Category "HR"

I was thinking about it being International Women’s Day and what this means to me. Well, I’m a woman that’s for sure so I’ll take an international day in my honour. I’m also a working woman and that is a large part of my identity. Throughout all of my adult life I have worked, I have done jobs I have loved, jobs I have hated, jobs that have taught me so much and others where I have been bored witless. I have worked in teams where I have laughed so hard it hurts and in teams where I felt lonely, but only a few jobs have ever been about me being a ‘woman’. Up until a few years ago I blazed through life and work with confidence and a little bit of bravado and then ‘Bam’ down I fell. What happened? I hear you ask, Menopause happened!

We all hear about menopause in some shape or form, the knowledge out there is sketchy to say the least, but it is getting better. It’s one of those subjects we whisper, we ignore, we pretend its not happening to us because to be frank it’s pipping awful. Let me share my story and why on international women’s day it’s important to acknowledge the direct impact menopause has on 49.6% of the population (women!) and the indirect impact it has on the remaining 50.4% (men!)

When we think about menopause we think about the physical symptoms like hot sweats and weight gain but what we don’t realise are the numerous psychological symptoms, anxiety, depression, problems with memory and concentration, I could go on.

As I said I have always worked, from a paper round at 13, joining the police at 16, going to university at 30 and finding my profession in HR not long afterwards. I have seen things and dealt with tragedies that no one should ever have to, and all of this has made me the woman I wanted to be. Strong, capable, confident. Until Menopause duh duh duh durrrr.

Suddenly my confidence was gone, my ability to string a sentence together, totally shot! Find that simple word, nope not there! I couldn’t pick up the phone without a sense of dread, what if the person on the other end realised, I knew nothing! My voice went, I literally lost it, I stuttered and whispered. For the first time I questioned my capability, assumed everyone was questioning it as well. What made it all worse was the insomnia; 03.33. every single night at 03.33 I woke up, and that was it, restless, unable to get back to sleep watching the clock until it was time to go to work. I was permanently exhausted, absolutely bone tired and no matter what I did I couldn’t get the sleep I needed to function. You get the picture. Then I got made redundant and decided that I couldn’t work anymore, it wasn’t worth the impact on my health. I also wanted to take up golf but that’s a whole different blog!

What changed? I got help, I insisted that my doctor take me seriously instead of palming me off with supplements. I started asking questions and realised I wasn’t going mad; this was perfectly normal when going through menopause. I also got approached by Alpaca to come and work for them, they said they were flexible, and they said they were supportive. Turns out I wasn’t ready to retire.

So, in the past three years I have worked flexible hours, if I have had a bad night with little sleep there is no requirement on me to be at my desk by a certain time. I can take what breaks I need during the day because I’m trusted to get the job done. It is okay to be open about how I am feeling and sometimes it is just enough to say, ‘not a good day’. If my anxiety levels are high and I can’t find my voice, then its ok to take a step back; most importantly I am allowed to be honest.

I call Alpaca my tribe, I feel like I belong. I am respected for my knowledge and experience and learning experiences are constantly being chucked at me, most of which I’m retaining!

This woman isn’t being beaten by menopause, and I choose to challenge menopause in all its glory. #ChooseToChallenge

How well does your HR person know the law? ‘But they don’t need to be lawyers’ we hear you say. That’s true, but they do need to know enough to give you timely and accurate advice. That advice could be as much as, ‘this looks complicated, we need legal advice’ or it could be enough sound practical knowledge to manage a case through to conclusion. When we say ‘manage a case’ that’s exactly what we mean. It is not the role of the HR person to undertake the investigation, carry out the disciplinary or hear the grievance, that’s the role of the managers within your organisation. The role of HR is to ensure the correct lawful procedure is followed and that a fair process is undertaken with an outcome that is balanced and appropriate.

Or perhaps not? Sometimes it is about knowing how to circumvent that process to achieve a quick resolution but understanding (and advising you) on any risk and costs associated with this.  For example, a HR person who can navigate a without prejudice discussion and reach a settlement would be an asset to most businesses.  While legal support would generally always be needed at some point, it is a skill that should be encouraged.

A valuable HR person is also someone who works well and in partnership with its external advisors.   If you do need external legal support does your HR person know what to look for, can they spot a good employment lawyer? We suggest they should be looking for someone who makes time to understand your business, can pick up the crux of an issue quickly and can provide a practical and commercial solution.  An early conversation around costs is also important and a good lawyer should not shy away from giving options around fixed costs or a potential subscription model.

Hint: build a strong relationship with external advisors who know your business and can give you the appropriate legal advice, not just what the law says

If you read yesterdays’ post, you will see we mentioned HR making decisions based on it being the ‘right’ thing to do and not being encumbered by policies and procedures. Let’s now contradict ourselves (slightly). A great HR person will consider all aspects and at the end of the day ultimately enable the business to make a commercial decision. Part of making a commercial decision is having data; data will show you patterns of behaviour, trends of examples, history and causal relationships. All of which enables an organisation to make a commercial decision.

Too often we see organisations wanting to terminate an employment and when we ask why we get told Jane has always been a problem when it comes to her attendance. ‘Let’s have a look at it then’ we say. Surprisingly, there is very little data to enable us to really get to the ‘why’. Had the data been there we could have seen that Jane is repeatedly late on alternate Mondays. We would have then asked the question, ‘what is the impact on the team and/or business if Jane doesn’t start work until 9.30 on a Monday?’. Maybe Jane is the first point of contact for clients, maybe she must be ‘present’ by 8.30am. Do we know why Jane is repeatedly late on a Monday? Does Jane understand the impact on the team and/or business with her lateness? It’s very hard to argue subjectively against data.

What about your high turnover of staff? Do you know when in their service they are leaving? Is it a particular team, function or location? Do you know why they are leaving? If you carry out exit surveys do you collate quantifiable data rather than comments? We see many exit surveys that ask lots of subjective questions such as ‘How did you feel about your workload?’ ‘What type of relationship did you have with your supervisor/ manager? These kinds of questions are not quantifiable, and we would even be so bold to say absolutely no use to you whatsoever!

Having the data enables constructive, objective discussions which will ultimately lead to an informed commercial based decision.


Hint: if you don’t have a HR system (HRIS) get one, it needn’t be massive and cumbersome. There are some good entry level systems out there that will automate your processes and give you quantifiable data. However, they are only as good as the data you put into it.

A good HR person should be able to look at everything they do and assign a value to it. Spend three days rewriting a policy; what did that cost in their time and what will it costs managers in time when they come to implement it? Still using paper documents; what resources are needed to complete, check, and process these? Do your policies work on control rather than trust; how long does it take to deal with a performance issue in accordance with the policy? Giving tasks a financial value enables a business to see what adds value and what distracts from the main purpose of the business. There will always be compliance and legal requirements within an organisation; a good HR person will work within these to fit your organisation. Do you really need a 57 page handbook with a policy for every eventuality? If anything, 2020 has shown us that the rules just don’t apply anymore and we need to be more flexible, creative and quick to adapt. The best HR people are those who can look at the bigger picture, within and outside your organisation, and make decisions based on it being the right thing to do!

So many times, we see HR people doing to role of the manager, even the CIPD allude to it when they say, ‘the HR function helps an organisation deliver its corporate strategy and objectives by effectively recruiting and developing people and managing their performance’. The HR support is not there to recruit, develop and manage people, if they are doing that then your managers are not doing what you pay them for, and you are not getting any value from your HR support; they either don’t have enough to do, they don’t know how to do it, or you don’t empower them to do it. Which could it be in your organisation?

Do you enable your HR support to add value to your business? Do you involve them in people based decisions from the very outset or are they an afterthought?   What is the largest cost and most important resource in the business? Nine times out of ten the answer will be your people. A good HR person knows about people, not just the fluffy nice to have stuff, but how to train, engage and motivate them to achieve great things for your business.

So next time you hear yourself say, “I don’t need HR” really think about what value you COULD get if you use this resource to its full potential!

Hint: If your HR support jump in to do it for your managers, ask them ‘why’, ask them again, and then ask them again. Then ask yourself if you are enabling this with your expectations of your HR support.

Good HR support should always align to the strategy; regardless of their experience they should be able to take the strategy and apply it across the organisation, constantly asking themselves, ‘what does this mean to the employees?’ and ‘How does this impact on the way in which they work?’ followed by, ‘Do we have the right people with the right skills?’ Good HR support should be able to explain why changes are necessary and how they link to the strategy.

It is no good having HR support that comes up with initiatives that do not have a clear line back to the strategy; If your strategy is all about cost cutting, let’s have recognitions that don’t cost you money. If your internal communications need improving, let’s not have a newsletter (yep, we still see them!) but instead find a way to use technology to send out short relevant timely messages. If you are looking for flexibility in your workforce, does your HR support review your contracts to ensure they reflect this? Does your HR support know what the recruitment market is doing, and can they identify the most cost-efficient way of hiring the right skills for your organisation? Does your HR support constantly ask themselves, “how does this help us achieve our strategy?” Really good HR support should also be able to challenge appropriately when they believe an initiative doesn’t align to the strategy or more importantly has a negative impact on the people and or the organisation.

Not getting this from your HR support, perhaps they don’t have the right level of experience for the role. If you would like a confidential chat with one of our experts about what sort of support you need and how to go about getting it email us at

Hint: HR people that can read financial reports, analyse the data, and translate it into simple meaningful actions and communications are worth their weight in gold!

Where does it really add value? What do you get as an organisation from different HR roles or levels? What should your HR function be doing for you? What should your HR function NOT be doing for you?

Welcome to part one in a series of HR blog posts over the coming week.

Anyone that has recruited an internal HR professional will know that the job titles are a minefield, and to be honest most HR professionals also struggle to figure out what they mean. We have seen it all, ‘Heads of HR’ with no previous qualifications or experience, People Directors that have been home grown from a Sales Administrators and given HR because someone at the top thought they needed HR, HR managers who also act as the PA to the CEO; where’s their priority? Now it’s not to say that this approach will not work, and we love to talk about a T shaped generalist in Alpaca. It is just worth noting however that you are going to get a different level of support and knowledge from your HR person depending on their previous experience and qualifications and that might not always be what your business needs.

“What HR resource do I need?” we hear you ask, and “what value should I be getting from them?” Well, that will depend on a number of factors relating to your business including the size, number of employees, management capabilities, number of employment disputes, staff turnover and last but certainly not least whether you would value a strategic people plan to run alongside your company strategy.

“What do HR do again?” “I thought they were there to hire and fire!”

The CIPD states the HR function helps an organisation deliver its corporate strategy and objectives by effectively recruiting and developing people and managing their performance” Other than the corporate strategy piece at Alpaca we don’t agree with this definition, having worked with many organisations, large and small; some with their own HR team, others without, we now feel confident that we know what makes HR great and why it is important to you to get it right. A bold claim perhaps? Our posts for the rest of the week will explain this in more detail.

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