As part of our commitment to supporting candidates to develop fulfilling careers, we’ve invited several HR Leaders to share the secrets of their success.
This week, we had a great conversation with Janine Walker, HR Manager at Catalyst, a mental health charity involved in drug and alcohol addiction. Janine’s HR career spans a variety of sectors working for highly recognisable organisations such as British Rail, the Royal College of Art, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Wetherspoons, and HelpAge. She’s also been an HR consultant and interim HR Manager for more than 10 years, and has helped numerous organisations develop their HR departments and strategies.
How did you get started in HR and why has it stuck after all these years?
‘I didn’t go to university. I started off working for a pension payroll company and my boss was the Staff and Payroll Manager. I saw what she did dealing with people, and I thought, “I’d like to do that.” But they didn’t give me a chance to do it. Then I got a job at British Rail in the HR department. I was there for about seven years and they paid for me to do my IPM, which was what it was called in those days.’
“Later in my career, I set up my own business, Bloom in Work Ltd, and alongside that I got a job at Remploy on their mental health support service. I was coaching people who were either off sick or still at work but struggling with their mental health’.
‘I then started working for Catalyst as an HR Manager. They’re a drug and alcohol addiction, and mental health charity. I’m currently implementing an employee well-being group. I’m doing pulse surveys. I’m doing all the things that I think organisations should do’.
What advice would you give someone who was looking to develop a career in HR?
‘To me the most important thing is to work for an organisation that aligns with your values. One of the things about HR is that you can work anywhere, because virtually everywhere has got an HR department.’
‘I feel very strongly about justice, following due process and making sure people get a fair hearing. I’ve worked in organisations where I’ve been bullied to try and reassure a manager that I was going to sack somebody in a disciplinary case. Well that doesn’t sit well with me. So, I think the first thing for me would be to get into an organisation that lines up with your values.’
‘I’ve got a very particular view of HR. I don’t like HR departments that work for management only. I strongly believe that HR is like the middle person. Sometimes I’m going to tell managers things they don’t want to hear, and sometimes I’ll tell employees things they don’t want to hear. But I’m working for the organisation either way.’
‘To do that and to find out what you enjoy, maybe try working for a few different types of organisations because they’re so different. I think years ago it used to be really difficult to move from public to private or private to public. It’s much easier now. So, if you get a chance to just try working in a few different types of industries, then that would give you a really good understanding of what you enjoy. I love working with blue collar organisations. One of my favourite jobs was working for the airline catering industry. If you like employee relations, that’s the kind of place you want to work because there’s tons of it. If you’re more about management development and that sort of thing, then you’re probably better off in a more corporate environment.’
‘In my day, it was really good to get a generalist experience, but I think it’s moving much more towards everyone being a specialist, particularly around reward and organizational development. So, try a few different types of roles out if you’re earlier in your career to see what floats your boat.’
What key themes and challenges in HR are you and your peers facing at the moment?
‘For me at the moment one of the key challenges is recruitment. Although we’re supposed to be in a very high employment situation, because of the stagnation of salaries and the high cost of living, one of the problems we’re having at the moment is people saying, “You’re not paying enough.” If you benchmark us across the charity sector we’re not bad payers, but compared to some of our partners, like the NHS, we’re lower. And because of everything that’s going on in society, with all the cuts and all that kind of thing, it’s having a knock on effect on people’s general well-being. So that’s something employers really need to step up, because we spend so much time at work. Those are the two key things that I’m working on at Catalyst.’
‘I think sometimes if you can make people happy at work, the money is less of a problem. Right now, only 25% of our staff are full time. So I’m having a bit of a nightmare having to type in individual work patterns for everybody, because everyone does such odd hours and compressed hours. But I think it’s good that people can work more flexibly nowadays. For a small charity, there are a lot of issues that are historic, but I think we’ve got the opportunity to make it a brilliant place to work moving forward.’
Janine has been HR Manager at Catalyst for 6 months. She’s also been developing her own company, Bloom in Work Ltd., which aims to help people deal with their mental health and well-being in the workplace, and also help employers look after their staff better.
If you would like to have a confidential conversation about your career or would like to understand how Human can support you in growing your team, please get in touch today.