Interview with Sally Purbrick, head of reward, Anglian Water

Sally Purbrick, head of reward at Anglian Water, believes HR departments can add value to an organisation, rather than being just another cost centre. 

Sally Purbick Anglian Water

“The days have gone in Anglian Water when the traditional HR department was just seen as something that brings people into the organisation and pays them,” she says.

“It’s about the value we can bring. Specifically, the reward area, and our strategies around linking personal performance to reward, pushes the reward team to come up with innovative approaches that meet a particular part of the business.

”It’s quite a complex organisation, so it’s about looking at different approaches that suit different parts of the business. We are asked to help drive performance through creative reward.”

Purbrick heads up the reward function at Anglian Water, which sits within the organisation’s HR department, and has responsibility for employee compensation and benefits. This includes development of the employer’s total reward strategy, and all reward activities through to executive level, including board papers and proposals for the remuneration committee.

New challenge 

Purbrick has not always worked in reward. A qualified accountant, she joined the water company in a finance role in 1990. It was only after returning to the organisation from maternity leave in 2004 that she decided she wanted a new challenge and took a different career route.

“An opportunity was presented to me by our then HR director to have a go at HR, although not just reward at that stage,” she says. ”That was an opportunity I took, and I have grown from there.”

But Purbrick’s current role has not been without its challenges.

“There are some real highs,” she says. ”An example would be dealing with employee recognition and reward, which is all nice when we want to say thank-you for a job well done. But then it becomes more tricky when we look at where policy has maybe become a little out of date.

“An example of that could be company car eligibility, which we know is always an emotive subject. It’s about not shying away from the difficult decisions, but that is balanced sometimes with some really nice things we can get involved with.”

Proudest achievement

Auto-enrolment has proved largely stress-free for Purbrick and her team, and she cites the project as one of her proudest achievements. Anglian Water decided to broaden the scope of its trust-based pension scheme, the Anglian Water group pension scheme, to enrol all its employees, rather than just those covered by the legislation.

Separately, Anglian Water has received HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) approval to implement a salary sacrifice arrangement for staff to pay their water bills, which helped to deliver annual savings of 23% to employees.

Purbrick also cites her ability to manage the fast pace of her home and work life as a significant achievement.

“You might think a water company is quite traditional, and in some ways it is, but we do embrace an awful lot of change as well,” she says. “For me, it’s being about being able to manage well at that pace, and also the balance that comes with running a family life as well.” 

Purbrick has found it easier to blend her home and work lives by working part-time. “I don’t believe you can be two people,” she says.”You can’t be somebody at work and somebody at home. I think life now is so fast-paced and that we’re constantly working from both home and the office that everything has to blend together. Then you have the best of both worlds.” 

Purbrick attributes her successful balancing act to technology such as her Blackberry, which enables her to keep in touch with her office when she is not there. 

Working part-time gives Purbrick the time to indulge in her children’s successes. “For my children, sporting achievements are where they excel,” she says. ”It’s nice to see their smile, which makes you proud.”



How would you describe yourself?

I look for new and different ways of doing things. Just because other [employers] are doing something in a traditional way, or it might just be the trendy thing to do, it doesn’t mean I will follow suit. It’s about looking out for how we can approach things differently, and that could be work or home, and looking for the best outcome possible, rather than ‘everyone else is doing it, it must be OK’.

What are your positive attributes?

I think I’ve got a generally engaging style, and I think I’m fairly easy to work with. People do enjoy working with me, but on the flipside of that, I do push myself and my team hard. Sometimes I probably need to stand back and say, ’is everything really achievable, or have we taken on too much?’.

What is your favourite benefit?

Our healthcare trust scheme. There aren’t many organisations that offer employer-funded healthcare to all employees, but the value we can get from that and the focus we put on employees’ health and wellbeing is key. It’s not just about the money we put in.


Curriculum vitae

January 2007-present head of reward, Anglian Water

October 2004-December 2006 HR project manager, Anglian Water

September 1999-September 2004 head of business performance, Anglian Water

September 1990-August 1999 various management accounting roles, Anglian Water