Case study: Three UK's award-winning wellbeing strategy

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Three UK’s award-winning wellbeing strategy is based around three pillars to ensure initiatives cover every aspect of employee health

The organisation

Since its launch in 2003 Three UK has celebrated a number of firsts, including being the first mobile network to offer unlimited data. In July 2019 it launched the world’s first 5G-ready,fully-integrated, Cloud core network with Nokia. Today it has more than 20 million customers, with its network covering around 99% of the UK population.

The problem

“The telecoms industry is going through a period of fundamental change with the introduction of 5G, which is going to completely revolutionise what mobile telecoms technology is capable of,” says Alan Millbrow, Three UK’s head of wellbeing and recognition. “To get this right we’re asking a lot from our people, and we’re not going to deliver our goals as a business if our people don’t love coming to work every day.”

Out of this realisation came the company goal to ‘be the UK’s best-loved brand by our people by 2021’. And supporting employee wellbeing will be key to achieving this. So it was based on insights from employee feedback (via the employee forum, engagement surveys and eNPS [employee net promoter score]), sickness absence data, as well as external market data, that Three UK made the call back in 2016 that it was time to go on a wellbeing journey.

The method

Wellness initiatives have been created around three key pillars: Energise, Connect and Balance. Energise focuses on helping people eat healthily, sleep well and keep moving. Connect is about giving staff time for things that are important to them, such as family or personal causes. Balance supports people with the ups and downs of life.

Under the Energise pillar sit things like free flu jabs for all employees and an initiative called Wellness Wednesdays. On Wellness Wednesdays no meetings are permitted to take place between 12pm and 2pm, with everyone encouraged to take the time to participate in activities.

“Some people do boot camp, the Reading site has formed a cycling club, some people meet up with friends, one person runs a meditation course, and someone else is using the time to write a book,” says Millbrow.

This is led from the top, with the CEO often walking the floors of the head office to ensure no meetings are taking place.

Millbrow concedes that this part of the wellbeing offering is only available to office employees. But it’s a challenge the organisation is working to address.

“The biggest group of people are customer advisors in retail stores where it’s a very different environment to the head office,” he explains. “So we have to think carefully about all the initiatives we run and how we can reach as many people as possible. For example with our gym discounts we make sure there are local gyms all across the UK.”

One area where this aim to reach all parts of the workforce has worked well has been the recent Summer Steps initiative, where employees across all sites and divisions participate in an app-based fitness challenge.

“Because it’s a digital solution everyone could sign up to the app and we could get the whole company behind one goal all interacting with each other,” he says, adding that more than half the business participated.

The Connect pillar includes a Wellness Fund for team wellness activities, and three paid days off a year for personal moments such as birthdays, weddings or getting a new pet.

Then there’s the Balance pillar, which focuses largely around employee mental health. Millbrow explains that mental health is “at the core” of Three UK’s wellbeing strategy and “an area of growing concern for [the business] and for the UK as a whole”. Creating a culture of ‘it’s OK to not be OK’ kicked off in 2017 with the signing of the Time to Change pledge. Senior leaders also shared personal mental health stories during Mental Health Awareness Week.

This then led to the development of the Being Me, Being Three course, which gives employees valuable tools and techniques – including cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness – to look after their own mental health and to identify when they are suffering. All colleagues go through this as part of their induction, with a one-day course for all employees (focused on looking after yourself) and a three-day course for line managers (focused on yourself and direct reports).

“It’s all about understanding when your stress levels are increasing and what your triggers are so you are better able to manage stress,” explains Millbrow. “You gain the concept of being above the line or below the line. Being above is when you’re feeling good and ready to go, and below is when you’re stressed. At the beginning and end of each meeting we now do check-ins to see where people are, so we can support anyone who’s below the line.”

Other Balance programmes include a digital GP service and the rollout of mental health first aid training, with one in 20 employees now trained to spot the signs of someone struggling.

The setup of the wellbeing team is deliberately “dynamic”, which enables them to support these initiatives, says Millbrow. He explains that rather than having a dedicated team the wellbeing function has adopted a ‘circle way of working’. This means relevant specialists (typically five) are brought into the team from different parts of the business to work on a specific aim, depending on the skills needed for this focus.

The result

This holistic approach to employee wellbeing is paying off. The eNPS has risen from +16 in the second quarter of 2016 to +24 in the first quarter of 2019. Positive responses to the statement ‘Three cares about the wellbeing of its employees’ increased from 76% in the last quarter of 2017 to 79% in the first quarter of 2019.

Additionally, more than 3,100 employees have now been through the Being Me, Being Three course, and the flu jab programme has led to a 25% reduction in cold and flu sickness. Perhaps one of the biggest signs of success is the fact that 83% of office employees said they were happy with the company’s wellbeing offering in their exit surveys. Given these results, it’s perhaps little surprise that Three UK took home the Health and wellbeing award at the 2019 HR Excellence Awards.

No initiative is seen as a done deal though, says Millbrow, pointing out that the same data and insights used to inform the start of the journey are constantly called on to “sense check” whether things “land or not”.

And the hard work doesn’t end now. “We’ve come a long way with mental health but we need to continue to develop our plans in this area,” Millbrow explains.

“Another key area is looking at how we offer financial support to people. We rolled out a financial education platform last year so we’re now getting insight into what people use that for and looking at opportunities to offer services to support employees with day-to-day expenses.”

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