How Great People Practices Can Drive Your Culture with the IRFU

Cathal Divilly

In the thirteenth episode of The Red Cube Podcast, Great Place to Work CEO Cathal Divilly is joined by Aileen Bailey, HR Director at the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU). Aileen speaks into how the IRFU have built on their inclusive and progressive practices in the last few years and the importance of staying consistent with your approach from the top down. 2023 winners of the Culture Improvement Special Award at the Best Workplaces™ Awards, the IRFU have implemented a whole host of initiatives from team huddles to wellness weeks to ensure staff feel supported throughout the business.


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Aileen Bailey

HR Director
Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU)


Cathal Divilly

Great Place to Work Ireland



Cathal Divilly: Welcome Red Cube listeners. We are delighted to welcome our next guest to the show, Aileen Bailey, HR Director from the IRFU. Aileen, you're very welcome. 

Aileen Bailey: Thanks a million Cathal and thanks for having me. 

Cathal Divilly: Thanks a lot, Aileen, we really appreciate your time. We're looking forward to the conversation today. The IRFU have spent a lot of time introducing really progressive work practices for their people, so we're looking forward to hearing more about that. But before we get into that Aileen, you might share with the listeners a sense of your own career path to date, and how you've ended up in the current role. 

Aileen Bailey: No problem at all. Well, I would have gone to college in DCU doing a business degree with a specialism in HR in the final year. I would have graduated from there in 2004, which is a while ago now! I’ve worked in HR actually since I graduated, I've been lucky enough. I worked in AIB, I worked in recruitment for a stint, I worked in an airline and comms also in HR roles. And I would have worked in sporting bodies, one obviously the IRFU where I am now and before that I worked for the FAI for five and a half years. So it's been a busy and varied career to date. 

Cathal Divilly: Why HR Aileen? Is there something particular that draws you to HR? 

Aileen Bailey: Yeah, a few people have asked me that in the past. We did some kind of module in business studies and I just had it in my head from then, that I wanted to work in HR. I’d done a couple of summers in my teens – my dad used to work in an insurance company, a health insurance company. And I'd done a couple of stints and then for my final one, they invited me to work in the HR department. So I was delighted, a HR geek delighted to go in and see what it was all about. 

And I think it was the chatting to people, I would have always been a kind of a chatterbox, probably more so in my teens and 20s than I am now. But definitely wanted to be in a role that would make a difference, a caring type role and that's what I saw at the time HR was. Very much looking after staff, making things better for them and that's how I saw it and I would get to interact with people and not necessarily be, you know, stuck to a desk. That really excited me. At the time, I think the area of HR that I was really interested in was probably recruitment – you got to meet new people all the time. 

But my roles have always been HR generalist type roles. So a lot of variety with that and that's what I enjoy, I know a lot of people go and specialise, which is great and they become kind of an expert in a particular area. But I've always enjoyed and as far as I know now, I will continue to do that definitely work in those generalist type areas, so yeah, I've just always wanted to work in HR, so I hope that’s answered it! 

Cathal Divilly: Aileen, you're talking to a fellow HR geek here … So you talked about recruitment there. So thinking about recruitment, talent attraction and I'm thinking about the IRFU as well and as a well known brand, well known entity. Is there any challenges for the IRFU to attract talent? If so, what are those challenges? Is it easy to attract talent? 

Aileen Bailey: Yeah, it's an interesting question because I think people would assume the IRFU, the brand we are going to attract lots and lots of interest, and we do. Just feedback I've had over the years just chatting to different people within the network, they don't realise how big the IRFU is, that it has the normal departments that anyone else has. So it's been great working with the likes of yourself in Great Place to Work to get our name out there, so people understand there is a business behind the team. A lot of people's only interaction with the IRFU or what they would know is to go to the Aviva Stadium or the local province and attend a match or travel overseas, whatever they do. But I suppose they never think about it and why would they? I always wonder if people realise what goes on behind it. 

So in terms of attraction, we often have a lot of interest and definitely pre-COVID, there was never an issue. It's always kind of a little bit more difficult in maybe your analysis roles, in your medical roles because you're probably looking for someone who has that sports slant or has that sports experience in there. But just for our general business roles, it was never an issue, there was always plenty of applications coming in and really high calibre of candidates. 

But I think since COVID, we seem to have the same challenges as everybody else, all the other HR people I'm speaking to. And it is difficult, it’s a competitive market out there. So we've had to stay up to date in terms of our offerings generally just even in terms of our well-being, diversity just to keep up to speed with all of that. I think sometimes when you’re going into interviews now – and it's definitely not a bad thing – I feel like I'm being interviewed myself. People are wondering “what can you do for me?” And that's perfectly OK because you know then if they do achieve and they are offered the job and they accept it, that they really are invested in the brand, and they want to work there and they have their reasons for doing that.  

It's great to be hiring like-minded people and people you know are going to be ambassadors for the brand and believe in what we're doing. A massive part of our business is obviously rugby, that's what we do. But we also want to be known to have, you know, a happy, engaged, healthy workforce sitting around all of that. So that's really, really important to us.  

So yeah, we definitely do have challenges. And we definitely can’t it back on our laurels when it comes to recruitment. We're out there advertising, we're out there trying to get our brand out front and centre in front of people. We have a new Director of Communications starting, Aoife Clarke, in July and I'm looking forward to her starting in, I’ve spoken to her, met her a few times and we're looking forward to working with her as a HR team on the employer branding and seeing how she can kind of help and together, we can kind of push that forward. It is definitely something that needs to be continually worked on to make sure that we're out there as an employer of choice hopefully. 

Cathal Divilly: And sometimes we or you find yourself being interviewed by the candidate, right. But the reality is we have to sell our culture and we have to sell our practices. Could you give people a sense as to some of those practices that you have in place in the IRFU for your existing people or that you might find yourself selling to new people? Like what are those practices that you have and what kind of forms the practice that you choose to introduce? ‘Cause I know you're refreshing all the time. 

Aileen Bailey: Yeah, we're definitely refreshing all the time. It's great to be part of the Great Place To Work network because you’re kind of hearing what's going on and the different webinars that you guys put on are really, really helpful, so you hear what's working for others and how you can maybe replicate that or adjust it for yourself. We’d be all quite active on LinkedIn as well, and watching what other companies are doing because I just feel like you need to stay ahead of that.  

So some of the things I suppose over the last 12 months we would have introduced is that Show Us Your Leave campaign. So that would be your first day of school, your half day self-care days, just basically outlining all the different leaves that we give just to showcase them, obviously externally and internally. And sometimes it's good to take stock and realise all the things that you did introduce yourselves.  

We have a team huddle in place or employee forum that’s in place. We work with them quite heavily, we meet every six to eight weeks and see the temperature on the ground, what are people looking to see, change and introduce. And we would definitely go to those meetings looking to see when we can put the different actions in place, like we would be quite an active group. And then obviously different surveys like with yourselves at Great Place to Work, they're fantastic. I'm sure that your colleagues go mad, as soon as we get the reports I'm clicking to the back to see, OK what's being said, and what do people want to see? I just like to be on a journey and making progress all the time.  

You'll have seen, obviously, that we introduced the family friendly policies over the last 12 months and they've gone down really, really well. Someone actually challenged me a couple of weeks ago and said like What? You have something there about surrogacy, that hasn't come up for us at all. And yeah, it hasn't come up for us as of yet either. But it's about having those policies in place, that when it does, or it might never, it doesn't matter, that it's there, and showing that we are open to this.

Myself and Linda, my head of HR, would have talked about this a lot over the last few months – I have no idea what’s around the corner, what's down the line? It's about staying agile and only increasing that and fleshing it out further as we move along. I suppose the message we're trying to get across to our own staff and our future staff is that, this company are open to hearing what I need and sit down and have a conversation with me about what's going on for me, for myself, for my family or whatever that is and putting that kind of arm around them and supporting them through that. 

By no means do I think that we have a list of policies that are there and set in stone. We’ll obviously need to adapt them as we go so we would review our policies every year as well, they've gone down really, really well. Even the maternity policy – we would obviously have had a policy in place since day one, but we have included a phased return to work there so. Many of your listeners, I'm sure, have that in already, but that's something relatively new to us, probably 12 to 18 months ago, we put that back that back in.

And it was through feedback from our colleagues coming back from maternity leave; it is a juggle. I know myself, I have a 12 and a nine year old and when I was coming back to work, like it's a lot of change in routine for everybody in the house. So they come back, you know, a couple of days and kind of build it up over a series of weeks and it just helps with that transition. The feedback from the staff has been really, really positive on it. I think it's just really helpful. But again it's just a policy to show that we really do care and we're listening to our staff and their needs. It’s gone down really well. 

Cathal Divilly: Brilliant, Aileen. The team huddle piece has interested me there, right? So who is part of that? How often do you meet? Give us a sense as to what we talk about in the team huddle. 

Aileen Bailey: Basically there are representatives from each area of the business. HR sit on it, but there's representatives from each area of the business and different levels within the business. So you don't have to be a director or manager or staff, it’s definitely a mix. We would discuss different topics, maybe policies that we're looking to bring in, things that are happening. They feed in, give ideas. So after the meeting they would go back and chat to their departments and update them and bring it back in. So we meet every six to eight weeks and we do obviously interact in between times.  

We've had that employee forum in place for probably about six years now, maybe a little bit more, maybe 6 and a half years. But I was never so glad that we had it in place when it came to COVID, along with all the well-being initiatives that we had in place, you know, when you come into COVID then it wasn't brand new, people understood what the remit was, although we weren't meeting in person, it was virtual. So we do now a combination of virtual and in-house meetings with that. But it's helpful to us anyway, because we have offices in 10-12, we have staff out in Naas which is our logistics centre, we have other staff in the High Performance Centre and then others now obviously based remotely around the country so the virtual comes into play very well there. 

Cathal Divilly: So it's a great way of creating connection as well with people in different parts of the business. 

Aileen Bailey: Oh, it really is. I worried when COVID hit for many reasons, obviously like everyone else, but I remember thinking, oh my goodness, like what are we going to do in terms of my role in HR like, I really take huge value from what I refer to as the drive-by conversation. So people that just kind of land in to talk to you about something, but then it kind of evolves into something else. I was like, I'm going to miss that – are we going to be missing a trick and not understand what's going on for people and for different departments. So that really did concern me.  

I would spend a decent amount of time in the office, we have a policy in place that it's two days in the office, 3 at home. But I would spend more time than that in the office and it's good just to get up out of your seat and wander around. We also have a company day. So it's usually the last week of each month, usually a Wednesday and we get everyone together that day. So there could be a town hall on, training, different things, but it allows people to get together in the canteen. We do payday pizza every month and that goes down quite well.  

We are based over three floors, so I would have started back eight and a half years ago and there was a survey done before I came in and the feedback in there was that there wasn't really relationships between each department, they just weren't working together - not actively trying to not work together, they just naturally didn’t work together. So this introduction of payday pizza really helped. Like they're just such a great crew in the IRFU, there's a great energy from the staff and they really enjoy any kind of staff gatherings or the payday pizza or whatever is going on. They really do throw themselves into it so it’s good. 

Cathal Divilly: Pizza's good isn't it? 

Aileen Bailey: Pizza is good! I don't know whether our nutritionist would agree, but no, it's great. It is good. I mean, it's all about balance and all that. I suppose we could have done any kind of food in the canteen, but I think a pizza you're not necessarily going to go up and go back to the desk, a sandwich you might. And I mean if people don't eat pizza, they come up anyway, have a cup of tea and there's always a nice noise and hustle and bustle in the office on that day. I love company day. 

Cathal Divilly: And as we come out of COVID it's interesting, we have to force these connections a little bit more. It's needed, isn't it? Across all workplaces, just these connection moments. 

Aileen Bailey: Yeah you really do. Like reminding managers just to kind of bring it as part of the day that they need to reach out and not necessarily keep a log, but definitely make sure that they're interacting. Some managers have bigger teams than others, or wouldn't naturally be speaking to some of their team if they're not working on the same project so it's just to make a conscious effort that you are picking up the phone. And during COVID in the IRFU we certainly would have had a lot of staff that would have been maybe living alone or maybe had moved home out of Dublin or, you know, lots of different scenarios going on. So it was really important just to keep the connections up for lots of reasons and try and get the team together even on a Teams call and that kind of thing.  

So we obviously have a company day so everyone will get together, but then each week departments have a core day that they would make sure that they get into the office and get in together. That's not saying that would work for the company down the road, that's just what works for us. I'm not sure we'd ever go back to full time in the office – I think people are enjoying the sense of hybrid and work life balance a bit too much.  

Obviously we have kind of two separate sides to our workforce, we have the high performance side, so the rugby side and they would be in, because they're working with the teams. So we have a high performance centre out in Abbottstown and we have a full time women's programme there and sevens programme men and women's out there also. So all the staff that work around those teams would be in five days a week or travelling with the teams. So it's really only 10-12 Lansdowne Rd that would do the hybrid. Where the other set of staff can they absolutely do, but usually they’d be in Monday to Friday, they could be giving physio appointments, nutrition, it could be the admin or programme manager that needs to be around the team. And obviously the teams that are attached to the High Performance Centre would be in on a daily basis. So it’s trying to find what works for each. 

Cathal Divilly: Of course. It’s great that there's that level of trust in place that you can allow for this conversation, allow for flexibility. People, as you said, have different things going on in their lives as well and I think it's when people are forced to a certain rigid set way of working is where the challenges can can come in. 

So the IRFU are a recent winner of a Special Award at the Great Place to Work Awards. Have to mention that because I know you won't mention it, so congratulations on that. We saw a multitude of inclusive practices from the IRFU and it very much speaks to what you spoke about earlier on Aileen, which is this kind of commitment to improvement. You know, how can we improve things? There's lots of practices I could pick out … The carers support leave, how does that work? What's available for people? That was one thing that interested me. 

Aileen Bailey: Yeah, we’ve lots of different supports there and we were absolutely delighted and surprised in equal measures when our name was announced, when you started – or Jim I think it was, I can't even remember, it's all a blur – reading out the policies I was like, Oh my God, that's us! So it did give me a bit of a fright. And I was never so glad, one of your colleagues came over to say “this way you need to go up and collect the award”, he quickly said “You don't have to say anything!” I was like oh thank God. 

But honestly, yeah, you're right, I probably wouldn't have brought it up, but it's amazing, absolutely delighted. I was very happy going home in the car that night, I really was and the whole team was really, really proud of what's achieved. And then it's back to reassessing, OK we are doing something right and it's being recognised. So it was a happy HR day that day.  

We've always had a carers leave in place but we felt there was a a couple of needs across the business at the time. So that's what kind of drove that policy and then the whole suite of family friendly policies was born out of that. I’d heard definitely from one of the Great Place to Work family I’ll call it, it might have been on a webinar or in-person event about family policies. This was a good while ago and I started looking into it further and I felt it was the natural next step for us.   

Whatever policy we look at, we always look to try and do the best we possibly can. We wouldn't just do the minimum for anything, we would always look to do that little bit more. If we're unsure at all we chat to the likes of Ibec, we chat to yourselves you know, Fania, Jim, we'd reach out to our network to see what was happening. If there isn't anything there we would always then go back and obviously sense check it in with the team huddle, just to see that we’re on the right track. 

We were really proud when the family friendly policies were being launched. I felt like we really turned a corner with our whole offering for staff. I'm sure there would be a lot of companies listening to this today that have family friendly policies in already, but this was definitely a big big milestone for us on our journey to better. So yeah I'm just delighted that they're in place. But again, it’s a journey and always looking to tweak and improve as much as we possibly can. 

Cathal Divilly: And the more traditional view of families, right and family friendly policies, we see families in a certain way. And of course, families show up in different ways now,  and that's why it's so important to have such a range of inclusive practices, where we're not leaving anyone behind. 

Aileen Bailey: This is it and that's exactly the message you're trying to get across. As I said earlier, you mightn’t cover every single angle because there's going to be more that will come down the road and it's about setting your stalll out that the staff understand that you're prepared to listen and act on whatever their needs might be, and let’s chat about it and see. 

We’ve had an EAP in place since I started, we switched providers a couple of years ago. And yeah, there's good communication between the two, obviously it’s a confidential service, but you do get some feedback on different areas that need to be addressed and obviously people come and chat to you about different things. Menopause, for example, so we’ve done a huge exercise there. There's a lot of education going on, there's obviously a policy in place, there's education for everybody. We're honing in and doing education for managers now as well. Just so everybody's equipped and educated in terms of what to do.  

We’ve worked with Women’s Aid over the last 12 months as well in terms of their training and they've done some great training with us, that's been well received. You just never know who that's going to hit home with, either themselves or within their friend network or whatever it might be but it’s important. I think there's an expectation that you need to be looking after staff in kind of every aspect. 

Cathal Divilly: It is so important that managers understand and are aware and are educated about what's there, practices, how to speak to people … What sort of things are you thinking about for the education of managers piece, what specific things are you looking to do there? 

Aileen Bailey: So we have a people managers group. So we have three different groups set up and within the IRFU, so we have our team huddle as we discussed, the employee forum. We have mental health first-aiders that are trained around the business and they get together kind of every six to eight weeks and assist us and together we work on that offering and education and awareness around that. And then lastly, we have the People Manager group. So we would work with that group on the different feedback we would get from our Great Place to Work survey for example, on areas that they might have honed in on that needs improvement or change and we'd work with them a lot. So the education will be kind of focused at them and the senior leaders just to get them on board so they understand and that they're fully equipped. Because everyone's really, really busy, but no one wants to come into a conversation and not know where to signpost somebody or what to say. It could be some conversations that staff will come to you with and they can be uncomfortable for some people. So you want to make them as comfortable as they possibly can and they feel kind of ready for these. 

But I think education just in general with policies is just so important. There's no point in having a shiny policy and having it on the shelf – you need to get it out there and just shout it from the rooftops. Make sure whatever way, if you have an Intranet or whatever way you communicate your policies. I think there's no harm to come back and revisit them as well, so we launched our family friendly policies and that was great and it was a whatever 16 page document and people read it or they didn't – they certainly said they read them! But it’s important to do the education, so it could be a town hall that you do where you look at all the policies in detail, you put some education maybe some kind of online portal, put stuff up there …  

We would have linked in with our wellness provider, so we use Umbrella Wellness for our wellness portal. So we would talk to them regularly about what's gone on for us and different feedback we're getting or if we're launching those policies and see how can they kind of complement them so you know, can you get a speaker in to talk about X, is there any support for Y, and that's how we do it. But I think there's no harm in doing refreshers every now and again, because sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming if someone gets a document in and there's kind of four or five areas in it, and it's not the area that they're necessarily going to be excited about – I'm very excited, but they're not necessarily going to be excited and they have 900 other things to do! 

So we would have weekly director calls, so if there's anything like that launching or some education needed or a speaker coming in for whatever it is, I would make sure I let the director group know. So we would always let the director group know, OK,  this is launching, this education is happening, this person's coming in, just so they're aware, so they can talk to their own staff in their own weekly meetings, and so they're not caught off guard in any way, and just to make sure that we're circling back and making sure the management understand. 

I think you do need to continually bring awareness to it; maybe reminders in your wellbeing weeks or, you know, whatever is appropriate, but they're not there to be left on a shelf and no one to know anything about. It's really important that you have your ambassadors or your employee forum reps that they understand what's going on and what policies are available, because the last thing you want is someone to come and say, I didn't realise you did that. I mean that might happen anyway. But you just have to do your utmost to make sure that it's out there in whatever form that you can. 

Cathal Divilly: Yeah, and you don't want a manager to direct somebody to an HR handbook if they're asked a question, you obviously want them to know the practices to be able to speak into them as well, I guess. 

Aileen Bailey: Yeah, as much as they possibly can. And I mean, you're going to have different levels of that, but at least if they have the high level, this is kind of what it's about and this is what we're trying to achieve by this – but maybe do refer them to the policy, have a little look at it and we can sit down and chat and if you do want to chat to HR please do. And just make sure that they're circling back with the employee to make sure that their query is sorted or they're content with the information that they got. 

Cathal Divilly: Absolutely. So a couple of important things have been on the Great Place to Work programme. Yes it's about improvement, right and that's come across really strongly is that focus on improvement and how do we get better. And also it's about celebrating what we do well and showcasing what we do well and our successes. 

One of the things we've seen with some sporting organisations, right, not the IRFU, is that the improvement piece is absolutely there – how do we get better? How do we improve? What can we do next? That's absolutely there. And sometimes we see maybe, is it a fear or a worry about acknowledging success or what we do well or talking about strengths? Is that something you think about Aileen in terms of the balance in the IRFU? 

Aileen Bailey: Yeah, look, it's something we need to remind ourselves about taking stock. And I think the framework and the whole process of Great Place to Work is good for us because it kind of stops you in your tracks and you're able to look back and look forward. OK, what have we achieved? What do we need to change to become better? If you don’t have that I'd worry that you’d just end up kind of meandering on and maybe achieving in some aspects, but maybe not holistically. For me, definitely to get that kind of live information back out – how are people feeling? And you hope there won’t be too many or any surprises in there, but if there are, there are. And just to have a look and see what action needs to be taken.  

You don't run at it either, you do definitely have to have a plan, you need to have a proper strategy and not trying to run before you can walk. Definitely set out, start small. Do consistently be kind of plugging away at it and eyes forward, just keep going because it can get disheartening at times. Like when we started, at the beginning some people were absolutely, yeah, this is great, like I want to get involved in this and others are going, what's going on? And same with anything people, people are going to stand back and think what are they going to do here, I'll just watch for a bit and see if this is for me. So we had a bit of that at the start which is absolutely fine. 

I've said this previously but there were different speakers I would have brought in or different things I would have arranged and numbers at that start would have been small. And I was thinking what on earth is going on here, why is everyone else not as enthused as us like as a HR team, why are these people not coming? But I think you just have to be really, really patient with it and you just cannot do any of this alone, as a HR department. Like you definitely need your ambassadors around the business, whatever you call them in your particular business and have them out talking to people, listening and feeding back in and it's seen as a companywide thing rather than something being kind of preached from HR.  

The senior management team are also really, really important, having a CEO and director team that are open to all of this. And I know there’ll be people listening here thinking oh God mine isn't or I'm not sure how it would land with the leadership group, but I think if you just kind of sit back and think what are the quick wins? If you do have any skeptics, what are the quick wins, what is going to be meaningful for them and their role and start off that way, and then kind of build and just keep going.

You'll have other people thinking “I don't have a budget for these kind of initiatives, I'd imagine the IRFU have a massive budget”. And we didn't have a budget and now we do have one. And is it massive? No. Is it good? Yes, it absolutely is. But I've worked in places we've had no budget at all. And it's about looking at the resources that you do have and seeing what you can utilise. So you could have people in your business – I didn’t always work in sports businesses – but you have people in your business that are qualified yoga instructors or nutritionists or interested in knitting or have a language or whatever it is that can kind of add value, or people just generally who are interested in wellbeing and are looking to club together and put some ideas and help you with that strategy. 

Cathal Divilly: This is a big question, right, but how does the next 12 months look like for the IRFU in terms of focus, approach? Is it keep consistent, same as what you've always been doing, or any insights you can share around that, Aileen? 

Aileen Bailey: Yeah, I think it is about staying consistent, we've introduced an awful lot over the last 12 to 18 months, there’s been lots of change with the Show Us Your Leave, the different policies. And I think we're just going to stay steady for the next year and just really make sure that these policies are embedded. We’ll still work with different organisations from time to time and bring them in and keep listening to our EAP, keep listening to our employee forum and adjusting as needed.  

We would always do Wellness Weeks across the year, so we do three across the year. So it's building on that too and letting them be a little bit bigger each year. Elaine, my colleague in HR organises and runs all those. But I think in general in HR we’re really looking to just kind of keep the ship steady, make sure we're embedding what we do have in place because I think we made a huge amount of road for us in 12 to. 18 months, I just want to make sure that we're not just throwing more things in kind of needlessly when we might need to.  

Now having said that, we constantly are looking to see what is going on there and if we need to add to anything, we 100% will. I love hearing new things that are happening because you're thinking, OK, this is the next challenge. Like I don’t leave my house 5-6 days a week not to be challenged and I think that's just the attitude I've had since I’ve started work, I want to be making a difference and making things better as I go. I mean with HR you can sit back and just do the transactional, the admin and all that side of things and maybe ignore the wellbeing side. I don't think it's really an option, now I don't think it's something that ultimately you’d get away with and it’s not something that I want to do like I really enjoy it. I think it's worth it worth putting the effort in, like there's nothing better when people are happy and engaged in the workforce. You obviously get a huge amount out of them and they get a huge amount out of it. 

Cathal Divilly: And I know that focus on whole self is important for the IRFU right? So how do we encourage people to be themselves, think about people that work for us, their whole self, their personal, their professional life. Any advice you would give to yourself starting off on your HR career? 

Aileen Bailey: I would have been a nervous nelly coming out of college and probably worried, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I probably still do to an extent, but not as much as I did back then. It mattered so much that I went down that HR path, like I kind of achieved what I wanted to achieve, I did my leaving cert and repeated it to get into the course I got into in DCU. So it meant a lot, like I'd worked hard to get in and worked hard while I was there. So I’d probably just tell myself to relax a little bit and it will happen. 

But also, anyone kind of at the start of their journey, I think just make sure you soak up as much as you can from as many people as you possibly can. If you're in a HR department with a few people, be listening to what's going on, be interested. And kind of attach yourself to those that really enjoy HR and network on LinkedIn, go to different events like the Great Place To Work and various ones like that. Because it's really good just to listen to what's going on, it just helps you learn and think.  

So I just think be really open, don’t be set in your ideas about anything and just keep going, keep reading – that's probably all I read, HR stuff which is quite sad – but yeah different journals and continue learning. So like over the years I've done lots of different leadership courses, like the few days here and there, I've also done a couple of diplomas in coaching and one that would have focused kind of on corporate wellbeing and I’ve done employment law. I'm hoping to go back and do my masters – wishing for more work! – but I'm hoping to go back and do my masters in September, which will be in HR and leadership so.  

And if you do want to stick to, like I did the generalist route obviously, but if there is a particular area that you're interested in obviously try your best to get there and I think be open in your performance reviews with your managers or with the company. Just be honest and say listen, loving what I'm doing, but I would love an opportunity, if there was one, to get in in here, I’d really like to do that and just put up your hands for things. Just to gain other experience. Yeah, you mightn’t love the experience when you get into it, but at least you know and it's good even when you're kind of looking back over the years, 20 years now in HR, and you're looking back over different things that you've done like what works, what hasn't? Every company and every job is an opportunity for more experience. 

Cathal Divilly: Aileen, I think you've given us some great advice and I want to thank you for your partnership over the years, the IRFU of course. The IRFU are lucky to have somebody like yourself that's committed to improvement, that's committed to building a great culture for the people. So I want to thank you for the partnership over the years, it's really appreciated and thanks a lot for joining us today. 

Aileen Bailey: I really enjoyed it. Thanks a million. Thanks for everything, Cathal.