‘My job role is massively important to me. Not in terms of the title but in terms of feeling that I’m doing a good job.’

Job: HR Administrator. 
Typical hours worked: 37.5.
Profile: Caroline is a white female in her 30s. She works full-time in the North of England and lives with her husband and daughter.

Career history

I’ve only been in my current role for a few months. I wanted a different direction to what I was doing previously, partly brought around by the pandemic. I’m part of the Great Resignation! Also, I had a baby right at the start of the pandemic as well, which changed my priorities. Up to then I’d been in retail management for over 20 years, since graduating from university. I’ve managed large stores and teams of up to 50 people. My favourite part of working in retail was the team: working with people and helping people work through problems and come up with solutions and thinking about strategies. So I thought, ‘You know, I am going to go down a people practice HR route’ and I started to do my CIPD Level 5 and looked to pursue a role in HR. 

My working day

I’m currently a HR Administrator within the NHS. I work nine-to-five, but there is some flexibility within that. Everybody is working from home now and has done since I joined the organisation. A portion of my day is allocated to looking after the HR inbox dealing with any queries that come in via the inbox or telephone and responding to those. Sometimes I forward things onto other departments, for example, payroll. Other times I have to refer to policies and check the NHS stance and how that translates to somebody’s situation. 

Work-life balance

In my previous roles as a Store Manager, I was contracted for 39 hours, but an expectation of the role was to work a lot more. Some weeks I could work up to 80 hours. I was passionate about retail, and I loved going out to work every day. The nature of a Store Manager’s job is you’ve got to be on-site. You’ve got to do those antisocial hours because the busiest trading times can be evenings or weekends. The demands of working in retail and the antisocial hours didn’t really compute with a baby going forwards. That’s how I ended up in my current job.

I was on maternity throughout the first year of the pandemic and when I went back after maternity leave, I just really struggled with the shift patterns. I never thought about those antisocial hours as a negative before, but I started to. I didn’t have the flexibility to come home if my baby was poorly. I just felt that I couldn’t do that role properly anymore. Now it’s nice just to be in a role where I’m paid for 37.5 hours, I’m expected to work 37.5 hours, and I actually work 37.5 hours.

Now it's nice to just be in a role where I'm paid for 37.5 hours, I'm expected to work 37.5 hours and I actually work 37.5 hours."

Caroline, HR Administrator

Job design

My job’s a lot more varied than I thought it was going to be, partly because I get to absorb myself in the NHS, but also because of the variety of tasks that I get involved in. The people that we come into contact with are quite varied, to be honest. Anybody from doctors, to nurses, to the admin support staff. There are some deadlines, like when the issue will affect people’s pay and you need to hit a payroll deadline, but apart from that I can prioritise and work through my workload as and when. I find it quite manageable. 

I think everyone is very focused on doing the right thing by the organisation, you know, saving money for the NHS where they can and driving patient care. It’s quite nice to be in an organisation that is so focused on something so good. 

HR CIPD graph

*This graph shows Caroline's score alongside the UK mean (average) for the 7 dimensions of the CIPD Good Work Index

Pay and benefits

When I was on maternity leave in my last job there was a reluctance to pay me for my keeping in touch days. My colleagues were working from home all the way through the lockdown, but then they didn’t want to allow me to work from home because I was on maternity leave. They did end up paying me the money and letting me work from home, but it felt like a slap in the face, I guess. ‘Contractually we don’t have to do this, but we’ll do it for you.’ Like it was some sort of favour, after 10 years of working there.

I’m currently on a fixed-term contract for 12 months covering a secondment. I guess it’s always in the back of my mind that the girl who I’m covering comes back and that the current opportunities are not there and not available to be made permanent. But I am working on the basis that if you have got a good work ethic and work hard, then something will come up. 

I don’t think anyone ever wants to take a big pay cut like I did coming here. My basic dropped over £20,000, so it’s a huge amount of money. I guess it’s a big gamble. I had to think, ‘Am I confident in my own skills to get back to where I was?’ I’d like to think I can progress quite quickly and earn semi-decent money again in the future. That was a pay-off against the lifestyle. You can’t put a financial figure on that time at home. I’m here in the mornings with my little girl and my family, and in the evenings and on the weekends. 

Health and wellbeing

I guess working long hours like I used to is not great for your health. The nature of retail is it’s sort of an always-on culture. Even overnight, I had to have my phone on, make sure the volume is up in case, for example, the store got broken into or the alarm went off. I never had time to go to the gym or do anything sort of like physical exercise, but also I didn’t really feel the need because I had a job where I was walking about quite a lot. 

In my current job I don’t see any issues, certainly not from a mental health perspective. I guess I need to think about the physical aspect, so getting up, getting out. I mean, it’s quite hard in winter because it’s not like you can go out for a walk before or after work, obviously with it being dark. I’m now thinking for the first time I need to go out and maybe get a gym membership. 

Development opportunities

When I’ve got my CIPD qualification, I’ll be looking for more roles. These would be within the NHS because of my positive experience here. There is a lot of talk about different things you can get involved with. Groups, you know, to feedback on how we can improve the organisation. Training that you can get involved with. There is a big investment in people, definitely.

One of the reasons I went for this job was because during the interview process I asked a lot of questions about the experiences of the people interviewing me. My current line manager started working in a manual job within the NHS and is now a HR Manager. She progressed her way through, and the NHS paid for her CIPD qualifications. When she said that to me, I thought, ‘She’s gone from cleaning the wards to being a senior HR Manager now.’ How amazing is that? I just think that’s fantastic. I definitely think that there is so much potential and opportunity there. I think people are open to recognising different experiences, which is so nice. 

Relationships at work

One of my concerns going into this role was that I would be lonely working at home all day after working with such a big team of people. There was always hustle and bustle with the team and customers in a shop environment. Actually, sometimes I think I speak more to the team of people that I’m working with now than what I did with my previous team. I just feel like I work with a really great team and the culture is really nice. They’ve been really supportive around me having a child. For example, if I need to take her to the GP in the middle of my workday (inevitably children are always ill), they are really supportive around how I do that, so I can start earlier or finish later, etc, to make my time back. 

My manager is really generous with their knowledge, I guess is the way to put it. They share things all the time. I don’t have to worry about saying, ‘I’m not sure how to do that yet’ or ‘Can you just check that for me?’ That collaborative working is a big part of the culture of the team that I’m working in. 

Voice and representation

Informally, I can share ideas with my line manager, and she has given me some feedback in a review that that’s one of the things that she likes about me. In a more formal context since I’ve been there, there have been two surveys looking at culture and integration and the organisation, so I feel like the organisation is quite open to that. Every month, there is a whole organisation meeting on Teams where everybody gets together and listens to the MD, which is really nice. In a retail setting that would be cascaded a lot so the information would go from the MD to the senior leadership team to the regional managers to the district managers and then that would be cascaded to the store managers. 

In my last job, I did use the union towards the end. My argument was I was being treated unfavourably for my keeping in touch days.


My job role is massively important to me. Not in terms of the title but in terms of feeling that I’m doing a good job. If you feel like you are adding value and that you are doing well, and being effective in your role, then that boosts your confidence as a person and filters out to the rest of you, your personality and your life. I mean, I think it’s interesting that if you ever sort of plot out when you’ve had a tough time in your personal life and then plot out when you had a tough time at work, normally there are bumps in both roads at the same time – they’re totally joined. 

I’m not willing to sacrifice my personal time, because that’s time with my daughter, my family. I’m not willing to give that up for any amount of money. I guess that will get more difficult as I progress. Sometimes that might mean working in a different way to a nine-to-five. But it’s about keeping hold of that so I can maintain that work–life balance and family-friendly lifestyle I guess.

1 UK employees can work up to 10 days during their maternity or adoption leave. These days are called ‘keeping in touch days’. Keeping in touch days are optional – both the employee and employer need to agree to them.

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