Most people who work in HR would agree that they were initially attracted to the profession because it seemed to be about working with people. Yet there are many positions in small to medium-sized companies where the HR professional employed operates entirely alone.
As someone who has always worked within a larger HR team, I can’t begin to imagine the challenges that a standalone HR professional must face. The benefits of working in an HR team are obvious – mainly, that you have other people to turn to for advice, especially when facing situations you have never dealt with before. But where do you go if you don’t have the luxury of this support network? What if you simply want a friendly face to chat to, someone who understands the issues?
For example, a friend of mine was previously an HR manager for a large company overseas and came to settle in the UK four years ago. She faced all those challenges when, after some considerable time trying, she eventually found an HR position in a small, not-for-profit organisation. She’d had a lot of difficulty finding something suitable through the normal job-hunting processes and eventually got this position through personal contacts.
Once in the job, she was faced with handling some potentially very challenging dismissal and disciplinary situations. The dismissals were made and then the employment tribunal claims came in. Needless to say, this was a very stressful time for her and it was not made any easier by the advice she was receiving from the company’s solicitor, which she instinctively felt was not right. She could definitely have benefited from some support.
In my last organisation, a large London council, we were always taking on temporary HR staff at all levels and, from time to time, we got people who only ever did contract work and did not want to be permanent. These people tended to work in standalone positions, setting up HR departments from scratch, for example. Although they choose to work this way, there is no denying that it can sometimes be quite lonely.
One young woman we took on as a temp specialised in HR in medium-sized fashion and retail organisations. However, being responsible for her own professional development, she had identified a need to work in a larger organisation for a while – so that was how she came to be working for us. The main benefit to her was the opportunity to work on different and wider issues thereby building her experience in a supportive environment.
Membership of a network of like-minded HR professionals could have been a big help in situations such as the ones that my friend and colleague faced.
Another set of HR professionals are those that may have spent many years employed by one organisation, but have then chosen to leave to find both new opportunities and new challenges. It is crucial, when making a change like this, to identify sources of help.
In my own case, once I’d decided that I wanted to make a move, I found just the right person to help me in the network that I was already a member of. This saved me time, heartache and effort, as I didn’t have to establish a new relationship.
I can honestly say that being in this network helped to lessen the stress I could have felt during this time and, more positively, has given me valuable support.
In all of these scenarios, HR professionals are proactively addressing their own personal situation. Joining a network is a positive step so, if you’re facing something similar – job hunting, handling complex situations, seeking information, promoting your own development – or if you just want to take control of your career, why not consider whether joining a network could help you too?
Julia Duncan is an interim HR professional specialising in the local government and the public sector and is a board member of professional network London HR Connection.