‘If I ever want a decent pay rise, I can’t be satisfied with sitting with customers for the rest of my career until I retire. I have to develop more skills and my values for the organisation.’

Job: Nutritionist.
Typical hours worked: 30.
Profile: Elsa is a white woman who lives in the South of England with her children.

Career history 

Helping people through my work has always been important to me and working in nutrition gives me a great chance to do that. After becoming a qualified Nutritionist and running a private consultation service, the prospect of having set hours, being able to switch off from work in the evenings and spending time with my family initially appealed to me in my current role. But what has become clearer as I’ve developed in my role is the passion and desire to learn that you need to be successful. Nutrition is ever-changing, so you always have to be updating your knowledge – you can’t just do a course and that’s it.  

I work for a well-established vitamin and mineral supplement company. We’ve recently been taken over by new owners, who are slowly feeling their way forward in how they’d like to progress the business and target new audiences. 

My working day 

It’s fair to say my job has changed a lot in the last year. Originally, I was focused on fulfilling customer support – speaking over the phone, over email and through live online chat to customers who required advice for different ailments. Now, because of the smaller number of staff, I’ve also been involved in the actual development of different products, which can involve tweaking formulas and having a say in their chemistry to make them more effective for customers. 

My role has also shifted into having a greater focus on marketing, whereby I contribute to our website to share information about different products alongside the other nutritionists in the organisation. This isn’t strictly what I was employed to do, but we all pitch in and share our knowledge.

Work-life balance 

I think my work-life balance is as good as it could be. At the moment, I have more tasks than usual with the changes happening in the organisation, especially as there are only three nutritionists, so there’s arguably too much work between us. But generally, I make sure I leave work when I need to – I am responsible for my children, so I have to be vigilant with this. Sometimes this means I have to let people know that my work might not be done for a couple of days, but that’s the reality of the way I work. 

I work from home one day a week, which is brilliant as it saves a 45-minute commute each way, minimises spending money on childcare and allows me to do things here and there around the house. 

I think I chose to deliberately prioritise stability – in terms of job security, working set hours and simply knowing how much I’d be earning each month – over potentially earning more working privately. But I have made that trade-off to know that I can switch off away from work and spend time with my family.

Job design 

Working on the products themselves is a really interesting development for me because I’m able to work with the technical team. It’s a complicated learning curve, but I’m also able to bring in my insight from talking to customers about these products into these more complex discussions. 

Interacting with customers definitely has its positives; it’s extremely rewarding to know that I can have a say in making a difference to their lives. But I do also recognise that these customers have needs and desires that are sometimes unmet and this causes them to be upset or frustrated with our service. But I know that more often than not, this is out of my control, so I do my best to ‘put on a happy face’, talk to the customers and help them. 

Pay and benefits 

I generally think I get paid enough to live, but my wage doesn’t go too far beyond that. The basics are fine, but we sometimes struggle with more expensive things like holidays. My pension’s very minimal and I get few other benefits. 

But it’s tricky because there’s a part of me thinking that, actually, this is a challenge and it’s really positive to be challenged in order to progress. And if I ever want a decent pay rise, I can’t be satisfied with sitting with customers for the rest of my career until I retire. I have to develop more skills and my value for the organisation. 

Health and wellbeing 

My work generally affects my health for the better. First, the nature of my job means I have strong insight into making health choices for people’s wellbeing. But, more importantly, there are no aspects of my job that take any sort of major toll on my health, be that physically or mentally. With the changes that have taken place over the past six months, things have obviously been more stressful than usual. But on a normal day, I don’t feel my work negatively impacts my wellbeing. I do my best not to bring work home with me and my work is particularly good at making allowances for sickness leave.

Relationships at work 

I think my relationships at work are pretty positive on the whole. My line manager is easy going – he doesn’t breathe down my neck and although we sometimes clash on what we think is the best approach to an issue, I feel supported by him. The group of people I work alongside is close and I get on well with most people – some better than others, naturally. We do have times when our opinions differ but that is fairly rare. 

What can be frustrating is working alongside people whose professional backgrounds and values differ from my own. Most people come with a different mindset and often fail to recognise my point of view. 

Voice and representation 

Often, those whose views differ most starkly from my own are those in more senior roles, who take a more financial approach to our products and services. This is totally understandable but it’s frustrating when I hear directly from customers what they want and need. For example, if a product is being received well anecdotally, but isn’t selling well, those higher up will look to remove it from our selection. In reality, the lack of sales could be down to something like marketing, where customers are simply not being made aware of how great a product is.

I do my best to let senior staff know of my opinion but sometimes the decision is made anyway. On other occasions, I’ve argued my case and I have been listened to, which is always positive. I generally acknowledge that there isn’t a lot I can do in these situations, but I am put in a difficult situation when customers ask why a certain product is gone. 

Reflections 

I’ve often thought about the importance of my work to my life, especially as I’ve been affected and seen other affected by redundancy, because there aren’t too many good jobs in nutrition out there. So, I do wonder how happy I’d be if I took another job which might afford me an easier life – would I be happy with something that simply fit the hours? I would certainly miss my job. I do feel it is part of my identity – my family know how hard I worked to study and get my qualifications, so to give that up would be really difficult. But balancing work with my home life is really important, and my work isn’t everything.

Thinking points for people managers

  • Review job descriptions to ensure they are up to date and reflect the role being carried out. Determine whether there are any issues around job design, training and development, or in terms of the rate of pay for the developed role.
  • Look at resourcing levels and whether these enable the business to meet agreed standards of service and customer expectations, which lead to employee job satisfaction.
  • Develop working relationships through team-building to facilitate a mutual understanding of employees’ job roles and responsibilities, and provide the opportunity to focus on and align with organisational values.
  • Consider how best to communicate and engage your workforce with organisational strategy to show how their role contributes to the delivery of business objectives.
  • Think about talent management and succession planning to support committed employees to grow in their roles and develop a successful career with the company.

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