A year in Ressources Humaine (not Provence!).

Introducing our fascinating new blog series from our guest contributor, Karen. After 20 years as a HR professional in both public and private sectors (including working for Ruth) for a diverse range of employers and looking after 85 to 12000 employees, Karen is very much an HR expert. Indeed if she was not embarking on her new life we would be welcoming her into the Amelore fold.

Having initially started her HR career in the travel industry, Karen has decided to take a career break and relocate to France. As well as aiming to perfect her French language skills, Karen is returning to where it all began and will be working for a travel company in France.

Karen has offered to share her new experiences from an HR professional’s viewpoint with us and with you.

Karen’s driver for the blog…

“People have some interesting views on what Human Resources actually is and does (from both within and without the HR sector). Quite often they see it as not being part of ‘real life’ but a hoop to jump through or someone to seek permission from before you can interact with your employees. Personally, I see HR as being about people, with all of their quirks and needs, and not about processes and procedures that can often hold an organisation back. Successful HR should be about real life and real situations; be grounded in what really makes people tick and what makes organisations thrive.

That being the case, what are the lessons to be learnt from ‘good HR’ in a non-HR situation? Over the next few months I hope to explore some of them..”


Karen toasting a new life
Karen toasting her new life leaving these shores.

Dog tired… It’s Friday afternoon

Jasper with that Monday morning feeling.

The truth about office dogs… At Amelore we have an office dog.

Jasper is a black Labrador/Spaniel cross and comes to work with my husband who is our part-time and very flexible Financial Controller, Head of IT Support and creative lead amongst other things.

Jasper loves his routine. He walks across the fields each morning with my husband to take the children to our local village school. Then they head into the office and he positively runs in the door. Having burst in he drinks a large amount of water and then wipes his wet chops on our Operations Manager Sam. He rushes around to greet everyone and then he crashes out on his bed.

He barks at all the deliverymen and occasionally at clients if they arrive early for a meeting (if we don’t know they are dog friendly he has his own dog sitters in the office next door or failing that he sulks in the family bus).

Now over the years I have come across dogs at work and it can work very well and it can work very badly.

When I worked in the public sector it was quite common in the rural offices for people to take dogs to work but keep them in their cars, walking them regularly and sitting with them at lunchtime.

One of my clients introduced a rescue dog into a crowded workspace and it bit an employee. She was very understanding but that was not sensible on many levels and clearly the employer always has a duty to provide a safe environment for its employees. A bite is a personal injury and can be serious.

Recently we hired someone that wanted to take her dog to a central London office everyday on the tube but we said no to that. The office was busy and there was nowhere for the dog to be exercised.

The thing about any animals in the office is that not everyone likes them. It can really add a friendly, healthy dynamic to your company as we feel Jasper does, but if we wanted to hire someone that didn’t like dogs (they would have to be exceptional!), Jasper would sadly no longer be coming to work.

If you are thinking about having an office dog, make sure everyone is happy about it and set out the rules. Certain environments (warehouses, factories etc) are not dog friendly and the temperament of the dog is a key and major factor.

Labels – choose your identity before someone labels you

We can’t get away from them in society. I’ve had many in my career and indeed in my lifetime.

Teenage mother
Senior female executiveIMG_3317
Immune suppressed
Working mother
Older woman
Cancer survivor
Single mother
Female business owner
Older mother
Older bride
HR person
New romantic (one of my favorites)
Main breadwinner
Support staff

Oh so many.

But I really don’t want to be defined by my health, my sense of style, the fact I have had children or got married or employ my husband or work.

The office of one of our local candidates has done a mail shot to potential female voters. His main assumption is that because I am female, I am in a low paid job with childcare issues. Now I accept that many people are in this position. Not just female but many will be.

But I have not got to the position I am in today (owner of a successful growing business) because I have ever had any self-limiting beliefs about what I can achieve.

In fact I have been positively driven by adversity.

When I had my daughter in 2006, I was back in hospital when she was 2 months old with septicemia. I was told I might not walk again. And that no one tended to breast feed in Intensive care. I did of course (managed 2 feeds a day to keep things going) and left hospital on crutches but these days I am a regular at combat training. That experience made me decide to apply for a promotion and move my family to the South West.

A few years later, when I had an unexpected spot of cancer a year after I had gone freelance I worked through it. I didn’t sign on and I didn’t let it do anything other than make me more determined. To get well. To work. To keep smiling.

I worked part-time predominantly for one of our favorite clients notonthehighstreet.com. Holly Tucker the CEO was very supportive and I used to go into the offices, wearing a turban and with a stick to help me walk.

That experience, helped me decide that if I was ill again I’d want a thriving business to be behind me. I’m not sure everyone has that reaction but I’d highly recommend it.

Don’t let other peoples labels define what you do. Drive your own identity and identify the choices you need to make and the path you need to take to get to the place you want to get to.

Since I’ve been in HR, I’ve watched a lot of porn

It wasn’t what I expected that’s for sure….
Lap-dancing clubs for corporate meetings
But having worked in some very male dominated environments it has been the subject of a number of investigations I have led that have often resulted in dismissal.  I can recall one guy that used the company systems to book an escort and others that sent shocking images to junior female staff for a laugh.

I can still remember in my early 30’s when I began working for a small merchant bank (that no longer exists) in the shadow of St Paul’s and going into the dealing room and just seeing a sea of porn on the screen savers.

In those days male traders still entertained male clients at Spearmint Rhino and it would pop out at lunchtime for a bottle of wine and to watch a quick semi naked dance before they slithered back to their desks.  You could always tell who had. They had a far away glint in their eye. It wasn’t nice.
Using lap-dancing clubs as corporate venues certainly excluded women even if one did get invites to go and watch and be one of the lads. Some women felt forced to do this to progress their careers as it was where lots of deals were done as well as recruitment. 
I’d like to say it doesn’t happen anymore but of course it still does.
Porn at work – hard to judge
In the days before the internet, you would not expect to see someone sitting at their desk reading Penthouse or something similar but there is a culture in some workplaces of highly inappropriate emails being passed around.
Now I say highly inappropriate because I am mindful that any pornographic image is probably very offensive to some people and that most people wouldn’t feel it was proper conduct in the workplace.  And of course it breaches the Equality Act as the employer has a duty to provide a positive working environment for all.
But it seems some people find this hard to judge.  Especially District Judge Timothy Bowles, Immigration Judge Warren Grant and Deputy District Judge and Recorder Peter Bullock who have all been removed from office for viewing pornography during working hours via the judicial IT systems.
Penalities are severe (or should be)
None of them work together so it looks to me like the Judicial IT department  have done a random sweep of their systems and picked this up.  Whenever I have done this in a workplace (after issuing a code of conduct and a warning) it has always picked up people mis-using the system and not expecting to get caught.  And it is gross misconduct which means they can be dismissed without pay. And they often are.
But often we don’t take senior folk to task enough.  So I’m delighted that the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice have concluded it was an “inexcusable misuse” of their official accounts and “wholly unacceptable conduct for a judicial office holder”.  I firmly agree. If you hold the office and take the salary you need to behave in a manner that is fitting. We should expect the same standards from MPs and anyone in a senior or responsible role.
What should you do if someone sends you an inappropriate email?
Delete it without forwarding it. To anyone. Even yourself at home.
What should you do if you receive a complaint that one of your employees has done this?
Don’t do what I heard recently and delete the inappropriate content.  That just makes you as the employer more culpable.  You must do an investigation and if appropriate discipline your employee.  Make sure your IT and Communication policies are fit for purpose and update them if not.

Shared Parental Leave – do you know what’s coming?

Paternity leave, parental leave and now shared parental leave…it’s no wonder employers can get confused as to when and how to apply all these different forms of leave. So here’s the lowdown on what this new shared parental leave is, when it can be used and what you need to know.
Shared parental leave is going to be available for the parents of children due to be born or adopted on or after 5 April 2015. It’s a new policy that aims to enable eligible parents to choose how to share the care of their child during the first year of birth or adoption.

Broadly speaking the way this will work is that the parent will opt out of her maternity or adoption leave/statutory maternity or adoption pay and opt into the shared parental leave/shared parental pay. This will then allow them to share the remaining time and leave with their partner.
So how does this actually work?
Here’s an example. A mum may have gone on maternity leave 2 weeks before her baby is born. Then 6 weeks after the birth she gives 8 weeks notice to curtail her maternity leave and notice of taking shared parental leave. This means she will have taken 16 weeks of maternity leave, which will leave 36 weeks of shared paternal leave available. She can now share this 36 weeks with her partner, so either the partner could take 20 weeks and she could take the remaining 16 weeks or they could both take 18 weeks together.
Who is eligible?
This is pretty straightforward. You must share care of the child with either your husband, wife, civil partner or joint adopter; the child’s other parent; or your partner (if they live with you and the child). You or your partner must be eligible for maternity leave/pay, maternity allowance, or adoption leave/pay You must also have been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the EWC; be employed by the same employer while you take SPL; and have main responsibility for the care of the child (apart from any responsibility of the partner).
How is Shared Parental Leave requested?
Now this is where the rules get a bit confusing…
To request shared parental leave you first need to provide a Leave Curtailment Notice to end your maternity or adoption leave.
You then need to provide Notice of Entitlement and Intention to Take Shared Parental Leave. In essence, three notices are required:-
1.     The mother and the partner must each give their employers written notice of entitlement to SPL and ShPP.
2.      The employee must also provide a signed declaration
3.     The employee’s partner must also provide a signed declaration stating
It is inevitable that sometimes an employee is going to want to change their mind over how they want to split this leave. Now, they can do this but unsurprisingly this is going to mean they need to serve another notice of intention to take shared parental leave confirming estimated dates and what leave is available to them. It’s worth noting here that they can change their minds over this as many times as they want.
When an employee is ready to request the actual date of this leave they need to serve a period of leave notice. Employees need to give their employer’s 8 weeks notice of any leave.
One period of leave notice can include more than one block of leave. An employee has the right to provide a maximum of 3 period of leave notices. An important thing to remember is that if an employee wants to change the dates of a period of leave, they need to serve another notice of leave, which comes out of their maximum 3 period of leave notices.
During shared parental leave, all contractual entitlements continue apart from wages or salary. Pension contributions will continue to be paid when shared parental pay is being paid but not when the employee is on unpaid shared parental leave.
So what do you need to do to get ready for the 5th April?
Ensure you have a shared parental leave policy in place
Communicate with your managers so they are ready for questions coming from employees about this new entitlement
Maternity coaching
Maternity coaching is already an established practice and whilst still predominantly female led, at Amelore we are starting to see men join at least one of the sessions.  Coaching before, during and after maternity and potentially shared parental leave provides valuable space for employees to explore significant changes, increase clarity of thought and help really decide the best way of working for the future.
Need help with this?
Amelore can help design a policy that fits your organisation and provide the tools to upskill your managers so they’re ready for the inevitable questions that will start coming through.

Is HR your Friend or Foe?

A few years ago I appeared in an article that the Guardian published in the sadly now defunct Work section.  It was written by the charming Mark King (who now edits Moneywise) and it upset SOME people.

Mainly people in HR.

Dear oh dear.

Here is the article.

At that time I was quite a regular commentator on the Dear Jeremy page as ExBrightonBelle (for anyone that remembers me) and Mark approached me as it was obvious from my responses that I was an HR professional.

I don’t think any of us can get away from the fact that HR serves the management team over the employees. And yes as much as there will be many positive things that internal HR functions can do, they will mainly be focused on reducing costs, getting rid of difficult people and keeping the management team happy.

You can see how from a staff point of view that given those facts they may well see HR as their foe. 

What has been hugely refreshing for me since I started my own business 5 years ago is that I honestly think it’s different when you are external.  You don’t have to deal with politics, you can make recommendations and improve things and often part of our remit is coaching and developing people.  Which you never get to do as an internal person.

The other thing we do a lot of which I love is bringing the brand in-house. The Brand very much being the domain of the marketing department when you are internal.  And those two functions don’t often collaborate too closely.  You can have a Brand bible and a Staff handbook and reading them it’s like two different companies.  So being external we can also be pretty creative. In fact we have to be really to compete – why else would people choose to retain us?

Of course we are not a traditional outsourced HR business because we insist on face to face contact and agreed attendance in the office. Yes we support remotely 24/7 (but we don’t have an advice line – you just call your HR lead directly) and yes we firmly insist on the correct on brand (yours not ours) paperwork and good governance structures (we don’t offer tribunal indemnity insurance because we have never lost a tribunal – not as a company or in the professional history of our founder Ruth Cornish – so why would we slow everything down in that way) because we just don’t do tribunals.

If reading this you are kind of curious about what we could do for your business please get in touch.  We’d love to hear from you.

The first of many…

On Thursday I did something for the first time.

I hired someone!

Weird really when you think I have worked in HR for 25 years.

But what I did yesterday was take the big and exciting step of hiring someone to work for me in my company.  Over the years I have probably hired thousands of people.  But never into my OWN business.

I started it 5 years ago but until now have worked with associates.  So very flexible, and it’s a model that can work for some.

Hiring someone has been part of a determined decision and a very thought through plan to grow from a busy consultant to a business.  Our first employee is someone who will focus on Business Development. We already have our second and third lined up – someone to manage Operations and someone to lead HR consultancy.

It hasn’t been easy to find the right person.  In the end we used an agency. I think that can really help when you are small and no-one knows much about you.  Having someone else to tell a story about you and your vision. We did try our own campaigns but we have also recently changed our name.

So I’d recommend that. 

We did a 2 stage process. The very talented individual we hired met me first 1-2-1.  She admitted that she wasn’t keen initially (our location) until she came in and saw our offices. Small but perfectly formed. Light, bright and colourful. But also hearing our story, my vision and plans.

A week later she returned to do a presentation about how she’d approach the job. We had also profiled her personality.  This is critical in my opinion.

On the wall beside my desk I have a map of the personalities of everyone that works in or closely with my business.  I know how people like to work and what they are good at.  And how they like to be managed. This means I can build a balanced team which is so critical in a small business.

I’m lucky that compared to the average SME I have at my finger tips everything one needs to hire someone. Not just the paperwork but the insight about the importance of induction and clear expectations and goals.

Getting the HR side of things right is an important factor for any small business.  I was privileged to get involved with nothonthehighstreet.com in its earlier days which is now a very successful business that everyone has heard of it.  They wrote a second book last year called “Shape up your Business in 30days” which is a very useful guide for any business owner.  We advised on the HR side of things and the section on personality is very interesting.  I highly recommend you invest in a copy.

Why HR and Marketing need to get into bed together… fast.

Traditionally HR has had more in common with Finance than Marketing – systems, payroll, forms and data.  But rarely any analysis from it; rules, regulations; what you can and can’t do. All a bit dull…

Marketeers tended to sit with Sales and care most about budgets, products, and consumers (in that order). HR practitioners were interested in future and current employees rarely thinking of them as customers in the way that the Marketing department did.

Despite apparent differences between the functions of HR and marketing, the digital world has brought them closer than ever by eliminating differences between employees and consumers who may actually be one person at the end of the day.

So much so, that most businesses should seriously consider bringing their HR and Marketing departments much closer together as it could be a healthy collaboration.

Firstly, Marketing truly understands the brand in the way that HR should.  Brands reflect a company’s reputation, embodying its values and DNA. When consumers are attracted to a company’s brand, they will probably identify with its culture too. And cultural fit drives employee engagement, and productivity. When employees share the values of the organisation, work fulfills important psychological needs and motives; and consumers achieve the same when they buy products that align with their idealised self and identity.

Furthermore, since employees are also brand ambassadors – they share both good and bad experiences of the job and the organisations via Glassdoor, LinkedIn and Facebook – engaged employees are an important asset, not only to marketing but the whole organisation. Conversely, if you hire people who have trouble fitting in they will sooner or later be tempted to harm your brand or work for your competitors. And in an age in which brand loyalty is easier to pursue than employee loyalty, marketing is well placed to teach HR about loyalty.

Secondly, the two keys to successful recruitment are (a) attracting good candidates and (b) assessing their future potential. Thanks to technology and digital advertising, marketing departments are now better placed to accomplish these two goals than traditional technology and analytics free HR departments.

Indeed, most businesses have a strong online presence with consumers, and with it comes the capacity to mine behavioural data that can be translated into valid profiles. Importantly, these profiles can be used not only to predict consumer behaviours, but also employee performance.

For example, knowing that a person has unconventional preferences and is an early adopter can predict not only their likelihood of buying innovative products, but also their ability to innovate, which would make them suitable for a creative role.

Likewise, if companies want to hire emotionally intelligent employees, they could mine consumer transactions that reflect cool-headed and smart purchasing decisions, and refrain from hiring customers who spend a lot of time complaining.

However, there is an important caveat: although the same data point may represent an employee and a consumer, the segments and typologies traditionally used in marketing are not always relevant to HR. Marketing can learn from HR to assess more relevant aspects of human behaviour (eg, the bright and dark side of personality, competencies, personal values and motivations) together with their experience of living with decisions.  If a company loses a customer, it is very different from a big Employee Relations issue that can impact badly on moral and profitability.

Thirdly, it is clear now that employees increasingly want consumer-like experiences. They don’t want a job; they want a meaningful career.  Money matters less than fun, purpose and work-life balance. Regular staff surveys are conducted to monitor employees’ involvement and engagement levels at work – just like sentiment analyses, but of employees rather than brands. And the very futures of employees depend not on their qualifications and skills, but their capacity to self-brand and sell their brand to future employers.

It seems, then, that marketing departments can play a key role in engaging, managing and developing employees.  The businesses revered by consumers will be the best places to work, and being employed by those businesses will strengthen employees’ personal brand, which in turn will strengthen the business. Traditional HR products like clunky appraisal systems; exit interviews and the formal one-way interview need refreshing and replacing. 

Ultimately, marketing is about storytelling, influence and differentiation. But the story of brands is the psychological journey of organisations, and each organisation is its people: their values, ideas, and reputation. Marketing and HR could be a powerful force in any organisation. Bringing the brand in-house to shape and create a culture that individuals wish to join. Marketing it externally. 
Looking at employee data to identify new ways to engage with employees. Creating a place to work driven by individuals not corporate needs.

It’s a very exciting thought.

Why the Bankers bonus 10yr claw back won’t change a thing.

Having been an HR Director in the City I was mildly amused by the headlines today that Bankers who are guilty of misconduct would have to pay back bonuses from the last 10 years under a Labour government.

Under previous rules, bankers’ bonuses were often deferred for a period of three to five years, during which time the bonus could be clawed back if necessary. But I bet the reality was that few were penalized like this unless it got in the headlines. More likely they were bollocked behind a closed door, no record being made of it and their bonus was paid out in the normal way.

Insider dealing is not acceptable

Of course I absolutely think that those who deliberately do something forbidden like rigging the interest rates or insider dealing or trading over ones limit should face severe consequences. As should the person managing them. And a financial penalty is appropriate but more so the fear that they will be dismissed for gross misconduct which would result in the Financial Conduct Authority deeming them not fit and proper to work in a regulated activity and career over.

But the reality is that such events are rare. And the people that work in the City do so because they wish to take informed considered calculated risks and that sort of behavior is positively encouraged.  The ones that make big profits for their firms, can pretty much call the shots.  Which is just commerciality. Imagine if entrepreneurs were regulated. A crazy thought but there are some synergies.

HR are the ones that truly know what is going on

Thing is that the politicians just don’t understand the City. No-one truly does until you have worked in-house for a number of years. If you were in a senior HR role. You really really will. Often even more so than the CEO.

Lack of consequences means the behavior won’t change

For all the City has an image of being cut throat it is actually much less likely to actively define and manage poor behavior for its high flying front office staff. Mainly because reputation is everything and even acknowledging it almost feels a bit grubby to some firms.

Even when an individual (most likely Back Office)  has committed a criminal offence such as fraud, whilst they would be likely to be dismissed their file would not be handed over to the police.  I actually think all companies (across the country) should have a legal duty to do that.  Otherwise that person will pop up somewhere else. And do it again.

Different People Practices can have a big impact

If you have ever looked at appraisal forms, where they exist and compared it to all the other intelligence in the business – what the senior folk are saying – what the clients are demanding – what the PA’s think the priorities are – together with all the metrics – you will see that they really are apples and pears.  Which does beg the question  – Why do appraisals at all accepting they are currently a measure of a ‘well managed’ firm.

The thing is that everyone I have ever worked with past or present in the City absolutely wants to do the right thing.  Professionalism is hugely valued. Especially as they know that being on top of the people agenda will help them grow and win further business.

But often they doesn’t get much of a fresh steer on the changing possibilities, 

What are needed are systems and different practices to facilitate the growth of a culture that clearly has consequences for people that are doing what is expected of them, or not.

Doing that will have much more impact on behavior that the 10 year bonus claw back.  It would also be a rather useful approach in the Civil Service but that is another blog post.

I was in Starbucks the other day when I heard…

My sister in law (well she would be if she married my husbands brother but who cares – family is family and sisters are sisters) is a brand specialist in Canada. She shared via her FB page that as she was sat working in Starbucks, she overheard the conversation happening at the table beside her. Two young girls in their early 20’s were talking about becoming a “specialist” at something.

They were discussing their goals and their future and she was in awe of their maturity and drive and ambition.

I’m also finding that 20 year olds these days are very special. They blow me away actually. What I’m seeing is that they have a fire inside them. A fearlessness. A real self-belief; they’re a new breed. I think we will see them do amazing things in this world.

These two girls were saying that most people want the quick and easy buck or career these days and that it takes about 15 years of doing ONE thing and mastering it before you can call yourself a “specialist”.

They were discussing their plans to become specialists and how they will gladly and passionately invest their time, even if it means the next 15 years of their lives. They are proud to have this goal and they have it independent of any corporate appraisal system.

I’m not so sure I was thinking that way when I was in my twenties. Even if they do change their minds, that’s still impressive,… to be sitting around sipping tea having that conversation so early on in the game. Makes me smile.

I had been working for 10 years when I felt I was an HR specialist and it was at the 15 to 20yr mark that I felt I was truly an expert. This is not to say that one cannot call oneself a specialist or expert sooner, but I do think that a certain right of passage and degree of credibility is earned after this many years.

As a specialist, your work is second nature. It’s in your blood. It’s a passion. You know what works and doesn’t. You have years of leaning from mistakes and trial and error under your belt. You are driven to improve and be the best you can be.


This leads me on to my main point.  How come there is no system or app that can capture those thoughts and plans to become a specialist or whatever the individual goal is and track them. I would love to see my thoughts, goals and various career milestones all together so I can could see the progress and personal growth I had achieved.

At Amelore we are working on something right now that does all that as well as exploits the social media world we all live in. We feel very excited. Watch this space for more information or make contact to find out more.