• Suzanne McMinn
  • 10 November 2016

21 years in HR

This week marks 21 years since International Workplace (in various guises) first started business. The company has been in existence almost as long as I have been working in HR, which is a long time!

I once overheard a CIPD student say to her colleague after I had introduced myself to the training group, “Well, if that’s what 21 years in HR does for you, I’m getting out now.”  To this day I am still not sure how to take that comment!

21 years in HR is certainly a long time and along the way I have managed to pick up a lot of tips – not all of them entirely best practice, but essential to survive in HR.

To celebrate our 21st anniversary, here are 21 things I’ve learnt during my time in HR.

Suzanne McMinn

  1. Notes, notes, notes, oh and more notes! Always take notes in meetings, especially formal HR ones. You need a record of what was said and agreed so there are no surprises.
  2. TUPE is boring, but not as boring and horrible as people make out! Essentially it’s just a process, so be clear about what you are doing and follow your process.
  3. Be consistent when dealing with long-term sick absences; don’t be swayed by the sob stories. It’s good to have empathy and understanding, but we need to protect the interests of the business and treat people in line with the company sick policy.
  4. Mental health issues need to be taken seriously. Just because an employee doesn’t have a visible injury doesn’t mean to say that they aren’t ill. Treat them the same as any other ill health issue; transparently, fairly and in line with company process.
  5. Don’t interview someone when they are drunk! This is not always easy to judge, I just thought that my job applicant was really, really happy. Only after the interview did another manager tell me that they saw them drinking out of a hip flask!
  6. Don’t confuse conduct and capability. Capability is where the employee wants to do a good job but can’t, due to ill health or lack of skills. Conduct is where the employee doesn’t want to do a good job!
  7. There are only five potentially fair reasons for dismissal. Be clear on how you are exiting someone from your business. If you don’t know, a Tribunal will be sure to ask!
  8. Understand that someone’s whinging at work could turn into a grievance. It’s worth following it up before it escalates into something bigger.
  9. It’s easy to manage a poor performer, but it takes time and focus to continue to motivate a highly functioning team to continue to perform and stretch themselves.
  10. Don’t be afraid to remove a contractual benefit if you have a key business reason. You just need to consult and look to gain agreement.
  11. Since 2010 there are now nine protected characteristics dealing with discrimination. Make sure your equality policy includes them all.
  12. Always be aware of someone’s length of service. This could impact on the processes that you follow if they have under two years’ service.
  13. Great employees don’t always make great managers. If you promote someone into a managerial role, make sure you support it with people management training, such as ILM courses.
  14. Keep up to date with case law. Tribunals reach some interesting outcomes, which can impact significantly on the current legislation. Keep up to speed to ensure that you are dealing with the most up-to-date legal changes.
  15. Confidentiality in HR is key; people only tell us things if they think that they can trust us. Safeguard that trust, but be aware when you might need to breach it and deal with a duty of care to other employees, for example in harassment cases.
  16. Redundancy is not a way of getting rid of your poor performing employees. Manage poor performers and only make redundancies when there is a real redundancy situation.
  17. Take the time to conduct a proper investigation. You don’t want to end up in a disciplinary hearing without all the proper information – embarrassing!
  18. If it looks like TUPE, smells like TUPE and acts like TUPE – then it is TUPE! Don’t be swayed by the transferee telling you it isn’t TUPE and you can keep your people whilst they take your contract!
  19. Remember you can only opt out of the 48-hour maximum working week with the Working Time Directive opt out. Not rest breaks, holidays or rest days off!
  20. Don’t let managers blame HR! Managers should manage people. HR help, support and advise, we don’t make managers do things that they don’t want to do!
  21. In disciplinary hearings always sit near the door; it’s great to have an escape route. J

These are just a handful of the things that I have learnt in my 23 years working in HR, the others are not to be printed as they are far too colourful or would upset and implicate too many people. 

Here’s to the next 21 years!