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Q & A: Justine Williams - Barnardo's

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Justine Williams, Assistant Director of People, Barnardo's West Region talks about her role and the employment issues she encounters.

How long have you been working in HR with Barnardo’s?

I've been working in the not-for-profit sector at Barnardo’s for 15 years, having worked previously in the NHS.

What makes your job interesting and challenging?

Every day is different but working for a charity means that, on a daily basis, I get to see and hear about the work our staff does with children, young people and families – the difference it makes to their lives.

The challenges – especially in recent years – have come mostly from cuts to local authority funding which has a knock-on effect for charities. Equally, people in general are not donating as much and this short-term funding creates uncertainty.

Charities today need to be competitive and operate like a business in order to remain successful, while focusing on doing the best work possible to make a difference in a difficult economic environment.

What are the most common issues you have to handle?

It’s principally about managing change. With funding issues and contracts moving between providers, there’s been a lot more TUPE activity (Transfer of Undertakings – Protection of Employment – Regulations 1981) and the need to retain staff in a competitive market.

Also managing absence is a common issue and this can be challenging in the current environment so it is important that we have the right support mechanisms  in place for  staff such as an employee assistance programme and occupational health and also robust policies that managers can follow.

What's changed in the role of the HR manager in the recent years?

I think HR managers are spending more time coaching managers; supporting them to implement policies and advising on HR practices – especially as employment legislation, including what comes from EU, has become more complex.

Changes in technology has resulted in different  ways of working  particularly within the field of recruitment with on-line assessments and even the ability to conduct  interviews via Skype. On the front line of our work, social media technology means we have to adapt our communications to children and young people and make sure our staff have the right skills and knowledge to use the different types of social media and also ensure that the appropriate policies and procedures are in place  and that  staff have an  understanding of what’s appropriate when using social media.

People are also seeking more balanced working lives through part-time and flexible working. This has been good for our organisation and is a way of rewarding staff and providing benefits that compete well with the private sector. However, it also needs careful management of people’s expectations of what flexible working means.

Where have you experienced the need for good legal advice and support? 

TUPE is a complex area of legislation and is where we do obtain legal advice. The issues around what is and what isn’t a TUPE transfer aren’t always clear cut and prompt many discussions where legal input is essential.

We certainly value it when employment solicitors understand our business, the risks and are able to suggest a range of options – with the pros and cons – to consider. Clearly, as a charity we need to be conscious of and accountable for the money we spend with professional advisers, including our expenditure on legal costs.

What do you think is the key to being a successful HR manager?

You need to be open to change, to understand your organisation and be integral to the management teams. That means recognising the needs of managers and how HR decisions will affect the business.

An HR manager has to add value, for example by reducing absence rates, and help to create a culture that staff want to be part of.