‘We see into very difficult and complex lives and can have a major role in supporting them. We have that privileged insight.’
Job: Housing Association Area Manager.
Typical hours worked: 40+ (depending on workload).
Profile: Liam is a white male in his 30s. He works full-time and lives with his wife and children in Northern Ireland.
I always really wanted to work in social housing, but when I left school, I didn’t really have a feel for what it would be like or what career opportunities there were. After university, I was initially going to train as a Teacher. I took an entry-level admin role with my current employer, just for a year until I started my placement. Once I got in, I realised I liked this organisation. I liked the vibe, I liked the values. I started working towards getting a Housing Officer role – which is the first rung on the ladder to where I am now – and I’ve been here ever since. That’s 15 years.
My working day
I’m an Area Manager for a housing association. We have a range of housing. Housing older people, supportive housing for people with dementia, family housing, housing for single people. I have a large patch across a big city, and I manage several smaller teams of people who work in different locations within that patch. It’s a management role but it’s also working on frontline services. We respond to complaints, antisocial behaviour and maintenance issues. Since COVID, I work from home up to three days a week, and the other two days I’m either out on-site at schemes or homes or in the office. I get most of my work done between 9am and 5pm because that’s when most of the staff are working and when customers expect you to be there.
No day is ever the same. Some days we could be dealing with quite serious incidents. With someone with dementia, for example, we could be dealing with behavioural issues or issues around their safety and support. In family housing we could be looking at antisocial behaviour – anything from complaints around noise or much more serious issues. Then, on top of that, you’ve got the proactive stuff, trying to develop the communities we operate in, to make them safe, vibrant, and successful places to live.
There will be days, there will be weeks, maybe, where I can work 9am to 6pm and know I’ve done as much as I can, or I’m able, to do today. There’ll be other periods when I know I need to go on in the evening or at the weekend just to get things done. Because a lot of my work is reactive, it can be difficult to structure time for a piece of work. Something comes left-field that you have to deal with, that might take a couple of hours. You could constantly be working just to either be able to catch up on the things you’ve had to defer, or to deal with reactive issues.
Maybe three years ago I wasn’t very good at setting my own boundaries. Then COVID came and, like everybody in frontline or customer-facing roles, we were in crisis-management mode. Any sense of boundaries or working hours kind of went out the window. I was totally fine with that, that had to be done and that was part of the role and responsibility. But I think I forced myself, around maybe last summertime, to start saying, ‘Right, you need to set some structure and boundaries around your work lifeʼ, because working from home meant I had no delineation between work and home life, and I found that very difficult.
In housing, people think we’re landlords and yes, primarily we are. A lot of people, all they want is a landlord transaction, they want accommodation, to pay their rent, and they want their houses repaired. The reality is, we have massive insight into people’s lives, their challenges, their successes, the risks that they’re facing. We see into sometimes very difficult and complex lives and can have a major role in supporting people. We have that privileged insight.
I have a history of frontline experience as a Housing Officer and that was, I always think, the most privileged and the best job I ever had. I’ve always carried those experiences and skills and that history with me through my roles to help other people develop and to deliver a good service. I deal with safeguarding issues, both child and adult protection. Often, we’re the first people to see there’s a need or that support is required. You’ve got an opportunity to make a positive impact and to really help someone who needs it, as well as working to create safe, strong communities for people to live and raise their families.
*This graph shows Liam's score alongside the UK mean (average) for the 7 dimensions of the CIPD Good Work Index.
Pay and benefits
I think I’m paid fairly to match up with what I do. I could go and work for another housing association on the same money I’m on now, but that would maybe be the top of the scale I can go to, whereas here there's a bit of scope to develop, and every year we get a cost-of-living pay rise.
The one thing I do really value in terms of a perk is the amount of flexibility we get. Technically, we can work any time of the day or night, as long as our job gets done. In my house, we split the parenting duties 50/50 and I benefit from that flexibility in terms of our home life and being able to play an active role in all of the childcare stuff and the homework and the pickups and collections and all of that. Life has changed significantly since I first started working. I’ve got a wife, I’ve got kids, I’ve got a mortgage. You know, you need to start thinking long-term as well. Things like pension provision are really important to me, more so now than ten years ago. It’s not just about take-home pay, but also preparing for my future too.
Health and wellbeing
The nature of the work can be emotionally and mentally taxing at times. COVID, for a long time, restricted me to the front bedroom and I found that mentally and physically very difficult. As restrictions have eased, the nature of my job enabled me to say, ‘Well, actually I need to be out there.’
We’ve just appointed wellbeing champions in the organisation and we’re looking at the wellbeing of employees, specifically, in terms of what mental wellbeing looks like, what physical wellbeing looks and feels like, what else we could be doing around stress, around relaxation, around men’s health, around women’s health. So that’s really positive.
I do a lot of professional development – so as long as I’m progressing and developing and changing within the organisation I’m in, and they’re happy for me to do it, why would I move around different organisations? They funded me to do my post-grad diploma in housing studies, for example, and that type of investment is what’s got me to where I am.
In terms of the future, at times I wonder ‘Is it healthy to stay so long in an organisation?’ Over the COVID period, looking back on some of my personal stuff around parenting and things I have done to develop my own personal development over the last two years, I certainly feel much braver. I’m not chasing a job title but I’m ambitious, personally but for the organisation too. Personal growth and development is important to me – and to be able to influence how services look and what services could look like for people living in our homes and for people working for us, that’s what’s important to me.
Relationships at work
My current team, I think they’re amazing. I think the world of them. They work incredibly hard to deliver high quality housing and support services. I’m 99% sure they would hold me in high regard as a manager as well. There are days when I have to manage and we need to work at pace, to deliver things, but I think they know how much I value them and trust them. It’s up to them to make informed decisions and develop and follow the framework we’ve set out for delivering the service, but know they have my support too anytime they need it. It is not my style to micromanage.
With my manager, I would describe it as a good relationship. I feel trusted in my role and don’t have any qualms about that. I feel valued, most of the time. I think there's probably days where you think, ‘I am not valued’ .’ You know, everybody feels like that at some stage. I know there are probably people on my team who feel the same about me on some days. There are just difficult days and there are good days but, primarily, I think it’s a positive and strong relationship.
Voice and representation
The culture I, and the organisation, try to create is to emphasise that, at all levels and in all departments, we’re all in this together.
In the main, I suppose I’d say I’m not a challenging person. I don’t do confrontation unless I need to, and then I’ll do it very respectfully and very constructively and I won’t be difficult. I would have an open and honest conversation about something. My manager seems receptive to that. I think, sometimes, we’ll agree to disagree on something.
I’m really proud of the work I do, and what our organisation does. The people who we work for deserve the best service that they can get. There still are tens of thousands of people waiting for accommodation and waiting for just something as simple as your own home and, your own place to raise your family, and to close your own front door and say, ‘This is my home’ and to feel safe and secure. I know how satisfying it is to keep my wee family safe at night in a home of my own, everyone is entitled to that, everyone deserves that regardless of what job you have or income you have.
Life is tough for a lot of people. It’s tough for all of us at some stage. Some people get it harder than others. I suppose I feel a sense of emotional connection with people and that recognition that – you know – when things are hard, how can I help, how can I improve this situation, how can I help this person? I think it is part of my identity, that will, to make things better for people. The regret that I have is probably around my ability to switch off and say, ‘Enough is enough’ and enjoy family time and enjoy my kids while they’re very young.
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