People and culture

Safe, engaged and empowered team, customer trust and value, Industry talent and skills developed

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At Watercare, we define ourselves as a lifeline utility providing essential services around the clock. This was emphatically proven again over the past year.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Zealand, our main objectives as a company were to ensure the health and well-being of our people and continue providing services to 1.7 million Aucklanders.

While the country went into lockdown for more than six weeks and most other businesses remained closed, our people worked day and night to ensure that the two most essential services during a pandemic – access to safe and reliable water supply and sanitation – continued unhindered. We did this by proactively developing and implementing a COVID-19 response plan to manage our people's health and wellness, provide them with access to critical supplies, reduce their risk and enable remote-working. As a result, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Watercare or among the extended family networks, even during peak community transmission. (Read the case study below.)

With the pandemic being a test of our resilience, the ongoing drought continues to be another one. It has been heartening to see our people come together time and again to weather crises and leave no stones unturned in responding to these situations. It is a welcome evolution of our organisation from one that is based on power and structure to one empowered by people, knowledge and collaboration.

Our most recent eNPS score (a metric used to measure employee satisfaction) has increased 70%, from +21 to +36. In general, our people would recommend Watercare as a great place to work for the work environment and culture, and because the work itself is interesting. Areas highlighted for improvement include more collaboration and alignment between business functions and more transparency around remuneration and how our pay structure compares to the market.

The feedback from the recent eNPS also highlighted the progress made in diversity and inclusiveness: 84% of the respondents said they would be comfortable speaking about their background, identity and cultural experiences and 66% said they see leadership support for diversity and inclusion at Watercare. We also improved gender and ethnic representation: 13% for female employees and 12% for those of Mäori ethnicity.

Staff turnover for 2019/20 was 8.2%, a decrease from 10.9% in 2018/19 and further affirms our commitment to be an employer of choice.

One positive outcome from the pandemic and the subsequent nationwide lockdown was the almost instantaneous adoption of technology and tools to work remotely. Around 70% of our workforce worked from home and collaborated digitally. This uptake of digital tools was also reflected in the quantum leap in time spent on training online – staff training through Immerse, our in-house learning platform, increased about 500%, from 16 hours per employee in 2018/19 to 106 hours in 2019/20.

One of the learning modules introduced during the year, Unconscious Bias, was aimed at educating managers and people leaders on the importance of diversity and inclusion and providing practical ways to overcome implicit biases in hiring, allocating work and promoting team members. Around 73% of our people leaders have completed this training to date.

We also introduced two leadership programmes – Future Stars and Growing Greatness – to unlock the potential in our teams and collectively solve some of the challenges prevalent in the water and infrastructure industry. Growing Greatness is specifically aimed at developing mid-career women, to help them see themselves as leaders and fulfil their potential. Building capability not just for Watercare but also for the water and infrastructure industry as a whole will be an ongoing focus for us.

The increase in the number of injuries is an ongoing challenge in our industry. An analysis of the health and safety data shows that the vast majority of the incidents we recorded over the year were due to manual handling resulting in sprains, strains and soft-tissue injuries to backs, shoulders and necks.

We recognise that health and safety does not happen in isolation. A balanced diet, practising and warming up for specific work on any given day, and focusing on mental well-being, all play a critical role in ensuring our people are ready to undertake physical work in a safe and productive way.

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Our Industrial Athlete programme includes education and practical support in nutrition, rest and sleep, relaxation and mindfulness, endurance, flexibility and strength, as well as manual handling techniques.

During 2019/20, 82 managers and people leaders participated in Mental Health First-Aid training. This training equipped managers to identify when employees are under mental stress, to support them through these issues and to promote a wellness culture at work.

Wellness continued to be a key focus during the lockdown. We put together a comprehensive welfare plan, including a special COVID-19 paid sick leave policy, food parcel delivery and daily well-being check-ins to support our people – those out in the field doing essential work and those working remotely from home – during this unprecedented time.

The option to work from home has been carried forward after the lockdown ended. This has enabled staff to be more flexible in how they carry out their work and reduced the time involved in commuting and the resulting pressure and stress.

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Case study

A proactive, comprehensive response to COVID-19

As countries across the world struggle to combat the pandemic, New Zealand has addressed and contained COVID-19 comparatively well.

We believe Watercare’s response to COVID-19 continues to be proactive, comprehensive and effective.

New Zealand saw its first COVID-19 case at the end of February 2020. By then, Watercare’s risk and operations teams were already monitoring the situation and its potential impact on our workforce, especially those working in wastewater.

In the first week of March, we set up an incident response team, with over 50 people across the business dedicated to various functions: gathering up-to-date information on the pandemic, planning our response across the company, implementing our action plans, managing our supply chain, ensuring our people were looked after, keeping our workforce informed and engaged, and supporting the transition to working from home.

The two main objectives for the incident response team were: keeping our workforce safe and well, and maintaining our critical services.

We introduced a number of plans and policies to provide wrap-around support and safeguard the physical and mental well-being of our people. We worked on the principle that no staff member would be financially disadvantaged due to COVID-19: we introduced a special COVID-19 paid sick leave above and beyond the annual sick-leave allowance for staff in case they were confirmed to have the virus or asked to self-isolate; organised food and grocery deliveries to operational sites to reduce the risk to our essential workers; and established a welfare support crew to perform daily welfare check-ins over the phone with staff to ensure they stayed connected from inside their bubbles.

Rigorous protocols for work bubbles and physical distancing were put in place to reduce risk to our site-based operations crew. Our digital team deployed over 500 laptops to enable the remaining teams to work from home and support our other functions.

By the end of June 2020, we had successfully ensured that there were no instances of COVID-19 among staff or their extended families. With the robust framework we put in place in March, we are well placed to manage any resurgences.

By looking after our people, we enabled them to look after water and sanitation needs of 1.7 million Aucklanders.