Q&A with Aileen Bailey, HR Director at the IRFU

HRHQ_Q&A Aileen Bailey, Director of HR IRFU

Aileen Bailey is the HR Director at the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU). The Irish Rugby Football Union is the governing body for rugby union on the island of Ireland. The IRFU is responsible for all aspects of the game from schools and clubs to the professional and international teams.

We asked Aileen to share her thoughts on HR, her career and the challenges facing her and the IRFU.


HRHQ: Tell us about your career journey and what originally attracted you to a career in HR?

Aileen Bailey: I graduated from DCU in 2004 with a Degree in Business Studies, specialising in HR in my final year. While at school, I had done some work experience and summer work in the HR department of an insurance company and I really enjoyed it. I had always had an interest in HR and this experience cemented the fact that HR was the career for me. I love dealing with people, that is where I get my energy from.

After I graduated from DCU, I started with AIB in their HR department and since then I have worked in recruitment and in HR roles in Sport, Communications and the Airline industry.

I am currently working as HR Director for the IRFU and have been there for just over 8 years. I love my job, there is huge variety in my role and plenty of challenges. I also previously worked as HR Manger in the FAI, so this is my 14th year working in HR in sport in Ireland. There is something very special about working with people that have a huge passion for what they do.

In terms of education, I have continued to study over the years – some of the courses that I completed include; an Advanced Diploma in Corporate Wellbeing Coaching, a Diploma in
Employment Law, Leadership Development courses and Mental Health First Aider training. I
think it is important to keep learning in whatever career you choose.

HRHQ: What has been the most significant change in the HR world since you began your career?

AB: The most significant change in the HR world since I began my career is the introduction of Wellbeing for staff as part of a company’s strategy. In previous years I feel it was simply a buzz word and not everyone bought into the need and it’s importance for employees.

Now thankfully employee wellbeing is a standard part of an employee’s experience in most

HRHQ: What is the most important HR challenge facing you currently?

AB: The most important HR challenge facing me currently is attracting and retaining good staff. This would never have been a huge issue in the past for us but I have found in the last 12 months that this has definitely been a massive challenge and in turn a focus for us as a HR department every day.

We are lucky in the IRFU that we have always had very low attrition, but the market is such
that both attraction and retaining staff is a challenge for us now.

The IRFU do a lot for the staff to look after them as best they can, by investing in their
wellbeing & development. The IRFU have been delighted to have achieved accreditation as a Great Place to Work, Best Workplace in Ireland and Healthy Place to Work for the last number of years. The IRFU have also started their EDI journey with the Irish Centre of Diversity and have just received news that they achieved the Bronze Award.

HRHQ: From an employee’s perspective, what does a great HR service mean?

AB: I believe a great HR service from an employee’s perspective is an approachable HR
department with a true open-door policy. No question goes unanswered and feedback /
suggestions are very welcome. The HR department listens, takes action and you feel looked
after. New policy & initiatives are introduced which constantly add positively to your
employee experience.

HRHQ: How should HR professionals design their career and how much can you realistically career plan?

AB: I think HR professionals need to decide early on if they want to specialise or take a
generalist HR route. They also need to continue to educate themselves in the areas that
interest them.

I feel that it is helpful to look at the market, different industries, companies and see what they are doing in the HR space. From there, make a list of companies that interest you.

Each move you make should be for a role that excites you in a company that you would be
proud to work for. Each role should give you new opportunity & experience.

Be proactive in your approach to you career and set yourself career goals.

HRHQ: What advice would you give a person at the start of their HR career?

AB: Enjoy it! There will be very difficult days but always remember why you got into HR and that HR can be so rewarding. Plan, challenge yourself and make a difference in every role that you take on. Continue to read & learn from others – explore the possibility of working with a mentor or coach.

HRHQ: What soft skills do you believe are key to progressing your career?

AB: Empathy, ambition, good communication skills and common sense are all key soft skills for a HR professional.

HRHQ: What experiences should HR professionals try to get as they build up their CV?

AB: I have always worked in generalist HR roles, so my advice to those working in the generalist space would be to try to get as much experience as you can in all areas of HR. Put yourself forward for projects, no matter what level you are at you will always learn something. Shadow other HR professionals in your team to gain knowledge & understanding of different areas & situations. Also, look at other skills that could enhance your role like systems knowledge, analysing reports / data, PowerPoint & Excel.

It is important to find the area that you enjoy and gain an awareness of your strengths.

HRHQ: What are you most proud of in your career?

AB: My team are amazing and I love watching them achieve individually and as a team. The accreditations that have been achieved over the last number of years are testament to the work that has been done by the HR team.

I am so proud of the work done by the HR departments in the IRFU and in the provinces. They do fantastic work – they take great pride in their work and understand the positive impact that their efforts have on the employees.

HRHQ: What do you think the Future of Work is?

AB: The future of work will be continuing to listen to employees regarding their needs. We will need to continue to embrace hybrid working and be open to looking at different arrangements into the future. There is no one answer to what will work for every company or indeed every staff member, but the key will be to remain open minded and adapt as required

HRHQ: Many thanks Aileen for taking part and we wish you and the IRFU the very best for the future.