Whole Person, Whole Career

By Mairead Meyer, Board Member, Business in the Community and Managing Director of Openreach in Northern Ireland

The Openreach team, which is 750 strong, are the people driving NI’s digital revolution, building and maintaining the broadband network in the region and connecting homes and businesses to the latest broadband technologies.

Since the rollout of a major rebrand programme to launch the Openreach brand in NI in late 2018, following a long history of operating as the engineering division of BT, the team has continued to focus its efforts on achieving faster speeds, broader coverage and a better service for everyone in NI.

Openreach is now leading the way in the rollout of new, more reliable and more resilient Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology – providing ultrafast speeds to support the ever-increasing demands from businesses and consumers and has ambitious targets for the coming years and long into the future.

To deliver on these aspirations, Openreach recognises the importance of having great people as part of the team and as a company we understand the importance of looking after and nurturing our people throughout every stage of their career. We’ve a multi-generational workforce, with team members ranging from 18 to 70, who all want different things from their employment relationship with us. Ensuring that they get the support they need, whenever they need it, and whatever their needs are, is central to how we operate. We see ourselves as a family, a family who look out for and support one another.

Many people within Openreach have been with the business for most of their careers, others have been with us and then taken some time away before re-joining. We also have a consistent flow of new recruits and apprentices.
With that in mind, Openreach has a group-wide health, safety and wellbeing management policy that aims to provide effective protection and support in the workplace, to promote good health and wellbeing and to promote healthy behaviours that help people of all ages thrive.

As part of this, we have an annual health, safety and wellbeing plan that rolls out across NI. Within this plan there are programmes and events to address both physical and mental health as well as partnerships with external health agencies to raise awareness of a variety of issues from bowel cancer to heart disease. We also provide training in health and safety procedures and proper use of equipment. This is particularly important given the work most of our teams do.

In addition, our managerial teams take part in mental health training courses each year, equipping them to identify and support mental health concerns. This programme will be available to all employees from this year. We also offer access to an Employee Assistance Programme that provides a range of services from telephone and face-to-face counselling, and bereavement support to legal and financial advice.

To ensure we remain aligned with our employees’ needs and wants, we also undertake a bi-annual ‘Your Say’ survey. This gives our team the chance to have their say on all things health and wellbeing related and to give their opinions and suggestions for activity for the year ahead.

Openreach aims to be as inclusive and supportive of all employees and we have a vision to be Disability Confident. We actively encourage the recruitment, development and retention of people with a disability and have well-established practices in place to support people who have or acquire disabilities or health conditions during their employment.

As a business, and like many around the globe, we’re cognisant of the implications of the fact that the world’s population is ageing. We need to ensure that we’re best placed to support in closing any skills gaps, to tackle any age bias and enable people to stay in work longer and work more flexibly as their circumstances change.

This is particularly the case for those in the 50+ age bracket and we’ve a number of measures in place to ensure that existing employees, or potential new employees, know they will get the support they need.

Openreach also has a range of flexible working options to help employees have a strong work life balance and an opportunity to succeed. This is based on several guiding principles:

  • Everyone has the opportunity to ask to work flexibly
  • We want everyone to have a healthy work life balance
  • We’ll consider both the individual needs and the needs of the business
  • We’ll make sure we take into account any personal circumstances
  • We’ll make sure our process is fair and free from bias

We also understand that personal family circumstances can change over time, no matter what age you are, and if any employees feel that their work could be impacted by a health, disability or caring responsibility then they can complete a ‘carers passport’. This balances the needs of the business with the individual and results in an agreed outcome. This has been so successful that we’ve shared this learning with our partners at Business in the Community and other leading businesses across NI so they can adopt a similar approach.

Employers across NI, and further afield, have a duty to support all of their employees, and they also need to recognise the value of their older workforce. The first step on this journey is to ensure that the existing work culture and working practices are inclusive and fit for purpose. This means looking at flexible working or putting support systems in place – whether that is for those with caring responsibilities, those who have a need for financial advice for the future or providing general guidance on health and wellbeing.

Looking after your employees is not just a nice thing to do, it is a must do and is a key responsibility for any employer – large or small. For Openreach, our people are our greatest asset and we will continue to help them grow and thrive throughout their career with our support.

With 70% of the working population in Northern Ireland currently in employment, it is clear that the workplace is the perfect setting to influence positive lifestyle and cultural change. Business in the Community helps by offering consultancy, support and strategic engagement.

Business in the Community has just launched a new Age@Work project in partnership with Age NI. It will encourage and support business to value older workers as part of a diverse, inclusive and dynamic workforce. It can help your business improve HR policies to recruit, retain and retrain older workers. A suite of innovative age-inclusive business tools including age-focussed skills audits/triage and mid-career reviews.

To get involved, please contact denise.cranston@bitcni.org.uk, call (028) 9046 0606, or visit www.bitcni.org.uk