ESB has an iconic presence throughout the history of the Irish state. It looms large in the public consciousness as a symbol of modernity, inter-connectedness and public service.
Today, ESB employs more than 7,000 people across its various operations, which include ESB Networks – the gallant band of men and women responsible for keeping the electricity network working.
Jennifer Grogan is a member of ESB’s health and well-being team. Jennifer’s brief covers, amongst other fields, research and development. “I keep my eye on what’s out there nationally and globally”, she explains, “and then put together proposals and try to apply things internally within ESB”.
“I’m very conscious that I’m just one cog in a large wheel”, says Jennifer. “ESB has a long history of looking out for employees, going back to the Welfare Officers of the past. Today, we have our internal Employee Assistance Programme officers who are the go-to resource for personal, work or health issues, as well as an external 24/7 confidential counselling and support service”.
“There’s a definite family feel to the organisation”, says Jennifer, who joined ESB in a safety culture role seven years ago. “We place a big emphasis on health and safety, on looking after yourself and others”.
Jennifer describes the sincere sense of mission and organisational values, which guides ESB employees in their daily endeavours; “There’s a deep, ingrained belief that we’re there to keep the lights on. We’re trusted and recognised in our communities”.
While a majority of ESB’s workforce (especially in frontline repair and maintenance roles) are male, the organisation’s workplace well-being initiatives are targeted at employees of every gender and demographic.
“The principle is that you bring your full self to work. We have a range of initiatives that span positive parenting programmes and diversity and inclusion – which complement our Health and Well-being strategy. It’s a blended approach. While also being mindful that some health and well-being activities will work better for one demographic than others, it’s about recognising that and adapting to it. There are cornerstones that relate to everyone, and we have proactive programmes designed to provide awareness and learning on a variety of topics that relate to protecting our mental and physical health – but you do have to tweak things for different demographics”.
Jennifer cites as an example the interest from certain demographics of employees that want to engage with digital well-being tools. “The younger cohort are all over that’, she says; “they want the apps, they want to know their number of steps, they’re looking at the biofeedback metrics and the quality and duration of their sleep, whereas some employees express little interest in using a smartphone to support their own health and wellbeing”.
In addition to the digital tools available to employees, Jennifer is a firm believer in the value of peer-to-peer learning and support. “That’s how you get the engagement and buy-in’, she states emphatically. “We have our central corporate Brighter Future strategy, but we need to ensure this is supported and driven locally at different layers across our diverse organisation”.
At ESB, volunteer Well-being Champions drive the message home and a network of Mind Your Buddies have been trained by Pieta house as a ‘go to’ contact person to support colleagues. Safety Week sees ESB Networks staff stand down for a day to receive invaluable advice and guidance from bodies such as the Marie Keating Foundation, the HSE, as well as leading specialists and speakers in the areas of mental and physical health.
At time of publication, 20 employees are being trained as mental health first aiders, and the current range of proactive health and well-being programmes and digital tools are being assessed to ensure effectiveness and relevance. Jennifer is confident that the organisations’ workplace well-being initiatives are headed in the right direction.
“In any organisation, managers and supervisors need to be supported in having the skills to promote and support a healthy workplace and workforce”, Jennifer adds, along with a culture where everyone feels trusted and valued. If you ask someone “how are you?” you need to be prepared for the follow-up if the person responds “not great, actually”. Our focus is to ensure we equip people with the skills to recognise what constitutes a healthy workplace, to look after their health and well-being, and that the knowledge is there around the supports and services available.
“Health and well-being is not about a once off event or initiative or ticking a box”, Jennifer concludes; “It’s about ensuring a safe, healthy and inclusive workplace day-in, day-out. That’s what we’re striving to achieve”.