During Mental Health Awareness Week we’re focusing on an area of health and safety historically overlooked, but which has become an increasing focus of the networks in recent years.
Now more than ever, millions of people are relying on more than 36,000 people who work for the UK's energy networks to keep their energy flowing. Now more than ever, the families, friends and colleagues of more than 36,000 people are relying on them to come home safely every day. With coronavirus changing the way we work and live and its effects on mental health not yet fully understood, the energy networks have increased mental health support in recent months.
“Many of us are worrying about the current situation around coronavirus and how it might affect our lives," explains David Smith, Chief Executive of Energy Networks Association, "so it's important we acknowledge how it may affect our mental health while making sure we take care of ourselves and our colleagues."
Mental health issues are more common than one might think. Statistics suggest one in four people will experience a mental health challenge in any given year and nearly three-quarters of those diagnosed with a mental health condition don’t feel comfortable speaking to people at work about it. The reality, however, is that mental health affects us all.
The UK’s energy network companies are only too aware of the challenges and have taken steps to support their colleagues. Andrew Pace, Director of HR at UK Power Networks, said: “Staff welfare is a top priority for us and during these worrying times we are making sure there is plenty of support in the workplace.”
Like many ENA members, UK Power Networks runs a free employee assistance line providing counselling, financial advice, legal consultation and health advice. With a large number of people working remotely, the company has also designed a mental health online learning system to help managers support their teams now and in the years ahead.
Andrew outlined the company’s focus on the issue adding, “We run an ongoing campaign to promote mental health, boost energy levels and develop trusted support networks people can contact if they need help.”
Training staff to recognise and support those who need help is also a priority. Western Power Distribution has arranged bespoke virtual workshops for 300 people managers via Mental Health First Aid England. Those attending the calls gain an understanding of a range of mental health illnesses along with guidance on how to support colleagues who have been affected.
Recognising the impact that the current coronavirus pandemic has had on their teams and with a desire to share information across a much more remote workforce during lockdown, Wales and West Utilities and Northern Powergrid have each implemented a ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’.
Every Wednesday, they have been sharing information across their respective companies including powering your mind with a healthy diet, dealing with motivational pressure on social media, identifying fake news and looking for genuine sources, managing pandemic media overload, top tips for sleeping well, working remotely and adapting to change.
Sam King, from Wales & West’s emergency service team said, “It’s good to see attitudes are changing towards mental health. It’s great colleagues are being encouraged to speak up if they have mental health issues, just as they would if they had physical health issues. It really goes to show the importance of looking after the whole person.”
Gas distribution company SGN has developed a new mental health toolkit and launched a section of their staff app called Staying Connected which brings together existing and new content focusing on wellbeing, as well as learning and support for those newly adjusting to working from home. SGN is also reminding their teams that they have access to colleagues who are trained mental health supporters, a service also offered by other ENA members.
Kindness goes a long way
Small acts of kindness can also promote wellbeing and positive mental health which is why both SP Energy Networks and Electricity North West are highlighting their employee benefits this week. Samantha Chalk, Service Request and Catalogue Manager at Electricity North West, said: “Kindness is doing nice positive acts that help others which in turn makes them feel good and happy, and also makes you, yourself happier. Being kind is difficult in challenging situations and takes great strength and courage to achieve it.”
The UK's network companies recognise that providing support for their teams is a vital part of ensuring physical and mental health – making sure that all areas of peoples’ lives are as positive as they can be.
David Smith concluded, “The energy networks are committed to looking after the health and wellbeing of everyone in their communities - from employees to members of the public - we all rely on one another. Mental Health Awareness Week is a fitting moment to reflect and see what more we can do to support our colleagues and friends through this unique period.”
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About Energy Networks Association
Energy Networks Association (ENA) is the industry body representing the companies which operate the electricity wires, gas pipes and energy system in the UK and Ireland.
ENA helps its members meet the challenge of delivering electricity and gas to communities across the UK and Ireland safely, sustainably and reliably.
Its members include every major electricity and gas network operator in the UK and Ireland, independent operators, National Grid ESO which operates the electricity system in Great Britain and National Grid Gas which operates the gas system in Great Britain. Its affiliate membership also includes companies with an interest in energy, including Heathrow Airport and Network Rail.
What are energy network operators?
Energy network operators manage and maintain the wires, pipes and other infrastructure which delivers electricity and gas to your home, business and community. They are private companies which are regulated by Ofgem and employ around 45,000 people in the UK and Ireland. They are represented by their industry body, Energy Networks Association (that's us).