Richard Brooks' HR blog

Updates from the Director of Human Resources

A different type of diversity

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Diversity, in the legal sense, tends to revolve around what are known as protected characteristics (gender, religion, sexuality etc.) and in my opinion society is now much healthier for this recognition. However, one of the nice things about being HR Director is that I get to take a macro look at the workforce at the University. So I thought that I would share some of my findings which, for no reason I can adequately explain, I found mildly interesting. Deeper social insights welcome.

  • Among our employees there are 587 different female forenames. That is an average of 2.6 employees per forename. The most common are Sarah, Emma, Elizabeth, Alison and Susan.
  • There is less diversity in male names - 533 at 3 employees per forename. The most common are Christopher, Andrew, David, Stephen and James.
  • There are 2214 different surnames - 1.4 employees per surname. The most common are Jones, Williams, Evans, Smith, Taylor, Lewis, Brown, Martin and Harris.
  • The most common birthday is 24 May, with 19 people sharing this  (which always remind me of this maths problem). 16 people each share 15 Sep, 10 Mar and 10 Apr.
  • Our employees claim 69 different nationalities. Among the 23% who aren't British, the most common are Polish, German, Spanish, Italian and Chinese.


Living Wage

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I spent over an hour last night completing a VAT return, the net result of which is that HMRC owe me £7.20. By complete coincidence that is the hourly rate of National Living Wage set by the Government for those over 25 which starts next month. (And if you think that is weak segue, I assure you that future blogs may well be worse). Spent an enjoyable hour yesterday in my first formal meeting with the Trades Unions debating how we should respond to this complex, and quite emotive issue.

It was in the July 2015 budget when the Government parked their tanks firmly on Labour's lawn by introducing a commitment to a new National Living Wage. But this isn't a greenfield site; the minimum wage was introduced by Labour in 1997, and the Living Wage Foundation provides accreditation for employers who meet their standards, which are different to those of the Government. Then there are regional variations: the local council has introduced an Edinburgh Living Wage and with this Government's passion for regional devolution, we may see more of these. It is a difficult decision for employers who are expected to navigate this set of legislation and advice, while judging the effect it will have on their business. There have been many media stories about how this will make employers uncompetitive and how the costs will simply be passed on to consumers. I am sure that colleagues in Economics can advise whether the introduction of a minimum wage is, overall, good for an economy.

For the last two years we have introduced arrangements to ensure that all staff receive (at least) the hourly rate proposed by the Living Wage Foundation. With the projections increasing well ahead of inflation over the next few years, we have some difficult decisions to make about how we take this forward. It will be interesting to see how other employers and the job market respond, particularly with the weaker growth predictions from yesterday's budget. Another complexity is how this is impacting a growing number of people in the University, and having the effect of 'compressing' the bottom of the pay spine. This isn't really sustainable. We have agreed with the Trades Unions that we really need to have a proper review of how the pay system works for the lower grades, and how we can balance our responsibilities as an employer and custodian of the business over the next few years.

As a TU member, I am very supportive of the need for good, evidence-based robust discussion on topics such as this. I look forward to seeing how this debate evolves and engaging in even more 'vibrant' dialogue.




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In my last blog I was railing against the volume of paper I was presented with for the Academic Staff Committee. Well, we have a breakthrough. Thanks to the hard work of Fiona Blackmore and Deborah Griffin in HR we ran a pilot using iPads to structure and view the information, and it was an astounding success. My thanks to Profs Juani Swart, Vaughan Hart and Gareth Price who volunteered to try this out, and thanks to Apple for the information that the iPad is only 9.4mm thick, compared to the 63mm of paper we previously enjoyed.

I enjoyed the ASC meeting as it gave me a real insight into the breadth of work our Lecturers are doing, and how the University assesses standards and progress in teaching, research and administration. From an HR viewpoint, a couple of observations:

  • One area for improvement must be objective setting. I am not sure that ‘undertake teaching’ (a generic example) is sufficient to guide a probationary lecturer in the standards required, or to assess them later in the year. I wouldn’t want to make this into an industry, but it was obvious from the discussion that a bit more definition might help.
  • It was interesting to see the challenges of workload management. I was surprised by the variation, particularly in teaching load across the 36 individuals which just shows how varied the work across the University is. One example was how those returning from a break (sickness, maternity etc.) sometimes took on heavy teaching loads quite quickly. Just an observation, but something I am keen to follow up and understand how we can give the best guidance to those who have the challenge of managing workload.

On a different topic, I have counted three different HR processes this week where I, as HR Director, have had to make a decision. Because the process says so; I must have been sick on the day HR Directors were trained in omnipotence. In at least two cases I reckon that others are far better suited than me to make those decisions so I was really glad to be asked to be part of Steve Egan's working group on process improvement this past week. Too many organisations continue to live with poor processes, and don’t ever get round to fixing them. This is a great initiative and I am keen to get Mark Ricketts and his team working with us on some of our HR processes. Any suggestions?

Two highlights from the last week. (1) Visiting the nursery, where a very small person clearly found a very tall person in a waistcoat far more fascinating than what she should have been doing. (2) Spending an idle 15 minutes in the library between meetings, where in the Engineering section I stumbled across a book titled “How to Build a Nuclear Bomb, and other Weapons of Mass Destruction”!


Welcome to Academia

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The day after Valentine's Day I started a new life here at Bath. I have done a number of HR and operational leadership roles in Government, but this is my first time in academia. And it's very different.

With this blog I aim to share some of my observations, hopefully prompt some discussion and give a little insight into the broad range of things I get involved in as HR Director. It's more interesting than it sounds.

So here is my first post...

Last week 'ASC' stood for Analysis Support Construct. This week it's Academic Staff Committee or Academic Skills Centre.

Last week 'IPR' stood for Intellectual Property Rights. This week it's Institute for Policy Research or sometimes Intellectual Property Rights.

You get the idea. Perhaps the first thing I’ve noticed is that simultaneous interpretation in a new environment is really quite hard work.

By the evening it's really caught up with me. So if you meet me and I appear to pause mid-sentence, it's probably because there is some buffering going on as I try and translate what I’m about to say into University language. I'm sure it's only transitional and I'll become assimilated fairly quickly.

Attended my first Executive meeting last week. Great way to quickly pick up what is on the minds of the leadership team. I found the sharing of ideas by the Deans of how they are proposing to develop PGT particularly interesting, and really important to inform our people strategy. Data science, data analytics and informatics seem to be a priority theme across the faculties, which accords well with what I found in my last job and will be an interesting theme to pursue.

It was the Harvard Business Review which labelled Data Scientist as the 'sexiest job of the 21st century', but I’m not sure whether this was meant to be ironic. I’ll save any other observations on the Executive until I have a data set of more than one – probably wiser!

This week is my first Academic Staff Committee and I have been presented with a thick (63mm, I measured) pile of pink paper which consists of 33 probationary lecturer reports. Managed to read half a dozen while Michael Mosley made black pudding with his own blood on BBC4 last Thursday night.

My main observation is that this is a really thorough, data-informed process, unlike any other I have encountered in other organisations. The objectivity this brings, and the way the supervising staff make use of this information really stands out; it will be interesting to see how the committee operates.

With so many professors in the room, what does an HR Director bring? In my experience of similar processes, not knowing the technicalities of the subject helps me look for evidence of the individual’s underlying skills and potential, and how they are reacting to the University environment. Reading these reports has also made me want to go and experience a few lectures. Any offers?

Overall a great first week and introduction to Bath. Everyone has been welcoming and friendly and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.