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Article | EX Insights

Survey best practice: A discussion with SSE about their listening strategy

Featuring Julia Chalmers

Employee Engagement |Talent
N/A

November 2021

SSE is a group of seven different companies responsible for energy production and storage, as well as distribution networks in Northern Scotland and Southern England.

Julia Chalmers

Julia is Group Employee Engagement Manager at SSE and is responsible for the employee voice strategy, employee engagement data and data protection and internal engagement.


What kinds of listening does your company do?

We listen to employees in different ways. The biggest strand of our listening strategy is employee surveys, which has been dialed up recently because of COVID-19. Traditionally, our approach was to conduct a full employee survey every two years, with a shorter pulse every other year at most. However, during the pandemic, we created some key pieces of employee research where we focused on wellbeing and ways of working and these surveys are some of the biggest examples we have of employee feedback being put to actionable, tangible use.

We also started doing exit surveys last year. However, lower attrition levels during the pandemic meant that we have not been able to collect a lot of exit data over the last year, though we are now starting to see the numbers grow.

Additionally, we have increased the volume of our employee listening sessions to add flavor to the employee survey data. This approach includes employee focus groups with Group ExCo members and the CEO. I also work with one of our non-Executive Directors, Dame Sue Bruce, who is responsible for employee engagement on behalf of the Board, and I help to facilitate employee listening sessions with her. During these sessions, she meets groups of employees, articulates decisions from the Board, answers questions and generally listens to people. After each session, we create a paper which is shared in the next available Board meeting. She also attends a couple of Union meetings each year and enjoys a great relationship with this audience. We have found this to be a very impactful employee listening mechanism, despite having to transition to virtual meetings during the pandemic.

And lastly, we have a strong and growing presence on Yammer and use it for very quick feedback. In the past year we have started a number of "Belonging in SSE" employee groups for different demographic groups, such as Working Parents, LGBTQ+, Black and ethnic minority, Ex Armed Forces, Menopausal Women and Mental Health and Wellbeing. Each of these groups is employee-led with space on Yammer, and I connect with the leads of these groups to test ideas and ensure what we're doing is inclusive.

Can you share an example of employee feedback shaping company decisions during the pandemic?

The best example is probably the work that came after our Ways of Working survey in April 2021.

We initially asked colleagues some questions about future ways of working in our Coronavirus survey in May 2020 and then again in our Pulse survey in September 2020. The question sets were slim and focused on comfort levels with returning to the office and using public transport. We didn't get all the answers we needed, and the pandemic meant that restrictions were still very much in place.

When restrictions started to ease, we reached out again with a Ways of Working survey in April 2021 and we really focused on how colleagues felt about coming back to the office, including how regularly they would like to be in the office, how they would want to use the office, comfort levels with public transport and what they enjoyed most about home working, etc.

The feedback from that survey and corresponding data set were compelling, absolutely bringing to life how people were feeling at that moment in time.”

Julia Chalmers | Group Employee Engagement Manager

The feedback from that survey and corresponding data set were compelling, absolutely bringing to life how people were feeling at that moment in time. The data supported the conversations with our Group ExCo and Business Units being conducted through the Ways of Working Group, and was clearly considered in the development of our new Flexible First Policy, which is a set of guidelines empowering local teams and colleagues to make local decisions that are right for them and the business, without mandating how many times people have to come into the office or enforcing rigid parameters. We plan to do another Ways of Working survey next year to test it and see how it's working.

Have you faced any challenges specific to employee listening during the pandemic?

It became very clear that the front-line employees were having a different experience to the corporate and office/home working employees and that it's much more difficult for us to reach them and capture their views. For example, during storm periods, these colleagues are doing essential work outdoors in what can be challenging conditions, such as restoring power to homes and businesses.

It became very clear that the front-line employees were having a different experience to the corporate and office/home working employees and that it's much more difficult for us to reach them and capture their views.”

Julia Chalmers | Group Employee Engagement Manager

So, now I work more closely with our Distribution business unit leadership team to really make the data meaningful to them. We created a "Team of 10" construct as a simple way to communicate the survey results and people find it easy to understand and relate to. For example, we would say, if this BU was a team of 10, 2 people would feel stressed. This is something we can easily then put in a video or an infographic that make the data easier to digest and respond to.

You work directly with leaders a lot, have you ever had to work with someone who thinks they already know what employees think?

Going back more than five years, many of our senior leaders genuinely believed they knew what their employees thought and therefore did not always see the value of survey data. So, we listened to that and changed how we told the story again and again to make it more impactful. We made the data more meaningful to the business units and we've moved to a place now where we rely on this data both as a Group and within each of the businesses.

We made the data more meaningful to the business units and we've moved to a place now where we rely on this data both as a Group and within each of the businesses.”

Julia Chalmers | Group Employee Engagement Manager

Also, with the coronavirus crisis, we have increased the virtual listening sessions and our CEO has spoken to more employees in the past two years than any of the previous years. We've also invested more time in new comms channels, such as the SSE Leader newsletter and more "all employee calls" hosted on Teams, to make sure there is time devoted to sharing the employee data as part of our wider comms and engagement approach. Lastly, we have started publishing a culture dashboard for the Board, combining different data points and clearly highlighting the areas that need attention.


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