Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The power of HR

I never, ever, EVER thought I would write a blog post about Human Resources. I worked in HR for 10 years and we were thought of as the fag end of the business; generally, a waste of space and an unnecessary pull on already tight finances. I didn't find working in HR much fun, either. It was great when people behaved, but when there were fallings out (grievances) or redundancies, or something else that was bleak - it was bloody horrible.

Someone once said to me that to work in HR, you really need to dislike people. (That's not true, by the way.)

But today I find myself on the other side of the HR fence. Now, I work in publishing. Our small company has been swallowed up by a much larger one, with a proper HR department (this is important to the story, as you'll see, later on).

You know the background to The Accident. And you know that I've been struggling to cope with Tween's recovery, alongside work, and Teen, and all that. So after a few weeks of trying my best, I approached my boss to ask for a chunk of time off in the summer. I already had two weeks booked, and wanted another two weeks. I was about to pop, I said, and I needed some time to look after my boy.

Yes, she said, but four weeks is a long time. Can you do some Keeping in Touch days? Work from home a couple of afternoons a week? And also, I'll need a full handover plan in place before you go. I found myself saying 'maybe' - but inside I was thinking, 'Why aren't you listening to me? I haven't got the mental space to do this.'

I remember flexing my fingers a lot. Tense.

On Monday, after a weekend of no sleep with Tween, I rolled into work red eyed and harridan-looking. I was tearful and stressed. My boss barked at me for something. I cried in the toilets.

A friend took me to one side. 'Just walk out', she said. 'Other things are more important'. I couldn't do that, but I asked to see my boss. Again, I tried to explain that I was failing, losing control, and I needed to go home. 'Yes', she said, 'but we need you to ....'

I was overcome with a powerful urge to do something ridiculous. Why was she unable to understand? Why could she not look at my situation and say JUST GO HOME?

That was when I asked her to phone HR. Please, I said, ask their advice. They will know what to do.

A couple of hours later and my boss tapped me on the shoulder. In a meeting room, she told me that I had been granted a week's compassionate leave, and two weeks' off on full sick pay. From there, I could take a block of annual leave. And from then, if needed, I could reduce my contracted hours temporarily, until Tween gets back on his feet.

I don't like crying at work, but the relief was so huge that I burst into tears. My boss gave me a stiff hug. I could tell she was thinking, 'how the fuck am I going to manage this?' What she didn't realise, I think, was quite how close to a breakdown I was. It wasn't her fault; some people see it naturally, but she just hadn't been trained to see the signs.

So thank you, HR. You get a lot of flack in life. But yesterday you saved me.


  1. Hooray for HR! I think that is the problem with some line managers – they have no people skills at all and can make you feel like you are just a number which is very disempowering and stressful. I think my mum had a breakdown about 15 years ago when her manager just refused to have any awareness at all of the huge issues she was facing at home with my grandma’s health and my sister desperately needing her to be there as she had two under two and wasn’t coping too well herself. So pleased that you finally have an ally and a solution and that employment law is there to protect you during a difficult time. Xx


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