As Mental Health Awareness Week begins, David Smith, ENA's CEO, reflects on an incredibly challenging year and the steps that network operators have taken to support mental well-being.
Over the last eighteen months, many of you will have experienced mental health challenges personally, or supported friends or family members. Mental Health Awareness Week is the right time to reflect on the importance of wellbeing and mental health in keeping people safe.
Looking after our colleagues' health, safety and well-being is at the heart of what the energy network operators do. During the pandemic, our members have been making sure there is plenty of support in the workplace and have put in place new and innovative ways of providing assistance to deliver positive, often proactive, mental health support.
This is something on which we’ve been taking action at Energy Networks Association too, taking a team-by-team approach with the provision of a central support network and an advice service for staff to use if they need. We haven't shied away from talking about mental health openly in our all staff meetings and in individual team settings.
The pandemic has thrown up several challenges, one of which - of course - has been that many of us have been working either remotely or certainly quite differently. Spending significantly less time together in depots and offices has meant we've all had to find new ways of communicating with our colleagues, and making time for conversations which aren't exclusively work-related.
Using new communication channels, Western Power Distribution has piloted podcasts on their occupational health intranet page. They are all conducted by psychologists and many of the podcasts raise the different types of challenges to mental health. One of the most popular podcasts focused on the anxieties and stresses related specifically to COVID-19.
Western Power Distribution has also provided an online Zoom course for all managers looking at how to identify and assist with mental health issues within their workforce. Owing to its success, the programme is being expanded into a fuller e-learning programme.
Northern Powergrid has also been providing tips and guidance on mental health benefits from exercise, mindfulness, diet, and relationships through a regular ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ campaign.
This consists of regular reminders for colleagues to access services which include access to over 60 trained Mental Health First Aiders spread across, and an assistance programme which provides free, confidential support and counselling to colleagues, every day of the year.
Like many network operators, SGN has put in place a support network for their colleagues. Teams of Mental Health Supporters are available across the company to listen to what’s on peoples’ minds. They are all fully trained to talk through problems and concerns people might have and will point them in the right direction to get the help they may need.
Likewise, as part of Northern Powergrid’s commitment to positive mental health, around 300 managers have received Mental Health Awareness training so they can identify when and if colleagues may be struggling and then offer the support they need.
24/7 support for colleagues
Network operators are only too aware of the fact that issues out of work can affect colleagues’ mental health which is why, like Northern Powergrid and UK Power Networks, SGN provide a free employee assistance programme which allows staff and family members to speak in complete confidence to a trained advisor. They can offer emotional, legal and financial support, guidance and signposting. It also gives colleagues access to a confidential telephone counselling service.
SGN has also launched a Mental Health Toolbox, designed to support colleagues who find themselves having a difficult time. It is simple and easy to use and acts like a personalised 'pick-and-mix' of things that might help someone’s mental wellbeing.
Mental Health Awareness Week 2021
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘nature’ which is particularly fitting as many of us have been spending more time than ever sitting indoors. It provides a chance see what more we can do to help our colleagues and friends through this challenging time, while reflecting on our own situations.
Now more than ever, our network companies know that looking after the physical and mental health of their teams is a vital part of helping to make sure that all aspects of their colleagues’ lives are as positive as possible.
Where to find support
If you're concerned about yourself or a loved one, these mental health charities, organisations and support groups offer expert advice.
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).
Energy supplier or network operator? Energy network operators are entirely separate to your energy supplier, which is the company that bills you for using electricity and gas. Energy suppliers and generators are represented by Energy UK.