HR chief warns of stress facing Olympics HR staff

Aspiring 2012 Olympics HR practitioners must be ready to “say goodbye” to their family and friends, according to the director of workforce for the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

Keith Watkinson, now director of personnel and training for West Yorkshire Police, described working on the 2002 Commonwealth Games as an “emotional rollercoaster”.

Speaking exclusively to Personnel Today, he said that any applicants for the 2012 Olympic Games HR roles should be wary of making such a significant commitment.

“The pressure of working on such a mammoth task puts a huge strain on everyday life,” he said. “You are, in effect, working on an international stage and the immovable deadlines bring incredible tension and stress. It’s fraught with emotion and time is the enemy.”

Watkinson, who was responsible for recruiting, uniforming and deploying the 13,000-strong workforce for the 2002 Games, said it was vital to consider personal circumstances when working on such a project. “It’s all-consuming and you have to be on call 24 hours a day,” he said.

Watkinson worked on the project for two years, including three months spent “winding down” at the end of the Games. “You do gain an awful lot in terms of experience, but there is no room for glory seekers,” he said. “It taught me about teamwork in a way I could not really have appreciated before.”

But he also said it was an achievement he could look back on with great pride. “There were occasional moments of realisation, like during the final rehearsals, when I was able to take in the enormity of what we’d created. It was an amazing feeling,” he said.

Watkinson added that it was important to keep things in perspective when working to such a tight timescale. “You have to run it rather than let it run you,” he said.

Olympics 2012 – a job to far?

Watkinson said he would have serious reservations about applying for the head of HR role for the 2012 Olympics (Personnel Today, 13 December 2005).

“I don’t think the advertised £75,000 salary is a good reflection of the role, and the fact it’s reporting to the finance director shows that they don’t recognise the importance of the people element,” he said.

“I personally wouldn’t want to take on a top job of that scale again. I’ve done it once but my current circumstances mean I wouldn’t be able to do it now,” Watkinson added.

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