%. New benefits added to flex when it was revamped in January this year include life assurance, dental insurance, bikes for work and charitable giving. Amey also set up a helpdesk for staff, and a website to make it easier to access the scheme.
Mark Bradshaw, the company’s head of reward and policy, says: “When I first joined Amey, it did not have flexible benefits. It was pretty basic. There were no benefits lacking, but there was nothing flexible or diverse. We have such a diverse workforce that one of the things I really wanted to do was give people better access to benefits so they can be engaged more easily.”
This year, much of Amey’s focus has been on employee health and wellbeing, and it has run an extensive campaign in this area. This is part of the firm’s effort to ensure its staff are physically and emotionally equipped to meet the challenges that arise as the business grows. To date, the campaign has achieved good results. After the first phase of its health and wellbeing programme, Amey has seen an improvement in absence rates, which now stand at 7.1 days a year per employee, compared with 9.6 days in 2008. This has resulted in substantial savings for the company.
As part of Amey’s wellbeing programme, staff were encouraged to take part in activity days throughout the summer. For example, it ran an Olympic-style event that saw staff get involved in sports such as volleyball, netball,hockey and basketball. The top event was a football tournament held near Amey’s head office in Oxford.
“We had personal trainers come in and give people warm-ups,” explains Bradshaw. “They showed [employees] how to warm up properly before a game so that they did not get injured.”
Staff were also invited to volunteer as wellbeing champions to motivate colleagues to take part in localised sporting events, and provide basic nutritional information. There is now a network of about 80 wellbeing champions across the company.
Bradshaw and his team have worked hard to ensure Amey’s health and wellbeing initiatives continue to be targeted correctly. For example, to make sure the wellbeing campaign was hitting the right spots, it appointed a health and wellbeing manager, Helen Knight. One of her first tasks was to visit the firm’s depots and sites to find out exactly what health and wellbeing meant to employees on the front line.
“If you are not really careful, wellbeing could be a white-collar thing,” says Bradshaw. “But the majority of our employees are not white-collar. They are not based in offices. They are based on site and they work shifts. It is quite hard to say to somebody after the end of a long shift, ‘do you want to go for a run?’ They have probably been doing that already. But they might have other issues around musculoskeletal problems. A lot of our guys do a lot of heavy work.”
Focus on emotional resilience
Feedback from employees has shaped the development of Amey’s health and wellbeing programme, which started out by focusing on physical activity and is now looking at issues such as emotional resilience and musculoskeletal concerns.
For example, Amey’s employee assistance programme (EAP), launched in August, is the linchpin of its More Energy, Less Stress initiative, which was launched on National Stress Awareness Day on 4 November. “What I would hope for the More Energy, Less Stress programme is to focus on energy and for people to say ‘I am lacking in energy’ instead of ‘I am stressed and I cannot cope’,” says Bradshaw. “That opens the door much more
easily. It is about using the right language for people so they feel more comfortable in being able to flag that to their line manager.”
During the launch of the More Energy, Less Stress programme, employees were given the opportunity to talk to therapists and counsellors from Amey’s EAP provider, Validium. During these sessions, staff were given information about the EAP and taught techniques to help them relax, make time for themselves and be more productive. More than 90% of the employees who attended these ‘energy days’ said they would make a positive lifestyle change because of what they had learned.
“As we develop the programme over the coming months, it will be about understanding where we have got the most highly stressed areas,” says Bradshaw. “There are people working very hard and winning new business, so that seems an obvious area where we could make interventions.”
Employee assistance programme
But communicating the EAP has not always been easy. Initially, some line managers expressed doubts about the benefit’s impact. “Some people who had used EAPs in the distant past did not see it as a positive benefit [for Amey to launch],” says Bradshaw. “Initially, it was a little bit of a challenge [to communicate], particularly with some of the line managers. We needed them to understand that the EAP was not going to be used against them.
“This is their tool as well. If they have got a particularly difficult situation, work- or non-work-related, they can use the EAP to coach them through it.”
Despite these initial doubts, 9% of Amey’s workforce made use of the EAP in the first month after its launch. Through the service, staff can gain access to counsellors, and information and advice, via a confidential telephone helpline. Issues dealt with in this way include stress, health and wellbeing, legal issues, debt counselling and financial or tax information.
As part of its efforts to address musculoskeletal conditions among employees, Amey conducted a series of events in conjunction with National Back Care Awareness Week in October. Staff were offered sessions with a physiotherapist or chiropractor at six of the company’s sites.
“These sessions inform our next stage with regard to more targeted interventions,” says Bradshaw. “In certain areas of the group, we will have some people who will be absolutely crying out for some preventative measures around back care. Carrying out the sessions helped us to take a thermometer of where the hotspots might be.”
Rather than spending a lot of time calculating a return on investment for health and wellbeing, Bradshaw is more interested in looking at employee engagement. He says that because measuring return on investment is not an exact science, it is difficult to determine what direct impact wellbeing measures have had on the bottom line.
“The investment we have made has had an impact on absence,” he says, “But it might also be line managers are managing attendance in a different way or preventative measures have been put in. It might be there has been a change in the way of working. All of that will have contributed to the fact our absence numbers have reduced. I think wellbeing has been part of it, but personally I think it is false to come up with another return on investment tool. It is not a science.”
Employee engagement survey
Instead, Amey looks to the results of an employee engagement survey it conducted in February in conjunction with Kingston Business School to confirm its efforts to motivate staff through benefits and other initiatives have succeeded.
Of the 1,200 employees surveyed, 78% indicated positive feelings of wellbeing, 62% said they found their work highly meaningful and 61% were willing to put in extra effort beyond their assigned duties.
“We are quite keen on surveying our people in terms of engagement levels because it is important, bearing in mind that we Tupe in something like 80% of our staff,” says Bradshaw. “They have come from central or local government or an Amey competitor, so engagement for us is always important.”
And with the company’s plans to expand its workforce further in the coming months, such staff engagement will become increasingly crucial.
Amey at a glance:
Amey’s roots go back 80 years, when William Amey set up a quarrying company in Oxfordshire. During the Second World War, the firm helped with the construction of RAF bases and, in 1959, supplied gravel for the M1 motorway between London and Birmingham. In the same year, it became a public company with share capital
In 1972, the company became known as Amey Roadstone Construction after being taken over by Hanson. Returning to private ownership in 1989, the firm again became known as Amey.
In 1995, the company was again floated on the stock exchange, and focused on providing support services and on
private finance initiative (PFI) projects, which saw it gradually leave the construction sector.
In 2003, Amey was acquired by Spanish infrastructure services company Ferrovial. Since then, it has experienced significant growth, particularly in its workforce, which is expected to reach 11,000 employees by the end of this year.
In 2005, Amey increased its stake in Tube Lines to 66%, making it the majority shareholder. Its acquisition of professional services brand Owen Williams in 2006 enabled the group to expand its range of services to offer design and building consultancy services.
For 2008, the group posted total operating profits of £95.7 million, compared with £103.4 million in 2007. Its pre-tax profit was £78.3 million in 2008, compared with £103 million in 2007.
Career profile: Mark Bradshaw
Mark Bradshaw, head of reward and policy at Amey, joined the firm more than six years ago after spending 18 months as UK pensions manager at Lattice, which later became National Grid Transco.
“It has been a really interesting time,” he says. “Nothing keeps still. It is not the same organisation I joined more than six years ago. There has been such a significant growth agenda and there are constant challenges around it,
which I really enjoy. I have always enjoyed it when things are moving rather than just doing the status quo.”
One of Bradshaw’s previous roles was as pension and benefits project manager at Siemens, which he joined in 1997 initially as a pensions administration manager. During his time with the company, Bradshaw was responsible
for bringing its pensions administration back in-house, as well as improving employees’ understanding of pensions.
“I knew what I wanted to communicate and how I wanted to do it,” he says. “I got some excellent feedback at the time from trustees and people generally around how staff had started to understand pensions a lot better at Siemens.”
Earlier in his career, Bradshaw was a pensions administrator for Alexander, later to become Aon Consulting. He also served as a junior consultant with the firm.
Various schemes, including a defined benefit plan, which is closed to new members, and a trust-based defined
contribution plan with double-matched employer contributions.
Health and wellbeing
Private medical insurance for senior staff Available to other staff through flex.
Annual medical check.
Employee assistance programme.
Dental and optical cover.
Critical illness insurance.
25 days as standard.
Staff can opt to buy an extra five days of annual holiday through flex.
Incentive and performance-related pay, shopping vouchers, interest-free season ticket loans, charitable giving, childcare vouchers, bikes for work, green travel.
Case study: Extra holiday is a good investment
Luis Page, an estimator for Amey’s local government division, joined the company 18 months ago after completing his university degree and spending a year travelling.
Page is responsible for working out how much it will cost Amey to carry out a contract, which helps the firm to establish whether it is viable to bid for it.
The 23-year-old’s favourite employee benefit is the extra five days’ holiday that can be bought each year. “I am going to Australia for Christmas, so I am going over there for three weeks,” he says. “I just would not have been
able to do it unless I had bought the additional holiday. That is my favourite benefit at the moment, but if you ask me over the course of the year when I am paying for it, it probably will not be.”
Page also values the trust-based defined contribution (DC) pension scheme, in which his 2% employee contribution is double-matched by Amey, making a total contribution of 6%. The company car allowance and fuel card are also high on his list of top perks.
Click here for more employer case studies