South East Water employee survey case study

  • Challenge: Needed a fresh approach to measuring employee engagement
  • Solution: New questionnaire and survey tool designed
  • Result: Record survey response, clear drivers of engagement, informing business improvements
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South East Water hired ETS in 2015 to partner with them on a new engagement survey. They wanted to use the survey to measure engagement among their 950 employees and to drive business improvement.


Water companies, and the wider utilities industry, have culturally been quite traditional and conservative but this is changing. A change of ownership back in 2007 and the acquisition of Mid Kent Water has only added to this evolution for South East Water.

The employee population, which features a number of long-serving workers who’ve previously been in the public sector, has seen an influx of ‘millennials’ with the opening of a new contact centre. This has made for a really diverse workforce that’s made up of customer services agents, engineers, technicians, analysts and accountants.

With so much change and transition, they wanted to gauge the views of employees in a survey. John Murphy, Head of HR at South East Water, explains:

“We wanted a fresh approach to our employee survey, having last run one back in 2013. It needed to test our values, to see how well they were being embedded, and to guide us on where further improvements could be made to increase engagement and improve our business and customer service. We went through a rigorous search for the right partner but it was clear from the start that ETS would fit in well with us and our values.”


Questionnaire design

ETS supported South East Water with a thorough questionnaire design process to ensure they got a survey that measured the things most important to both the business and employees. The process incorporated context gathering, stakeholder consultation, an on-site working session and employee validation panels. The panel sessions were particularly significant in ensuring employees were involved in the make-up of the survey.

The final survey featured 50 questions – down from 100 in their previous survey, which employees had said was too long. It covered 11 priority areas – some of particular importance – such as measuring the impact of their work on values and training and development. Having such breadth was important due to the time since the last survey.

We also proposed a change of survey rating scale, removing the ‘neutral’ response option to avoid people sitting on the fence, which was something South East Water felt had happened in the past.

The survey platform

The platform that we created for their ‘Count Me In’ survey was intuitive and easily accessible for all employees with full mobile and tablet compatibility, helping them to achieve an 87% response rate – the highest they’d ever achieved.

How the survey looked was equally important for South East Water, to ensure it felt familiar for employees. We designed the platform to reflect their strong and colourful branding, which was consistent with their other internal programmes.

Using effective communications

South East Water created a strong survey brand and applied this consistently across all communications materials before, during and after the survey. They made use of multiple channels to reach employees, including video, the company intranet (‘Gurgle’), competitions and computer screensavers.

As well as using a launch video before the survey, they also held movie style screenings of a survey results video – complete with popcorn! And this was supported by impactful infographic posters highlighting key survey themes including areas of strength and those in need of improvement.

Reporting at the right level

South East Water wanted to generate reports for different levels of employee. John Murphy explains how valuable this has been:

“The enhanced capabilities of the reporting tool ETS created gave us tremendous flexibility. It has allowed us to cut and analyse the data choosing between a number of demographics, and to create unlimited reports. We’ve done this for managers, executives and for larger groups. This wasn’t something we were able to do previously and we’ve used the tool extensively.”

The tool also enables analysis of open comments, which has provided some really useful nuggets on areas for improvement. This qualitative data has been particularly helpful for South East Water as scores overall were so positive, they needed to understand more around challenge areas for the business and what employees felt could be done to improve things.

We designed an intuitive manager report to help local level managers to interpret results and take action. The tool uses an algorithm to prioritise the items most impacting engagement, so as to ensure managers are taking action on the right things. We populated reports with tangible actions that could be taken for each priority item.


Taking action

After the survey results were ready, we supported the HR team with their ‘Plan-Do-Review’ approach. John Murphy talks about the process:

“After ETS first facilitated a session for our executives, we agreed upon the cascading of reports before identifying possible quick wins that could be addressed at a local level and the longer term initiatives we wanted to focus on as a business.”

We provided their managers with a full action tool-kit featuring a library of hints and tips on what to do for any one of the survey questions. Additionally, they are using on-going focus groups and quarterly staff updates to maintain momentum on survey actions. They will do this until taking a ‘pulse’ of how things are progressing later on in 2017.

Business impact

South East Water is clearly doing lots right. Of the 27 questions in their survey that could be compared with our ETS benchmark, 22 achieved scores above the benchmark, 13 of these significantly so.

They also now have a clear sense of what employee engagement looks like in the company with results showing that business areas with the least sickness and lowest turnover also had the most highly engaged employees.

Furthermore, the survey results have been used to inform a raft of changes including an overhaul of L&D activities. There’s also lots of planned new work on organisational development and possibly also on clarity of career progression.

The follow-up pulse survey will serve as a great measure of progress on these areas and, by reviewing the questions posed, this should enable South East Water to dig deeper on some challenge areas – among their sea of positive scores.