It’s food for thought for HR leaders and other senior people in business. But it’s more than just a set of numbers – which is why we’ve also spoken to individuals below for whom aspects of the survey have a particular personal resonance, from mental health to networking.
“I’m a leader first and foremost” – Sue Evans, director of Sevans
My first career was teaching English and drama in a tough secondary school, and the skills I picked up there have seen me through: leadership, coaching and creating an environment for learning. I was teaching some people who weren’t so engaged, so I learned how to deal with that. When you have people in an organisation who don’t want to be there, you need more than rank to get them motivated to learn and realise their potential.
After teaching, I joined the Army as an education officer at Sandhurst. That gave me more experience of leadership, and the challenge of being a female leader in a male-dominated space. I learned about the importance of good teams – the Army is far less about command and control than you might think.
Rather than working in HR, I believe myself to be a leader first and foremost. My earlier career experiences gave me core leadership skills and taught me to remain true to my values. That has served me well.
My solo HR role
“It would be nice to have someone to bounce ideas off” – Cordelia Morgan-Cooper, head of recruitment at Digisec Media
Being the only person in HR makes life pretty busy. In fact, it never stops. The biggest challenge is the sheer number of different projects I am involved in at any one time. I don’t know what I would do without my lists…
Working alongside someone else would enable me to bounce ideas off them. But I am lucky that our CEO and founder is so hands-on and involved in the business. We speak every day, and I have learned so much from him. I’ll also talk to lawyers if need be. Mostly, I have to use my initiative, think about the right thing to do and just do it.
I used to work in recruitment, so I made a lot of HR connections through that job. I also make sure that I keep up to date with people on LinkedIn. But most of our business is remote in any case, so it’s about motivating people who aren’t in the office or who might not see you every day.
My mental health issue
“I was zoned out, just staring at the screen” – Karen Beaven, founder of The HR Entrepreneur Network
Last year, I had a breakdown after going through several rounds of IVF. My coping mechanism had been to throw myself into my HR director role. By solving other people’s issues, it meant I didn’t have to focus on my own.
It was like I was pushing everything down into a box, until the box was rammed. After my final cycle of IVF, I went to my first counselling session. The trauma spilled out – and I couldn’t get it back in. I remember being at work afterwards, zoned out, staring at the screen. That weekend, I had chest pains and went to A&E.
Everything was physically normal; it was a manifestation of my mental ill-health. I became incredibly depressed and was in a dark place for a long time. Even leaving the house felt impossible.
I decided to leave my job because it was inextricably linked to overwork. I felt embarrassed; I thought I’d never get a job again. But now I’ve reconnected with life. Taking time out has given me the opportunity to build a business and gain balance. I can spot the signs of mental distress in others and hope to help HR professionals with their own wellbeing. It’s bizarre when you’re the one who supports others: who supports you? We have to make time to take care of ourselves.
“It’s your career – not anyone else’s” – Rob Jones, director of organisational consulting at ArupPeople
I’ve gone from being a recruitment consultant to leading in-house recruitment, OD and HR functions, and I now work as a consultant.
The biggest lesson this varied career has taught me is that it is your career, not your boss’s or your organisation’s. You need to take responsibility for planning it; no one else will do it for you. As I didn’t go through the traditional HR route, it wasn’t about waiting for the next seniority band to become available. I was accountable for my own path.
In career planning, focus on context as much as technical capability. Rather than going on another employment law course, for example, invest your time in finding out what really drives the performance of your company. Think about whether your
HR function is a strategic business function or a tactical compliance one, and what that means for
Take some risks. Many people in our profession are risk-averse and stick to what they know. I moved from running a recruitment function to running an OD one, which was a challenge but made me more rounded and resilient. I also did an MA at age 35 to boost my credibility and my confidence.
All experience is good experience, whether positive or negative. It’s about reflecting on it and what it means for your practice and career.
“Practise – because meeting people gets results” – Sara Hope, co-founder of The Conversation Space
Networking has been pivotal to my career. When I was working in organisations, referrals helped me move roles. When I returned from maternity leave, my network kept me connected. And when it comes to growing my business, networking is key.
It’s about relationships and that human element, but you need to be strategic. Think: who is it helpful to be connected to? Don’t be afraid to share your intent. If you want to move companies or grow your business, say so. Some people find that awkward, and I have had to grow that muscle. Practise, because it gets results.
Good networking blends face-to-face and online. Social media has helped me think about my personal brand. When you’re online, share, have that human touch and get engaged with conversations.
In person, think about what you want to get out of an event. A more intimate meeting is a good opportunity to share challenges and connect on a deeper level, but you can get lots out of larger events. Stay curious – be interested and interesting. Have a plan to speak to two or three new people, and think of questions to ask. And share something of yourself.
My consulting life
“Most of my business comes from word of mouth” – Emma Fay-Touhey, director of The HR Dept Wilmslow
I’ve been a consultant for a couple of years now and people come to know your name. About 70 per cent of my business comes from networking. I get a bit through social media, but it is mainly
word of mouth.
There are lots of things businesses think they can do themselves but they find out that they need a specialist for certain jobs, like long-term absence. They try you out on a small project, almost like a taster, and they soon see the value you can bring. We’re seeing an uptick in employment law advice in particular since tribunal fees were scrapped.
I very much enjoy the challenge of finding new work and working in a pressured environment. I come across a much greater variety of HR issues than I did in my previous in-house roles. I find that there is a bigger scope for my own learning and development and it’s much more interesting to work across a variety of sectors.