The HR Juggler

Posts Tagged ‘HR

Advent Art


This beautiful, apt illustration was created by Simon Heath, who encouraged me to write and share this story and my journey over the last few months.

We don’t talk much about the impact of redundancy in HR. It’s true that everyone’s experience is different…this is mine, shared with you this Advent.

From the other side of the table, I await my inevitable fate, knowing already what you will say. I hear your words; that you’re sorry, that you wish it were different, that it’s the hardest thing you’ve done. I blink back the tears, grit my teeth, will myself to remain strong. Observe the bonds of friendship, of respect, of mutual trust irrevocably shatter, through circumstance, through choice. And, as the conversation ends, I leave.

I leave, avoiding the concerned eyes of colleagues, knowing that the tears will come if I let down my guard, even for a moment. Grateful for a trusted colleague taking me for a coffee and a chat, hugging me as a friend and making the transition into becoming one. Travelling home, adrenaline occupies my day as I answer calls and chat with family, colleagues, friends, lawyer. I am coping, I am OK, it will be fine, it is all fine.

Next morning it doesn’t feel fine, as I wake at 4.30am, unable to sleep. There’s little adrenaline left, only sadness and an aching emptiness, irrational sense of failure and of fear. I find myself in Tesco’s at 5am, trying to buy a mop and realise that I am in shock, pathetic, ridiculous, not myself. Even just one day on, it already seems like old news to others, to everyone, except me. I get lost in streets I have walked along for a decade, I try to leave a cafe without paying…I’m disoriented, discombobulated, disjointed, disrupted.

It’s tough. So much tougher than I realised from my usual side of the table. The well-meaning friends and relatives who ask what your next role will be, before you’ve even managed to extricate yourself from the one you’ve got. Explaining, finding the words for something that still hurts, that still and perhaps always will feel unfair. Knowing that future success depends on confidence, but finding it temporarily bruised and battered. However much it shouldn’t be personal, it damn well feels it. Fighting for self-belief, for fairness, for navigating a positive, constructive way forward.

And yet, life continues. The pieces settle and l start to make sense of them again, start to see a future and the opportunities ahead. Start to plan for a summer of adventure and for an autumn of opportunity. Start to feel that time is a gift and one that I have been given to fully enjoy and make the most of. The sun shines on my summer, the kids and I make a list of things we want to do, the simple pleasures of spending time together, playing with friends, swimming and parks, seeing shows, visiting new places. Time stretches endlessly and starts to heal. I become glad that I left when I did, that new things await, that I have the power to choose. I start to believe in the future, to plan for it, to want it, to understand that the best is still to come.

The sadness still comes from time to time, often unexpected, uninvited and is allowed to take its course, in the understanding that there is a process of bereavement and change at work. It doesn’t last long and comes ever more rarely. Sometimes I’m surprised at how little time has passed since it happened and how far things have moved forward. The sense of disruption continues from time to time too, the discovery that seasonal norms are experienced differently from a place of perceived job security than they are from a less certain landscape. I mind the underlying sense of disruption far less when it affects only me, far more acutely when it impacts those I love. From working patterns, flexibility that has enabled me to be far more physically present for my children than many others who hold similar jobs, to simply having the spare energy and focus to dedicate to peripheral but important tasks that I have clearly taken for granted in the past…!

I’ve never been more grateful for the strong HR network of friends and colleagues. Many of whom will smile and shake their heads and think that their contribution was minimal, but I’ve learnt that the contribution is measured by the true value to the person who receives it, not by what it costs to give. So, for those I spoke to in the immediate aftermath, for the wise and thoughtful advice that has remained with me, for the offers of help that I took up and those that I didn’t, for time spent together and sharing of their own experiences, for the invaluable contacts, for the timely interim opportunity, for asking how I am, for friendship and support…thank you. It means more than I can properly say and has made the world of difference.

So now, I’m building again. I have an interim role that I love doing, I have some great options for new permanent opportunities that I’m exploring and I know that things will be more than OK. So, this Advent, as the daily posts take place over at Kate GL’s blog, my story is one of honesty, of optimism, of letting the light in, of taking each day as it comes and moving forward with integrity and positivity, of thankfulness for the good things and acknowledgement of what is truly important. I wish you and your loved ones a wonderful Christmas, strength, peace, happiness, health and joy as we head into the New Year.

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I have recently had the pleasure of reading my children almost all of the Roald Dahl stories, the only exceptions being The Witches (we did try but far too scary as they are only 5!) and the more autobiograpical books such as Boy and Going Solo.  I loved reading them, the children loved listening to them and we have been jointly enthralled by the wonderful and brilliant story telling of an exceptionally gifted man.
Some of the books such as Fantastic Mr Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach I remember reading and devouring as a child; others such as Matilda, the BFG and Danny, Champion of the World I have discovered for the first time as an adult.  I have no doubt I will read all of them to my children many more times and that when they are old enough they will continue to read and enjoy them on their own.
Much of the charm and brilliance of Roald Dahl’s writing is in his vivid portrayal of characters, their actions and values. More than anything else, his characters are defined by whether or not they are kind. The author explains –
I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage or bravery or generosity or anything else. If you’re kind, that’s it.
We don’t talk about kindness in leadership much. We certainly don’t talk about it in a business context. And yet, it is one of the most powerful and deep-rooted human values that there is, a true differentiator of people and a mark of authenticity. I wrote in a previous blog post about bringing your values to work and treating others as you would wish to be treated.
Of course we often need to make commercial decisions and the role of HR is not, nor should it be, to be everyone’s friend. But that doesn’t mean we should forget or be afraid to talk about some of our core personal values either.
I’d love to hear your views.


That is the question that was posed to me and others by Peter Hros, also known as @HRBeginner. I have written a guest blog for his site, which you are welcome to check out here.

Even better, why don’t you also share your experiences in starting out in HR (or whichever career you have chosen!) either in the comments below, or as a guest blog of your own for Peter – I know he’d love to hear from you!

Do you know what you are meant to be doing in your role and how you should be doing it? I don’t. Increasingly frequently, I have been faced with situations that are not only completely new to me, but also to all of the other very senior people I work with. These are most certainly interesting times!

To give you some context: over the last two months I have liquidated a business in the Far East, dealt with a number of whistle-blowing claims in various global territories, drafted employment contracts for a joint venture in China and investigated alleged data theft. And honestly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t dealt with any of those things individually before, let alone concurrently.

What I have learnt…and am learning!…is this –

  • You don’t have to know everything, or to have done it before, you just need to find someone who does know the information that you need to guide you through the logical steps. This person may not be internal, in fact in most of the above scenarios it has been a specialist employment lawyer, often based in the country involved
  • Dealing with new challenges is interesting and intellectually stimulating. Whilst my role is currently much harder and more unpredictable than I had imagined, I am coping and thriving amid the temporary chaos
  • Doing new things is great for professional confidence
  • Panicking never helped anyone 😉
  • Asking for help is fine…it is also often really sensible.
  • Sabrina Baker wrote a great blog recently about needing the mountain for personal growth, which really resonated with the tough challenges that are taking place in my workplace at the moment
  • Understand and play to your strengths, but watch out for your weaknesses. One of my strengths is the ability to operate fluidly and laterally in a complex, fast-paced environment. The time I really need to watch out for is when it all calms down and I will need to switch to implementing robust processes and procedures.
  • Building relationships internally and externally is absolutely key
  • Make complex things simple, not ever more complicated than they need to be
  • Enjoy feeling temporarily indispensable to the business…but never forget that you aren’t!

Do you know what you’re doing? What challenges are you dealing with at the moment? I’d love to know!

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What does community mean to you? Where do you experience a sense of belonging?

I think I am perhaps unusual in that I still live in the same town that I grew up in and that all of my extended family (parents, both my brothers and their families and my parents-in-law) live within a 2 mile radius of my home. My children go to the same primary school that I went to as a child, and one of their teachers also taught my brother there 30 years ago. Two of my children’s three cousins also attend the same school and the connections become ever more intertwined: my daughter’s best friend is the sister of my niece’s very close friend; the mum of a child coming to tea with us tomorrow was taught by my mum in a local secondary school many years previously. I understand that to some people this may seem claustrophobic, but I love it and I love the true sense of community I get from continuing to be involved in the school and the local area.

I also love that I have a close supportive network of family and friends; my mum and mother-in-law help me out hugely with childcare and I have made many friends, some old and long-standing, others much newer, who live in and around the local area. I go to the same church I attended as a child and many of the older generation remember me as the 5 year old that my daughters now are. Visiting the library and the local leisure centre also, rather inexplicably, make me feel very connected to the local community.

We talk a lot about community and sometimes I think we are in danger of diluting the real sense of the word behind it. For me, community is powerful and strong, it is unconditional and accepting, it binds and centres you. It is lasting and real and plays a large part in defining who you are.

There is a much newer community that I also feel part of; tentatively, gradually strengthening its bonds and defining its relevance for those that are part of it…and that is ConnectingHR. It is early days and I would not yet put it anywhere near the level of the things above, and yet it is real and vibrant, it connects people who genuinely support and trust and help eachother….and it is only just beginning. All communities start somewhere and, if nurtured, will grow, develop and strengthen. I for one want to be a part of that.

What communities are you part of? I’d love to know what real community means to you.

In general I work well with recruitment consultants; I am very picky with who I work with and over the years have perfected the art of deflecting unwanted cold calls in a very short space of time, politely and firmly without being drawn into unnecessary dialogue about the whys and wherefores. Harsh? I don’t think so – I’m busy and reserve the right to work with those that are proven, capable professionals. I know plenty of talented, skilled recruiters who I value highly….and I tend to ignore the slightly irritating ones who are on the periphery, always trying to find a way in.

Just sometimes though, I receive a call that just amazes and astounds me and temporarily makes me feel very cross.  This morning was one of those times.

I picked up the phone when it rang and greeted the caller, only to be met with a silence and loud music blaring in the background…so loud that I can tell you exactly which Girls Aloud song it was…and believe me, I’m no expert.  After at least 5 seconds of ‘blare’, and just before I was about to put the phone, the conversation finally started and proceeded along the following lines:

Me: Hello?

RC: Oh….hello!….is that Alison?

Me: Yes

RC: Oh great, I’m Susie* from RecruitYouLike*….blah blah blah sales pitch…I’ve just joined the team and I’m phoning you to introduce myself

Me: You’ve already rung me to introduce yourself – we spoke last week

RC: No, no I’ve just joined the team, previously you dealt with Jason* I’m just phoning to introduce myself

Me: I spoke to you last week, you have already introduced yourself

RC: Oh…I sent an email…

Me: Yes and you also rang and we had this conversation

RC: Well, I sent the email and I wanted to check it had arrived, because….

Me: It did. Goodbye.

So, I don’t mean to be overly harsh, but this type of conversation is just so damaging to the reputation of recruitment agents in general and their relationship with clients. I am busy and am really not interested. I wasn’t really interested the first time she called, although I was polite and finished the conversation quickly. But the same conversation twice in a week? Please! The irony is that this company have been on our preferred suppliers list. It speaks volumes for the lack of authenticity, training, standards and general competence to be making such a mistake. And had she admitted her mistake and apologised straight off, I would have been far less irritated.

The art of conversation is not difficult…it starts with knowing who you are speaking to, having a bit of empathy and being authentic.  Is that so much to ask??!

* not their real names!

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