One of my readers said recently that they thought working in Human Resources would be interesting. I can’t dispute that. Whilst the role of a HR Advisor can be quite narrow in a large business (lots of staff each having their specific areas of responsibility), where staff numbers are lower the advisor covers all tasks so the job is much more varied. Having worked in an organisation with several thousands of staff , a couple of companies with several hundred, and now one with only 80, I can confidently say that each has its pros and cons.
For one who doesn’t want to work at all (I’d really like to stay at home and write all day), I do actually quite like my job, and whilst I never want to go, I never mind it when I’m there. I’d almost go as far as to say that I like it. I did say almost! I have a pleasant office, recently furnished to my own specification, a fair and accommodating boss, lots of freedom to implement procedures that suit my way of working and that all-important flexibility: for example, my contracted days are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday but in reality I often work on Thursdays instead of Mondays. Sometimes I do both and I can choose whether to get paid for any additional hours I work, or I can take time off in lieu. I usually work from 9am-2pm or, but if it suits me better, 12 noon-5pm is fine. I consider myself very lucky.
It was back in the early 1990s that I decided I’d like to move into HR. I’d done several admin type jobs, mostly centred around training, and I’d also worked in estate agency as a sales negotiator for a few years. Back in those days Human Resources was generally still referred to as Personnel. The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development were (and still are) the professional body for qualifications. After achieving my Diploma in Personnel Management, I worked for a Certificate in Training Practice and another in Leadership & Management, and following a promotion at work became the lead training co-ordinator for 600 staff. I loved that job but wanted progression and spent the next twelve years alternating between generalist HR and specialist training roles within an international energy company. Then there were three years spent managing a health & safety audit team and gaining qualifications in H&S and Environmental management. In the final eighteen months I managed a specialist staff training programme for Wayleaves staff. (Wayleaves, in a nutshell, relates to the legal permissions and rights of way across private land by utility companies to site essential equipment such as sub-stations, overhead line poles or underground cabling and pipework). When I left I did a couple of short stints in the Aerospace industry and the NHS before my wonderful ‘gap years’ being a full time student.
I’ve been with my current employer (an international logistics company) since August last year and a typical week (if there is such a thing) might involve advising on maternity or paternity rights , monitoring sickness absence and lateness, working out a plan for an employee returning to work after long-term sickness, advising line managers on how to deal with disciplinary issues (and attending informal or formal disciplinary meetings), , preparing contracts of employment or contract variations in line with changing legislation, handling recruitment and the various processes relating to new starters, ensuring that we have followed the legal procedures in terms of ascertaining the individual’s right to work in the UK, delivering induction training, answering queries related to pay, dealing with overtime schedules, ‘counselling’ staff who need to talk (a box of tissues always at the ready) … the list goes on and far too often, my day’s plans are scuppered by the unexpected like an unannounced compliance audit from one of our major customers.
As a career, HR is hugely varied, never boring and very busy. It’s one I’d recommend to anyone who likes the idea of an office based role that changes from day to day. It has its funny moments – like the girl who recently responded to an advertised vacancy, telling me that whilst she really wants to work in the beauty industry or train as a hairdresser, she will consider working for us in the meantime! Then there was the applicant for an admin post whose covering letter had 36 (I joke not) spelling or grammatical errors!
I am hoping that my current job will take me up to retirement; four years to go. I no longer want the previous level of responsibility and have no intention of gaining any further qualification. Had the Government not changed the age for state pensions I wouldn’t be working at all. Whilst I really do understand the reasons for extending the working years (though not to the extent that they have been, which I explain below), I am totally supportive on the move to obtain compensation for those who were not informed of these changes. Many found out only when letters were sent out in 2012 to say that we would retire at 65 or 66 and not 60 as expected. Some were given as little as 18 months notice that they would have to work several years longer. Startlingly, the Government’s own state pension website showed incorrect information regarding retirement ages up until 2015. I shake my head with disbelief that a Government can think it acceptable to not inform individuals about something so fundamentally important. They seem to think that the fact that they placed advertisements in women’s magazines and on the television during the 1990s was sufficient. During that decade I was working full time, running a home, raising a family, volunteering as a school governor, studying for professional qualifications, coping with a mother who progressed from mild cognitive impairment to full blown dementia, and worked my way through a divorce and subsequent home move. Surprise, surprise – I didn’t have a lot of time for reading trivia or watching TV!
The Government’s own Commons Work and Pensions Committee has said that the details sent out about when people will get state pensions and how much they are worth were “inadequate” and “confusing”.The committee’s chairman, Frank Field, said: “Successive governments have bungled the fundamental duty to tell women of these major changes to when they can expect their state pension.
State pension ages are rising in most other countries too, but none have been escalated as rapidly as in the UK. A slightly younger French friend (working in the UK) will be drawing her state pension at 62 because that’s the retirement age in her country. I wonder whether any studies have been made into the fact that many women at the age of sixty (and it usually is women) are now unable to carry out the traditional roles of helping to care for elderly parents (thus relieving the state of the cost of providing carers) or young grandchildren (which would enable their mothers to be working and contributing to Government coffers by paying taxes and National Insurance), because they still have to work?
And don’t get me started on the so called ‘higher, flat-rate pension for all’. That’s how it was sold to us but the reality is very different. Many of us who paid into company pension schemes will be penalised because our company pensions were ‘contracted out’ so we paid less national Insurance. In my case, the total NI saving over several years was £1,800. For this privilege my state pension forecast shows that it is to be reduced by £100 a month for its entirety. If I live until I am 81 (life expectancy for today’s 60 year old women) I will effectively have lost £18,000 – ten times the amount I saved by paying less NI. Offsetting some of this by the fact that my work pension is slightly higher than it otherwise would have been, still leaves me with a shortfall of almost £15,000. It’s even more galling to note that someone who has never worked, but has a full NI credit record having been in receipt of state benefits, will receive the full amount of state pension.
To add insult to injury, the state pension age changes were made in response to reports that we are living longer, and yet a number of reports dispute that the picture is quite as presented. “Buried deep in a note towards the end of a recent bulletin published by the British government’s statistical agency was a startling revelation. On average, people in the UK are now projected to live shorter lives than previously thought.” (Danny Dorling, Oxford University Professor). Professor Dorling goes on to say that the years of rising life expectancy are over so one wonders what justification there can be for plans to further increase the pension age. We are now in 17th place Europe for life expectancy but despite this, our retirement age is the highest.
I’ll come back with something a little more lighthearted soon.