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Annie Hayes



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HR Practitioner’s Diary: Food fights and Southfork power struggles


Sue Kingston our HR Practitioner reports from the field including dodging a pastry fight at a food processing plant and managing a power struggle between a green-eyed MD and her ‘wannabe’.

What a month of variety and pace. I can’t believe there are only four weeks until Christmas and then the nights start to get lighter again – hurrah! Let me share a flavour of my encounters with you:

Pastry at dawn!
The food processing company presented me with an informal investigation involving the production staff throwing lumps of pastry at one another during their shift!

It resulted in one girl receiving a direct blow from a pastry ball to the side of her head (I can feel some of you smiling out there)!! Wendy had been the instigator of the pastry ‘fight’, but when the going got tough she cried wolf and went off sick for a whole week, because the blow from the pastry caused her to have blurred vision (now I can sense some of you laughing)!!

On a serious note though, I have issued a notice to all staff stating that the use of projectiles in either solid or liquid form is strictly forbidden and that a breach of this rule would be classed as Gross Misconduct and, therefore, Summary Dismissal. Whilst amusing to picture, this ‘fight’ did present a Health and Safety risk and, so, I had to wield my HR banner and be the ‘party pooper’ – such is an HR person’s life!

It was so funny though, after each interview with the witnesses, I had to have a couple of minutes in between to compose myself there’s never a dull moment!

Big spoon stirs Southfork
There’s been some fun with Sue-Ellen, Pamie and Lucy at Kent’s version of Southfork, Dallas.

Sue-Ellen was appointed Managing Director, Pamie as Development Director and Lucy as Development Executive.

Lucy was happy just getting on with her job and was doing really well. However, Sue-Ellen was worried that Pamie was after her job as MD, which originally had been the case. Over a period of time Pamie realised that Sue-Ellen’s life was being made hell by a very demanding Chief Executive and this soon turned Pamie off her own aspirations to become MD.

Unfortunately Sue-Ellen had become over sensitive to Pamie’s previous interest in her position and had become hell-bent on undermining Pamie with a view to getting her fired – no joke guys – it’s all been happening in Kent!

The result was I sat with each of the girls in turn and had an open and frank conversation to get to the bottom of what was really happening. I then shared my findings with Sue-Ellen and advised her on the best way forward and what her team needed to see from her as their leader.

Sue-Ellen understood where she had gone wrong in handling this situation, in that she has been led by her emotions rather than sticking to the facts.

As a result all three are now talking in an open and factual manner and are now more focused on what they need to achieve for the business, rather than creating problems where they didn’t really need to exist.

How often have any of you come across this type of problem? I’d love to hear your comments.

DDA/HR Synergy:
This month has created a number of opportunities for me to focus on diversity within the employment world and just how un-switched on employers still are to disabled employees.

Only today I experienced a business owner who turned down a meeting with a blind person because he is uncomfortable around people with disabilities! Really! In the 21st century I would hope the human mind has become more conditioned to different scenarios, but sadly, it does seem that this is not the case.

However, an associate (John – who is blind) and myself have a cunning plan – as you would expect from any good HR person!

John and I have linked up to arrange meetings with potential clients with a view to auditing businesses in relation to diversity, examining how they are making their way towards compliance with the DDA (Disability and Discrimination Act) regulations.

We already have a prospect list of some 63 companies from large Plc’s to SME’s, where we have access to senior level decision makers. And we’ve had half a dozen meetings which have been met with enthusiasm and some sense of relief that someone is prepared to advise and help them through this minefield.

We have discovered that the majority of companies know they should be doing something towards DDA compliance, but are finding it such a huge subject, fraught with the potential of ‘getting it wrong’, that they don’t really know where to start!

See the DDA 2005 regulations in all its 250-page glory at:

This Act is not going to go away, it will only be improved upon further and to that end employers really need to get to grips with it. It’s great to discover the assets in employing a disabled person. I have certainly discovered with John that he is more capable in a number of business areas than an able-bodied individual. His intuition is amazing. He listens to everything said to him and has a fantastic memory.

I recently tuned into a radio interview where a deaf chap explained the reasons behind his campaign pushing for a greater DDA awareness. He gave some very good examples of the benefits of being disabled. When he attends a business meeting he is often more informed than his able bodied counterparts. Research is the key. To get up to speed he explained how he puts in a great deal of work before the meeting to understand more about the companies involved, their products, who’s who in the meeting, jargon and pronunciation etc, so that he is able to lip-read and understand what is being discussed to a high standard. Many able bodied people attending such a meeting wouldn’t be anywhere near as prepared.

With John’s blindness, I find he is more tuned in to smell, touch, moods, atmosphere and what he calls ‘ESP’ – it’s quite uncanny what he detects from voice tone and where you are looking i.e. directly at him or away. He is also very tactile, but again this helps him to gauge how people are responding and whether they are genuine or not. The most engaging thing though is his sense of humour and quick wit. I’ve never witnessed anyone build rapport so quickly and solidly. It’s a real education and one I can recommend.

Innovation v business plan
This project drags on somewhat. The food processing company are still struggling to put together a viable business plan. To that end they have now given me a summary from each department of what their key performance indicators are. This will then be progressed to devising actual actions to build a project model for commencement in January 2006.

Amazingly, none of the three Directors know how to put together a business plan! Only today the Operations Director discussed their intention, prior to Christmas, to potentially make eight people redundant in Production in order to stem the ‘bleed’ from the business, due to sales not being sufficiently high.

They needed a viable business plan about three years ago and have now effectively shut the gate after the horse has bolted! I’m not sure if I can assist in guiding them to a more successful future as their mindset is so complacent, confused and flat. There is no investment and they are floundering like fish out of water. Watch this space!

The cold shoulder
A long term sickness problem may have taken a different turn. Janet has been off work for five months with a frozen shoulder and it was looking like it would continue into the new year.

I had obtained her permission to write to her doctor for a medical report and was just about to do so, when another doctor’s certificate arrived on my desk stating that she would be fit to return to work on 1 December 2005!

Yes, this could be a result, but could also be a twist in the tale. Let the cynic in me explain.

Had Janet been signed off to the end of 2005 she would have then lost any accrued holiday, based on the holiday year running from 1 January to 31 December. She would have started a fresh accrual in January 2006 for any ongoing sickness.

As it is, she will return on 1 December 2005 and will have accrued some 15 days holiday. She could then choose to take that holiday entitlement before the end of December 2005, which means she may only physically work five days in the month – now there’s a result for Janet!

Her shoulder complaint is such that her role on the production line may aggravate the situation again and we (the company) suspect that January will see further absence occurring and she will, therefore, start accruing holiday for 2006.

The law on this may change in the future whereby the employee doesn’t lose the accrued holiday or payment in lieu – yet again another huge expense and loss to all employers. I’d love to know your thoughts on this!

Needless to say, I have the medical report request at the ready should Janet be absent in the new year. I will not allow the situation to drag on for either the employer or employees sakes, as was allowed to happen this year by the businesses previous HR Manager.

New dawn on HR Consultancy emerges
More and more companies are tuning into the idea and value of an HR Consultant and it would seem that my 23 years of experience is standing me in good stead to progress my business.

Only this morning I had a call at 07.45 to discuss two new opportunities locally. One with a long established client who needs my assistance who have also been kind enough to refer me to one of their own clients who also need HR consultancy services.

The firm of solicitors I spoke to last month have it in mind that they want an employed person rather than a consultant – so I’m still working on that one to see if I can bring them into the 21st century of HR. I have another ally in the company who shares my vision of HR consultancy, so we still have a chance!

Mid November I was fortunate enough to spend a weekend in a five star hotel with two 18 hole golf courses. John, my blind associate, was the guest speaker for an AGM. Besides enjoying the hospitality and golf, I had an interesting conversation with the business owner who sought my opinion on his HR manager (Fay) who had been with the company for three years.

Fay was not aware of my background, but it was very apparent from my casual conversation with her that her heart was not in her job and she had no passion or real belief in herself or her value to the business. Her boss had suspected this to be the case, but valued my opinion before deciding on his next course of action.

As a result he is restructuring his HR resource with a view to exploring consultancy with me.

There is a message in this scenario to any HR employee: there is a change coming about in the industry. Full time HR resources are becoming an expensive and questionable luxury to many companies and they are switching on to the value of consultants for not only this field, but other areas too such as IT, finance and project management the list is extensive.

So Christmas is going to come and go in a flash and before you know it I’ll be reporting to you in the new year. So in the meantime, have a great Christmas everyone and a really happy and prosperous HR New Year, ho, ho, ho!!

Vital Stats:

  • Weight: 9st 8lbs (nicely focused for Christmas and ready to avoid the excesses that go with it.)

  • Chocolate: two mini flakes (mmm, delicious – that wonderful ‘flake’ moment)!

  • Wine: Ron and I are enjoying sampling various wines, but with splendid food – he’s a great cook.
    Cider: two glasses enjoyed whilst relaxing in front of the fire on a chilly evening.
    Boyfriends: Ron has become quite a feature and I’ve now met his daughters, parents and most of his friends. He’s planning Christmas and New Year with me and a golf holiday to Spain in January too. I’m just going with the flow! It’s nice to have someone planning and wanting to do all of these things with me. When something feels so good, I’m almost waiting for the catch that bursts the bubble, but I’m just trying to enjoy one day at a time and see where it goes. We laugh until our ribs ache and enjoying singing soppy songs to one another (but end up laughing again) – what a wonderful feeling!

  • Deep thoughts: it’s so nice sharing my life with someone again – this Christmas has a good feeling to it for the first time in a long, long time.

Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year.


*Sue Kingston is a self-employed HR Consultant with 23 years HR experience. Sue can be contacted on T: 07966 216561 or at [email protected]

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