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Customer Stories

‘Mega project’ HS2 transforms business with employee experience insights



High Speed Two Ltd (HS2) is the organisation tasked with building Britain’s high-speed rail network. It is the largest project ever invested in by the UK Government. Phase 1 of the new network, London to Birmingham, is now under construction and is scheduled for completion towards the end of the decade with a price range of c£40-£45 billion. Some 17,000 people are now working on the programme, and this is expected to climb towards c30,000 at peak construction. HS2 is a ‘mega project’ of a size and scale never previously attempted in the UK.

First UK company to achieve the prestigious Clear Assured Platinum Award for their efforts to improve Equality & Diversity
Staff retentionincreased by 9%
Staff engagement increased by 18%

The Problem

When Neil Hayward, Chief People Officer, joined HS2 back in 2017 he found a company that was in danger of failing.

“There were clear signs of distress in terms of HS2’s reputation, and performance. Their people were disengaged and unmotivated. A lot of change was required. That change had to embrace every aspect of their operating model – structures, systems, processes, governance, as well as their people. The Board signed off a new People and Organisation strategy which committed us to doing things differently, with focus on building HS2 as ‘an effective client organisation with the right capabilities’ and developing ‘a talented workforce and an inclusive culture’.

Employee voice, a corner stone of engagement wasn’t working at HS2. It had run a traditional bi-annual staff engagement survey – it was laborious process and by the time the results were shared with people managers, the feedback was dated. And the single snapshot in time wasn’t keeping up with the rate of change at HS2.”

The Solution

WorkBuzz and HS2 co-created a vision for what a world class employee experience would look like at the company and how we could revamp its employee engagement strategy. We set out to modernise its employee voice by introducing much more agile, quarterly pulse surveys and empowering managers with real-time feedback.

Shortly before we were due to launch, the Coronavirus pandemic took hold in the UK, with the first lockdown announced. HS2 pivoted and within just four days, launched a remote working and wellbeing pulse. The survey ensured that every colleague had the tools they needed to work from home productively, that they were receiving regular communications from the HS2 leadership team and also helped HS2 identify what support was needed for staff wellbeing.

Most importantly, the questions were relevant to employees and provided actionable insight. Through a series of bi-monthly wellbeing pulses, HS2 could track and adjust its approach, with response rates and wellbeing levels measurably improving as employees could see positive change resulting from their feedback.

With the UK in and out of lockdowns, HS2 has varied the focus of each pulse survey to ensure these are meaningful and timely, helping to shape its hybrid working and wider people strategy. The focus now is on improving the wider employee experience, throughout the employee life cycle.

“WorkBuzz helped me define what we wanted employee experience to mean at HS2. They brought passion, extensive experience, and a very agile and intuitive employee engagement platform, giving us insights, in real time, at every stage of an employee’s experience journey with us. We now truly understand what makes our people tick. My normal range of HRMI is backwards looking reporting on what has happened, whereas our employee experience insights from WorkBuzz get us onto the front foot and keep us there.”

The Outcome

Back in 2018 when HS2 started their transformation, only 76% of their employees responded to the then bi-annual staff engagement survey. Now they have consistently higher response rates much more frequently (+82%), employee retention has increased (+9%) and their staff are significantly more engaged too (+18%).

The insights have also helped sharpen HS2’s already impressive Diversity & Inclusion focus. In 2021, HS2 became the first UK company to achieve the prestigious Clear Assured Platinum Award for their efforts to improve Equality Diversity and Inclusion.

Even more importantly, after 18 months of the pandemic, HS2 remains on track to deliver Phase 1 of the programme to schedule and cost having kept construction working at more than 250 sites up and down the line of route through an approach that has put staff wellbeing and safety front and centre throughout. And by using WorkBuzz’s predictive turnover analysis, churn has slowed and hiring costs have reduced.

“Lots of companies say that they can bring HR Tech into help you solve your problems but then they turn out to be much less flexible and adaptable in practice. They give you a product where as WorkBuzz uses technology to give me a service. They are an exception in the employee experience and engagement space.”

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