‘It sometimes feels like we are asked to shut off our brains as employees and not question any work issues – some may enjoy this, but I’d like more say in the decision-making.’

Job: Contact Centre Advisor.
Typical hours worked: 25 (part time).
Profile: Sheena is a woman of Indian heritage who lives in Scotland. She works for a theme park while studying for a master’s degree in Human Resources Management.

Career history 

I was initially looking for a job simply to pay the bills while doing my degree. I went for an interview for this job with little expectation of being hired, but the interviewer was great – we instantly had a great connection. I was introduced to the team on the very first day and everything felt so positive. I was also looking at HR jobs but they required a full-time commitment, so this job felt like a great chance to earn some money without applying too much of my brain. I expected to go in, send emails and come home, but it turned out to be much more than that. Work is engaging, both in terms of job responsibilities and working within the team, so it has surpassed my expectations.

My working day 

Put simply, I’m the main point of contact for customers. I handle all the bookings over the phone, via email and in person. But my role goes beyond just the contact centre – I also do a lot of general admin and occasionally work on our social media. It feels like a typical office job, but it’s also a fun and stimulating environment – I get to work with kids, which I love, there’s always music playing, there are parties and there are good employee benefits, like food discounts. So that really elevates the work I do.

Work-life balance 

The main barrier to achieving a good work-life balance is the commute. The site is very remote and I have to take the bus to get there – it’s over an hour each way. If I finish late, I’m home late with little time for a productive evening. But I understand there isn’t much I can change about that. What’s frustrating is that the kind of work I do – answering calls and responding to emails – could be done at least partly from home. I know that during lockdown staff were working from home frequently. But we’ve since been told that won’t happen again, with no reason given. That’s a disappointment.

Job design 

I’m customer-facing in my role so, naturally, I must be attentive, understanding and patient with difficult customers. This is the main source of challenge at work. I must be resilient in dealing with rude people. Surprisingly, the young children are generally no problem at all; it’s their raging parents who tend to be the issue. It’s key to remember that every customer’s needs are different, so I can’t simply follow a manual or absent-mindedly go about my tasks. I really must understand the service I’m providing. 

Our key purpose at the theme park is to bring positive experiences to our customers. We often have huge parties for children, and sometimes run special sessions for autistic children and children with Down syndrome, or those dealing with bereavement. Just seeing how happy the children are and being able to build a relationship with them is extremely rewarding.

Pay and benefits 

Pay is not my only priority right now, as I’m currently giving a lot of attention to finishing my degree. So I understand that with the time I have, this is the sort of wage I can expect. Nevertheless, for the responsibility I have, I do think I could be paid more. I get paid minimum wage, which is less than I was paid when I worked at the council doing easier, less stressful work. While there are great employee benefits like discounted food and free use of the park, a better wage would be welcome. I think I’ve made a definite trade-off: choosing a great team, a supportive manager and an environment I love working in over being paid more.

Health and wellbeing 

I don’t think this job affects me too much physically and mentally. Although, I do think there’s too much screen time and I do find myself getting occasional headaches. I don’t find work overly taxing emotionally, besides rare occasions when things are hectic or dealing with a particularly difficult customer. I rarely feel drained, nor am I exhilarated, but more in the middle – steady and stable, which I think is positive. 

I generally feel very secure at work. I know that being fired is extremely unlikely – I’ve only heard of one occasion of a sacking, which was for gross misconduct. But the prospect of making mistakes does cause me anxiety because I know even a small thing can have massive consequences when dealing with big groups, especially as everything is recorded in the system. 

Relationships at work 

My line manager is easy going and extremely supportive of me. She’s friendly with everyone and gets involved in things like the informal team group chat. She’s also consistently supported me in the face of customer complaints, which is something I’ve never experienced before. Hearing her tell customers, “You can’t talk to my staff like that” illustrates a team spirit that is so welcome. 

Higher up, I have felt very supported by general management – they recommended me for training for an HR recruitment job that came up, even though I was a new starter. That gave me the confidence that they had belief in my skills as a worker. 

Within my team, we get on well – we hang about together in the park, go on breaks and use the attractions together. We have a team night once a month where we all go out for a drink as a group. More formally, however, I don’t always trust everyone to do their job well. Some people, even those who are long-term employees, are not very productive at work. But it isn’t my place to single them out for criticism.

Voice and representation 

One great thing about my work is that communication and connection between teams and accessibility to management is always encouraged, so talking to my line manager or someone else in management is straightforward. This is always positive for personal issues. Nevertheless, sharing very private concerns or issues can be very hard – there’s the option of talking to management but they haven’t communicated any means of doing this anonymously or with discretion. 

Sharing issues with work is a much more challenging task. First, as a team member, my authority is somewhat limited. Large issues, such as serious complaints, have to be dealt with by management, even if I have an effective solution. This frustrates me, especially when I see managers making decisions I don’t agree with. I’d like to feel like my expertise is heard – I’m studying this, after all. It sometimes feels like we are asked to shut off our brains as employees and not question any work issues – some may enjoy this, but I’d like more say in the decision-making. I love the friendly and informal nature of work, but I think more formal ways of talking – even if it’s through appointing employee representatives – would be very effective.

Reflections  

Overall, I really do like going to work and it feels like more than just a job. Even in a year, I have learned so much and this role has helped develop my identity. My experiences of this team and this environment will inform my decisions for the future and how I choose to work. Ideally, I’d love to stay here and rise to a position where I can propose and perhaps even implement some of the changes I’ve mentioned. This organisation is doing a lot right, but it’s still in its early development, so I think through a role in HR, I could help change that for the better.

Thinking points for people managers

  • Review current performance management systems and make sure processes are in place to identify when someone is developing and expanding their role.
  • Ensure good performance is recognised and rewarded.
  • Review line managers’ knowledge and experience of performance management to help them identify where individuals are underperforming, and to address any concerns with appropriate support and training.
  • Ask whether there are opportunities for hybrid working to support work-life balance and provide greater efficiencies.
  • Develop an approach to succession planning and follow through on offers of training and development – eg in this case, a move to HR.
  • Look at current opportunities for employees to engage and make suggestions, and consider how they might be encouraged to voice their ideas – for example, via a staff suggestion scheme, quality circles or focus groups.

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