Case study

Employee engagement and wellbeing: The Office of Rail Regulation, External Affairs Team

How the External Affairs Team at the Office of Rail Regulation increased staff wellbeing from 2012 to 2014.


Key ideas from this case study:

  • promote open sharing of ideas, regardless of seniority, and trust staff to properly own their work
  • make the great work of your team visible, and tell your employees about their impact
  • promote a hard-working but informal atmosphere that is comfortable and collaborative
  • monitor wellbeing and engagement scores using the People Survey, to see what’s working

The External Affairs Team is a small team of 18 at the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), managing departmental communications.

They have seen an impressive rise in wellbeing scores from 2012 to 2014. In fact in 2014 87% of respondents reported “being satisfied” with their lives - up 33 percentage points.

We interviewed 3 members of staff (the Head of Internal Communications, the Associate Director of Communications, and a Communications Executive), to understand how they improved.

An environment for ideas

The team’s management recently pushed for greater openness and inclusiveness. Team members report that senior leaders support input from the team, and encourage their ideas to be acted on.

The culture is non-judgemental. It doesn’t matter if ideas seem wayward, feedback and suggestions are valued and supported.

A confident team

Increasing openness has led to more motivated and confident staff, who are more empowered and have more responsibility. They report people are more willing to speak in team meetings, and there is free exchange of ideas regardless of seniority. Junior staff now directly engage with their stakeholders, giving them greater ownership of their work.

Greater team visibility

The increased use of social media by ORR is another result of staff ideas being taken forward. Team members feel this has built up the internal and external appreciation of the organisation. It’s also strengthened the reputation of the External Affairs Team in its own right.

This has led to increased requests for help from the team from other colleagues in the organisation. This has given team members a greater sense of value – making their work seem more worthwhile and recognised.

Inspiring leaders

Senior leaders have a collaborative and highly approachable style.

Team members report that people are treated equally, that the leadership does not interfere in people’s work, and the atmosphere—while hardworking—is friendly and light-hearted. Senior leaders were also patient in allowing changes to take hold, letting the more open approach take hold gradually.

Continuing the legacy of trust and openness

The team is a great example of how an open and trusting environment can promote employees’ sense of worth and value.

It shows how employee wellbeing increases when staff are valued, trusted, and their team’s work is appreciated within and outside the organisation.

While the senior leadership has recently changed, managers have committed to continue to put into place these changes. Managers use the People Survey results to track the impact of the changes, which will help ensure the team’s great results persist.

How the business benefited

Better co-ordinated engagement with external stakeholders from staff across grades has made the business more visible to the outside world.

Greater use of social media to engage with the public has increased not only the team’s profile, but the department’s, flagging the important work it undertakes.

Team members feel this has also helped advertise its professionalism, and in turn improved its reputation as a leading regulatory organisation.

Published 2 July 2015