UK Power Networks has focused on helping its field staff by offering wide-ranging mental health support ahead of Men’s Health Awareness Month in November.
The company has recognised operational teams can find it more difficult than office-based staff to access support services.
Field staff who spend most of their time on the road, fixing underground or overhead cables, are much more likely to find themselves working alone, meaning they can risk feeling isolated.
Now a series of wellbeing events across the East of England have begun, covering psychological safety, neurodiversity, mental health (by ex-armed forces speakers) as well as occupational health advice.
Connie Dickie, Employee Engagement Manager for UK Power Networks, says: “We want to provide a safe and comfortable environment for colleagues to learn and share their emotions and experiences with open discussions and signposting to support services as required.
“This new initiative is designed to support the whole person, and targets colleagues who are at the sharp end of keeping the power flowing to our customers. There are pressures which come with their jobs, not least staying safe around electricity, and we want them to be assured that we care about their welfare.
“The workshops held so far have been well-received and we have more events planned before the end of the year. These are all face-to-face as while webinars have their place, we feel these sessions work best with everybody there in person for that human touch.”
Pete White, a mental health consultant, who delivered guidance and practical tips to employees attending, says: “Having events like these do provide a deliberate interruption to the usual work pattern and a way for employees to ask if something needs to be done to improve things in their lives.
“Other companies should follow UK Power Networks’ lead in my view, as it was fantastically well received, I had a lot of people come up to me after the session, in some cases people you might not expect to want to engage, wanting to share their thoughts and feelings.
“I’m an armed forces veteran so I bring in some of my experiences in the Royal Air Force, including serving in Afghanistan, and you hope people can relate to that kind of sharing of experiences because the purpose is for everyone to feel they can open up in an environment like this. It’s great that the company are offering them the chance to.”
Dr Phil Clarke, a psychological safety consultant, who also presented, says: “It is important to consider psychological safety in any environment and it’s right that companies like UK Power Networks are creating an opportunity for people to come forward and challenge how they feel both from a professional and a personal perspective.
“The sessions so far have been well received with some good conversations with staff. We know that men, in general, can find it difficult to open up about their mental health, it’s a really important discussion to have at work, and people at the sessions have said they feel the benefit of taking the time to do it.”
Peter Clements, a field staff supervisor who introduced the first event in Cheshunt, is a key point of contact for his team and felt the day was welcomed by those who attended.
He says: “In my role as a field staff supervisor there are a lot of people I look after going through a whole range of different feelings and emotions, I have dealt with a lot of colleagues with different issues going on.
“A lot of pressure can build up in this job, above all, the responsibility is on all of us to work safety and make sure we go home safe at the end of the day.
“These wellbeing days aren’t about ticking a box, they’re a way of demonstrating to our field staff that we can help them and that as a company we do care about their welfare. It’s always a win-win if you can help people, and events like these are an innovative way to do that.
“We know that older men can be a group who traditionally find it difficult to talk about their mental health. I think that’s something which has gotten better in recent years, but there will be guys who will still be reluctant to open up.
“There is no obligation for them to do so at these events, but there is an opportunity to share their experiences and feelings if they wish to. Often there aren’t as many chances for them to reflect on things with colleagues, so these events are important.
“There is a lot to think about doing jobs in the field, starting with the need to stay safe during a job, nobody can afford distractions. These meetings have been created to provide support to ease those pressures.”