The very purpose of Network Rail (NR), the organisation responsible for the UK rail network and employer of more than 34,000 people, is to connect communities. But after a five-year people strategy, launched in 2013, revealed only 63 per cent of employees rated National Rail as positive in its community, it was clear change was imperative to the organisation’s success.
But how to engage and communicate with a diverse, geographically disparate team? Little did the HR department know, as they embarked on an ambitious new project, that the employee base would unite under a common goal and engagement would skyrocket as a result.
At the time, NR’s charity partner was CLIC Sargent, a cancer charity for children. A charity challenge was launched to raise £100,000 by the end of 2016. Corporate functions matched the amounts raised and the HR team became a PR machine, sharing stories and pictures of fundraising events. The response was unprecedented. There were marathons, mountain climbs and cake sales, to name but a few of the activities employees were involved in. The project was a resounding success: a £200,000 target was surpassed and engagement increased five per cent over the period.
When Network Rail became publicly owned and matched giving became impossible in 2016, the organisation was not deterred. Building on its previous achievement, HR changed tack and asked employees to volunteer not money, but time. A new challenge was set to collectively complete 1,000 volunteering days.
It was a huge ask – in 2015, only 45 volunteering days were undertaken by the track team - but employees once again exceeded expectations, with 573 days already booked by 305 employees in early 2018.
This community building ingeniously correlated with Network Rail’s corporate goals, and many employees volunteered on heritage railways or environmental projects. The HR team’s creativity drove the initiative forward with a “share with pride” approach encouraging community publication and group acknowledgement of successes. Some examples of self-promoted work include the construction of frog ponds, refurbishment of gardens and delivery of careers talks.
The initiative successfully put the “network” back into Network Rail. The volunteering scheme not only re-engaged an enormous number of employees but has been linked to business performance over the past five years. And the organisation believes a reduction in the number of overrunning engineering works and delay minutes is no coincidence. For judges, the achievement was notable: they said the team showed “real passion” and had “overcome significant barriers”.