Insight into the life and career of...
This issue, we go behind the scenes at SA Law to get tough on our very own Gill Garrett and Sam Walsh, who offer a unique perspective from their combined finance and HR roles.
How can today’s HR professionals optimise their career success?
It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that career success comes from being successful in the organisation you work for, and this requires more than just training and skills. As an HR professional, you work from the people perspective to help an organisation achieve its strategic objectives. HR spans all aspects of this, so you need to understand the environment you work in to make a meaningful contribution. Naturally, you must know what your organisation does, but equally important is how it does it. From there, you can ascertain the physical and psychological demands on the various job roles, and also identify opportunities, challenges and the overall culture as it continues to evolve. This gives you the insight to help the organisation move forward.
What’s the biggest challenge for employers today, and how can HR professionals address it?
Stress in the workplace is a growing concern, and every UK organisation must define how to handle greater awareness and acceptance of mental health issues. For example, workplace stress isn’t simply the outcome of overworked employees. A large proportion of it can flow from personal issues and difficulties with colleagues, rather than the workload itself.
One of the best ways to combat stress is to establish yourself as a person that people can freely talk to, and these conversations can help you to gently and sympathetically learn more about the symptoms and possible causes. In many cases, helping an employee to see a different perspective on the issue might be all they need, but be aware that professional support may be required in some instances.
An effective approach to workplace stress also employs proactivity. Try to spot the signs that people might be suffering from stress, and invite them to share any concerns. Catching the signs and addressing them early on can help employees to avoid greater problems down the line, such as performance issues and absence from work.
The UK has some interesting times ahead. What should HR professionals be doing?
The uncertainty of Brexit is a key issue, and we recommend monitoring the developments, and considering the potential impacts – both on the organisation and the day-to-day lives of employees. Bear in mind that Brexit is something you all have to experience together, so keeping colleagues appraised of developments also has benefits. We’re lucky in this regard as we are a law firm that needs to stay up-to-the-minute on developments to be able to advise our clients. Therefore, SA Law established a weekly Brexit bulletin email for employees that gathers key stories and articles together from reputable sources, presented in a balanced way to avoid political bias or scaremongering.
Another interesting challenge worth mentioning is the ‘broadening yet contracting’ workforce. The increase in retirement age means we are entering an era where a much wider spread of generations will be working together, each with their own needs. For example, the expectations of millennials are already reshaping the culture of many organisations. This broadening workforce is driving a greater need for flexibility, which in turn is driving a greater complexity for HR functions. But we need to embrace it because our employment market is also starting to contract, in part due to the Brexit effect. Over the coming years, we are likely to see organisations competing on topics such as working environment and work-life balance to attract the best candidates.
What’s your top tip for promoting a strong workforce culture?
If you genuinely care about employees, they will sense it, and this helps to create the all-important family-orientated culture. Genuine care can be expressed in many ways, and two of our key philosophies at SA Law are to be as supportive as possible with requests for flexible ways of working, and go the extra mile to help people. Obviously, within reason! We look for ways to show the importance of the work-life balance. Two-way, open communication is essential, particularly to keep employees up to date with news about the firm, and encourage them to air concerns. Open-plan offices contribute to a collegiate atmosphere, but if you can’t achieve this then at least try to create an open-plan kitchen or communal area. We also undertake initiatives that are valuable for both personal and professional lives. For example, we recently invited someone to come in and talk about how to make quick, healthy and delicious lunches. This was extremely well-received. We are looking at a programme of stress awareness training for everyone at SA Law.
What’s a simple modernisation that could make a huge difference to an organisation?
Although this is more of a mindset change than a modernisation, you will see the immediate benefits of continually expanding your knowledge, and using the insights to help your organisation move forward and win success.
First, stay on top of developments within the HR profession. Ours is a fast-moving role that evolves every year as lawmakers work to improve equality and employee rights, so being up to date with changes and trends will help you remain modern and compliant.
Second, keep up to date with the developments in your organisation’s industry and sector. Although senior managers and directors should be doing this as a matter of course, they won’t necessarily be thinking of the people implications of key events. This gives you the opportunity to flag up opportunities and risks early on.
Finally, stay up to date with current affairs, particularly in the current political situation. Consider the impacts of key national events on your organisation, and any international events in the territories in which you operate. And consider the impacts on the individual too, which can help to prove that you genuinely care about their wellbeing.