Auto Enrolment: what you need to know

MM20553 Guest Blogger_Malcolm Goodwin Aviva

Here’s our partner Aviva with some guidance on what to consider when setting up a workplace pension for auto-enrolment.

If you’re due to stage for auto-enrolment this year, you’re not alone. The Pensions Regulator estimates that over 500,000 small and medium-sized companies (SME) will auto-enrol their staff into a workplace pension in 2017.

Any small employer should think about the following things which are key to any business:

  • Retaining your best people: A workplace pension is a very valuable benefit. That can be a really powerful incentive to stay with a company.
  • Attracting talent: A workplace pension that offers a generous employer contribution could be the difference when a candidate receives two job offers at the same time.
  • Being a paternalistic employer: Providing a workplace pension offers staff a chance to plan for their retirement.
  • Allowing staff to retire at the right time: There is no default retirement age anymore so people can just go on working indefinitely. Aviva’s own research found that a third of workers over 50 plan to retire later than they had hoped and on average work for 8 years longer.
  • AE is a legal requirement: All businesses must have a workplace pension. It’s the law now and The Pensions Regulator has the power to fine companies who don’t get their pension set up in time.

Choosing your workplace pension

Pensions aren’t ‘one size fits all’ and the nature of a business, the number and demographics of its employees, payroll set up and its future growth plans all need to be considered when looking for a pension provider.

AE applies to ALL employers, so even if you only have one member of staff, you still need to set up a workplace pension for them.  Many providers will now let you apply for a workplace pension online using streamlined processes that will give you an idea of how much a scheme will cost in just a few minutes.

Contribution rates are going to rise

Currently the minimum contribution rates for an AE pension are 1% of salary from the employer and 1% of salary from the employee (including tax relief).

From April 2018 that will rise to 5% in total, with a minimum of 2% coming from the employer.  Then from April 2019, this will rise to 8%, with a minimum of 3% coming from the employer. These are the minimums though and employers are free to pay in more if they wish.

Embrace auto-enrolment

A workplace pension is now the law, so businesses need to make it work. Putting money away for retirement is not just sensible, but is now essential. The full state pension is currently around £150 a week. If that is your only income from the age of 67, it’s not a huge amount of money to buy food, pay bills and enjoy a decent standard of living.

Find out more about auto-enrolment 

Got any questions? You’ll probably find the answers here.


We’ve teamed up with Aviva to offer you a discount on their workplace pension scheme. Aviva’s scheme is compatible with all types of payroll software, and can be managed online.

Find out more.


Aviva Life Services UK Limited. Registered in England, No. 2403746. Aviva, Wellington Row, York, YO90 1WR. Authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Reference Number 145452.





Don’t let the stress get to you

2 - The real cost of stress

Running your own business can be exhilarating, energising and rewarding, but it can also be stressful. As its National Stress Awareness Month, we thought we’d share a few of the main highs and lows of being a small business owner – as well as a few tips to help you reduce stress and make life a little bit easier.

Full of rewarding and stressful moments, running your own business can be a real rollercoaster ride. Chances are most of the following feel familiar to you.

1 - The highs and lows of running an SME

High: You’re the boss. And you answer to no one.

Low: It can be lonely at the top. In fact, according to research by AXA Insurance, 50% of home-based business owners say they often suffer with loneliness.


High: It’s your call. You make all the big decisions.

Low: It’s all down to you. You’re responsible for everything and it’s your money on the line.


High: Your time is your own. You decide when you work.

Low: You never switch off. Chances are this means you’re always working, or at least thinking about work. And holidays are probably just a fantasy.


High: Money, money, money. You could make it big and retire early in the Caribbean.

Low: Times are tight. The economy is far from thriving and with Brexit just around the corner, many changes lie ahead. Plus, many business owners pay themselves relatively little and don’t even have a pension.

1 - Simple ways to stress less

  1. Spread the risk

It’s important to try and spread your business’ income as evenly as possible. If one customer is responsible for 40% or more of your business, it creates a pretty risky situation if they are late in paying and you need to charge interest or debt recovery or, even worse, if they stop working with you for any reason.


It’s a good idea to regularly work on finding new clients or customers. You should always carry out credit checks to help you assess their financial stability while doing this.


It’s also sensible to check the terms of your existing contracts, renegotiating where possible to help protect you from any unexpected loss of business.


  1. Share the load

It can be easy to think the world will end if you don’t handle everything yourself. But the old adage about a problem shared is true.

Finding your second in command can ease the strain and help motivate staff. Look for a strong leader with creativity and good people skills.


  1. Plan for the future

It can be hard to look too far ahead, particularly when it’s all hands to the pump. But failing to forecast has been the downfall of many a small business. An online system can help make admin – and life in general – easier. FUTRLI and Pulse are good places to start. There are lots of different ways to plan – take our quiz to find out what type of planner you are:


Spending a little time prioritising your own payment schedule and setting up Direct Debits can make a big difference too. With many companies, npower included, it will help you avoiding surcharges.

1 - A helping hand online

We know how important it is to help make life easier for small business owners. That’s why we’ve made sure our online account offers:


  • Simple access to bills and more – all paperwork is saved online, so it’s easy to find whenever you need it
  • Handy updates and meter reading reminders – choose to receive text or email reminders whenever something needs your attention, so you can concentrate on running your business day to day
  • Instant access to our helpful customer services team – through online chat


You could also sign up to our free Business Rewards scheme and help distress staff with access to specially selected offers, discounts on days out, hotels, and travel, exclusively for npower Business customers.


If you haven’t already, it’s easy to register for an online account


Like what you’ve read? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #energytogrow and LinkedIn at npower Business


The real cost of stress

Stress costs small businesses nearly £1,000 a year per employee (Source: Huffington Post). If left unchecked, stress can result in staff absence, and the cost to your business escalates even futher. Clearly this is bad for your workforce’s health and bad for business. But the good news is that tackling stress in your business can make a big difference, and it doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, a few simple changes could help you save time and money, not to mention keeping your staff healthy, happy and motivated.

It’s natural to want your workforce to be happy. But there’s far more to it than just being a caring boss.

It’s important to be able to spot the signs of stress amongst your staff, before you can do anything to help. If anyone in your business regularly has any of the following issues, it could be a sign they’re stressed:

  • Feeling anxious, irritable or depressed
  • Apathy and loss of interest in work
  • Problems sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Muscle tension or headaches
  • Social withdrawal

Thankfully there are some simple, and free, things you can do to help make your staff’s working days less stressful.
It’s also a good idea to practice what you preach. Following these tips yourself will help to look after your own health and set an inspiring, healthy example.

Get out: Encourage people to go outside on their break. As little as five minutes in the fresh air can help reduce anxiety*

Be flexible: Flexible working helps your staff manage their work and home life more easily. And businesses who already offer this report fewer days off, more loyal staff, better productivity and more satisfied employees as a result

Make it manageable: Encouraging your employees to stick to reasonable working hours, perhaps by using their skills and time better, will help make their workloads far easier to manage

Adapt yourself: There’s no one management style that’s right for every employee. Great leadership is all about listening to your team and paying attention to the early warning signs of stress. Make sure you adapt your management style to suit each person’s individual needs

Show your appreciation: Recognition or rewards can be a great way to show your staff you value them. To make this really easy, npower Business offers all our customers free treats and other benefits for themselves and their employees – take a look for yourself.

If your business is based around shift work, then some of the above points may be easier said than done. But don’t worry, there are still some very useful things you can do.

First of all, talk to your staff about their lifestyles. Believe it or not, early birds and night owls really do exist, and you might be able to find new ways to organise your rota to suit different people’s needs.

It also makes sense to try and review your schedule as a whole and make sure it works as well as possible. It’s well worth trying to avoid things like asking someone to switch between early and late shifts, as this will disrupt their quality of sleep – which is a leading cause of stress and illness in shift workers.
With just a few small changes, you could dramatically reduce the impact of stress on your people and your business.


Like what you’ve read? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #energytogrow and LinkedIn at npower Business

Using a mobile phone while driving

By now everyone should have seen the new penalties for hand-held mobile phone offences, if not, you really need to take a look.

Even though it has been illegal to use a hand held mobile phone when driving since December 2003, the penalties are changing and these came into force on 1st March 2017.

What are the new penalties?

  • You could be fined up to £200 and get six points on your licence
  • If you’ve been driving less than two years six points would mean losing your licence
  • You could go to court if you refuse the penalties – fines in court will most likely be larger and could lead to disqualification
  • The police can decide to send you straight to court if the offence is bad enough

What do I do if I need to take a call?

  • Pull over where it’s safe to
  • If you must talk and have a hands-free, make sure the conversation is short until you can safely pull over

What do I do if I have employees?

  • Have a mobile phone usage policy and make sure highlight the penalties so all employees are aware, especially if their job is driving
  • You may be open to prosecution if you permit or cause employees to use a phone when in a vehicle

Is there any time I can use a mobile phone when driving?

  • To make emergency phone calls such as 999 or 112
  • If you use a two-way radio

For more information on the new penalties or on what you can and can’t do when using a mobile phone while driving, visit



International Women’s Day – Lauren McCullough

This week we’ve been celebrating International Women’s Day (8th March). We’ve asked some of our female colleagues about their career, from leaving school all the way through to what they are doing today. Our final interview comes from Lauren McCullough:


Lauren McCullough, Continuous Improvement Delivery Manager, npower

“I joined npower in 2010 straight out of University where I studied Sports Journalism and Magazine Design at Sunderland and moved onto the Graduate Scheme. I am a passionate and highly ambitious individual who thrives when working under pressure and having the ability to challenge the norm. My strengths include story boarding and communicating, driving performance of both my team and achieving tangible results through both motivation and problem solving skills. I take great pride in being confident, efficient and bringing fun into the workplace.

For the first two years on the graduate scheme I had to take various placements across the business;

  1. PR – Football League Sponsorship: My role was a PR sponsorship executive. I had to directly liaise with Football Clubs and PR Agencies to ensure we were maximising our return on investment. The job also included hosting competition winners and sponsorship events around the country.
  2. Change and Service Improvement: I made the decision to move up to the North East and gain experience in Customer Service, recognising that this is where I could gain some real leadership experience. My specific role was to take accountability for delivering digital change and set up Web Chat.
  3. Complaints Operational Manager: For my final placement I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and manage our customer facing teams in our most challenging environment; complaints, where I was responsible reducing the volume of our complaints. This was the job that cemented my passion within npower, which was improving our service to customers and developing people. I got offered this job on a permanent basis and this was my first step out of the graduate scheme and into a ‘proper’ job!

You have to have some pretty broad shoulders to manage people through a change curve, both emotionally and technically. The biggest challenge when managing a team is being is able to create a resilience and tenacity in yourself to ensure you are provide consistency and belief for the team. Being able to adapt your leadership style is key when managing on a large scale because you have to recognise that everybody’s values and beliefs are different and therefore not everybody will react in the same way.

I get my energy and drive from seeing a change in people and from my experience, the easy part of the job is changing a process or building a solution, however transforming a culture is what makes the job extremely hard, but without that this, the job wouldn’t be so rewarding!

I absolutely love problem solving! Working in Continuous Improvement means that there are always things to improve or problems to solve, but it genuinely gets me out of bed every morning knowing that myself and the team can really make a difference for the business and the customer with the solutions that we come up with. I thrive under pressure and having to work to really tight deadlines and the knowledge I have gained over the last few years means I now see work through a completely different lens and I am constantly looking for opportunities to make a difference.

The boldest thing I’ve ever done in my career is probably finishing in the top 3 for the National Young Energy Professional of the Year Awards in 2015 for Customer Focus. I am so proud of this achievement and never thought I would get recognised externally for something that I am passionate about and for a category that is so close to my heart! It was some of the toughest years of my career so far and there were a lot of emotions and challenges along the way but it was a time that genuinely changed my outlook on what I want to do for the rest of my career.

People ask why I chose this career after studying sports journalism. The honest answer is there wasn’t a lot of money in being a trainee sports journalist and I decided to join a graduate scheme so I could start earning a bit more money to buy a house. However the reason I chose npower was because we had just taken the Football League Sponsorship and my first placement was in PR which was closely linked to the press and media which was a very similar skill set.

When I left the graduate scheme, I developed a passion for customer service and realised I was pretty good at it! I was then talent spotted within the operation as a candidate to work in our transformational teams and was trained up. They genuinely changed the outlook for my career and introduced me to new tools and skills and I fell in love with it! Ultimately I would love to join the dots with my passion for sports media and lean transformation and do this type of role for Sky/BBC later on in my career.”

Get involved with International Women’s Day at

Like what you’ve seen? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #BeBoldForChange and Linkedin at npower Business

International Women’s Day – Birgit Lichtenstein

This year March 8th is International Women’s day, with the theme ‘Be Bold To Change’ and to celebrate, every day this week we’re featuring some of our female colleagues, asking them all about their career from leaving school through to what they are doing today.

Birgit Birgit Lichtenstein,

Managing Director Innogy Business Services UK

I grew up in North West Germany close to the Dutch border. Having studied Economics my first job was in the corporate development area in RWE Energy in 1992, where I was responsible for looking for new business opportunities.

In 2015 I made a bold move to the UK on secondment and am now responsible for IT across the business. The role offered a huge opportunity for me to improve the situation as we were over outsourcing which was leading to issues that affected the business negatively. I love the challenges that the job brings, seeing the improvements being made gives me a great kick personally. IT is so vital these days in a Retail environment as literally no processes could work without it. The opportunities offered by this are almost limitless.

I think with women the work-life balance is a very personal thing but I think we have a very strong drive to get done what needs to be done and also what is expected of us. Over time people learn how to make the balance work for them.

Despite working in a very challenging environment I try to make time to enjoy some gardening, cooking with friends and sports, particularly Tennis.

Get involved with International Women’s Day at

Like what you’ve seen? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #BeBoldForChange and Linkedin at npower Business

International Women’s Day – Helen James

Today is International Women’s Day, and to celebrate, every day this week we’re featuring some of our female colleagues, asking them all about their career from leaving school through to what they are doing today.

Helen Helen James – Head of Marketing, npower Business

“My first job was working for British Rail in Operational Research.  It’s about using mathematical methods to address business issues.  I did a Maths degree so it was an obvious first job.  Whilst I was there I did an MSc in Operational Research part time.  We worked a bit like internal consultants and had quite a range of clients.  Some were great to work with and really appreciated how we could help them.  Others were a bit more sceptical about how a load of bright, young things could tell them anything new.  I have never forgotten being introduced at a meeting as my boss’ ‘glamorous assistant’!

With my current role  I love the fact that it has a broad remit and gets me involved in a wide range of things.  Most of my career has been spent in customer insight – helping businesses to understand what their customers want and need.  Now I get to use that insight to develop what we offer customers.  I’ve learned a lot through this role.

Before I came to npower I spent 9 years at home with my children and running my own business for about 15 hours a week.  That was perfect for balancing work and family as I could be there when the family needed me but was still progressing my career.  Now I work full time it’s harder.  I tend to stay at work a bit too long and I also have to do quite a bit of driving both of which squeeze my time at home.  I make time when I’m home to talk to my children about what they’re doing  and so they know I’m there! It’s also important to do something that is just for me.  I started to learn the baritone horn a few years ago and it’s a great way to wind down!

I’ve also recently taken over as the Chair of AURA. I discovered them  in the 9 years I spend working for myself.  They are a member led organisation for clientside insight professionals to share best practice.  Through AURA I discovered the real power of networking.  Spending time with people who did a similar job to me really helped to stimulate my ideas.  I remained involved in AURA as a member once I joined npower and got the insight team involved too.  When they needed a new Chair I was happy to step forward and help.  This year’s focus will be on building a really engaging suite of member communications to keep members involved even if they are not able to come to events.

It pays to be bold at work  One example of when I felt I was being overtly bold was at a previous company when I managed to get them to completely change their thinking about their route to market.  They had a whole load of strategic initiatives in train and an ambitious growth target.  I took a step back and did some simple back of the envelope intelligent guesswork (the BOEING technique!) and it was clear to me that the initiatives would never cause the change in behaviour needed to deliver the growth target.  I went to the Exec and did my BOEING analysis on a couple of bits of flipchart to show why they needed more.  There was no Powerpoint and no heavy pack of numbers – and it worked. ”

Get involved with International Women’s Day at

Like what you’ve seen? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #BeBoldForChange and Linkedin at npower Business

International Women’s Day – Candice Nolan

Today is International Women’s Day and to celebrate, every day this week we’re featuring some of our female colleagues, asking them all about their career from leaving school through to what they are doing today.

candice  Candice Nolan,

Head of Propositions & Campaigns, npower Business

“I started my working life as a shelf stacker in my in local SPAR, a job that was short lived as I had my bike stolen from outside the store so had to give up the job as I couldn’t get there anymore!  My first proper job after University was working for Transco, the company that was looking after the newly deregulated energy industry, and  have come full circle after working in retail, financial services and many other industries back to energy.

I worked as  a contractor for many years before starting at npower after having my daughter three years ago.  Npower is a great company to work for on many levels including its ability to maintain a great worklife balance.  We work in an ‘Agile’ environment, meaning none of us have permanent desks and we can work where ever we want. It does mean no holiday or family pictures on your desk! This allows for greater flexibility around sickness, for both me and when my daughter is ill, school drop off and meetings.  Most of my team have children and we are more productive as they are able to work from home, from one of our other offices, or even a coffee shop if needs be.  I think it’s a great,forward thinking approach, especially for working women, as I know a lot of my friends have struggled to move jobs or return to work after children with their company’s lack of flexibility.

What do I get out of work?  I’m unusual in that I went back to work seven weeks after my daughter was born.  I found being at home hard work so swapped with my husband.  He enjoyed baby groups and I got what I needed: mental stimulation.  I am easily bored so need constant stimulation, I don’t sit still at work or outside of work.  I train regularly, in fact I am doing a triathlon in May.  I’ve written a book and have another one due out in the summer.  Work keeps me challenged and I’m always looking for something new and different, what is the next opportunity, what can we do better.  My team probably find me hard work as I am constantly pushing them!

The boldest thing I have ever done is resign from a job with no job to go to.  I was really unhappy where I was but also about to buy my first house with my partner.  It was scary but I knew that I would be able to get another job somehow.  We completed on the house and I resigned the next day.  It was the best thing I ever did as that was when I started contracting and for nearly ten years I learnt a great deal about people, stakeholder management, and worked on lots of things I wouldn’t have done as a permanent employee.  Make that leap – it’s worth it.

Get involved with International Women’s Day at

Like what you’ve seen? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #BeBoldForChange and Linkedin at npower Business

International Women’s Day – Alison Sidaway

This year March 8th marks International Women’s Day, a worldwide celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women as well as a call for gender parity. It’s all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action – whatever that looks like globally at a local level. But one thing is for sure, International Women’s Day has been occurring for well over a century – and continues to grow from strength to strength. Each year there is a different theme, with 2017’s being Be Bold For Change.

Like many other businesses, npower are jumping on the bandwagon and have been talking to some of our own successful and inspirational women about their achievements. Over the course of the week we’ll be featuring interviews celebrating a different ‘Bold’ npower woman each day.

alison  Alison Sidaway,

Product and Innovation Manager, npower Business

My first job was working part time at Woolworths on the record counter whilst still at school! It was a great job as I loved the people I worked  with and really enjoyed selling and being able to play the records I wanted!!….it gave me some great experience in retail and selling which led me into some great sales roles over the years.

I’ve worked in the energy industry for 34 years. Having ventured out to more commercial roles in recent years I really wanted to go back into a role which was closer to the customer, so Product and Innovation Manager was ideal. I love the variety of work and the wide range of people I interact with. I have a small but great team and we all ‘muck in’ together.

I am the sub steering group lead for the UK’s leg of the Innogy Women’s network. (Innogy is the German company that owns npower). The network is across all the countries that Innogy exists in and has been going for 10 years now. There are several hundred women across the company who are part of the network, and it is run voluntarily. We have several meetings and workshops throughout the year and an annual conference.

The network exists to support women who work for Innogy and its subsidiaries to help them get connected with other areas of the business, support each other and gain more visibility with the group.  We help them with mentoring and coaching as well as including them on projects which help with their personal and professional development.  This works both ways as it helps to support the company and bring new ideas to the table.

I’ve done lots of different things in my career but the scariest thing I did was presenting to a conference of 500 people!! It was a sales conference event and I had to relay how we were growing our business.

But the boldest has to be managing my career and ambitions while raising 2 children….There have been many challenges along the way but I am very satisfied with my achievements and have 2 very successful and grounded ‘grown up’ children now!!  To help manage the stress that comes with keeping the work/life balance I like to keep fit and either swim or go to the gym before work in the morning.  It keeps me on an even keel.

Get involved with International Women’s Day at

Like what you’ve seen? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #BeBoldForChange and Linkedin at npower Business

Recruiting the right people

Recruitment is very important, especially in small businesses. In your SME, your people are your business, so it’s important to hire the right ones. Sometimes this can be hard, especially for start-ups with low financial resource, in fact, 1 in 4 businesses said hiring skilled staff was a barrier for growth.

During a period of rapid growth, many businesses are tempted to hire quickly and sometimes the wrong type of people. This can be bad for business as it can cause a high turnover of staff and cost a huge amount of money.

We asked some of our case studies if they find it hard to find the right people to help grow their business. Here’s what they said:

Like what you’ve read? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #energytogrow and Linkedin at npower Business