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Working for a social enterprise

gemmaAs Human Resources manager for St. Anne’s Community Services, it’s people, not profits, that are Gemma Harlington’s business. Read on to find out more.

What does St. Anne’s do?

St Anne’s Community Services is a registered charity and we have provided services for people with learning disabilities, mental health problems, homeless people, and people with drug or alcohol problems since 1971. The organisation started as a homeless service with a hostel in Leeds city centre, and has now expanded throughout Yorkshire, Humber and the North East.

We have over 1,200 employees, plus many more who volunteer and work on a casual basis to provide support for our clients. Our mission statement is to "Provide quality support, care and housing services; promoting dignity, independence, opportunity and inclusion"

Can you describe your role there?

I am the Human Resources manager. I work at the head office in Leeds and manage a team of five HR professionals and two volunteers.

I ensure that the team are providing an excellent service to our stakeholders including the Board of Directors, senior management, front-line staff, clients and external bodies such as Government regulators and the independent commissioners who fund our services.

What’s a typical working day like?

There is no typical day as my role revolves around people, and no two people feel the same way.

Today for example, I checked my voicemails first thing and found a message from manager regarding a potential suspension so I called her back and talked through the situation. I then had to give a telephone reference to a multinational organisation regarding the occupational health provider we use.

I then had a one-to-one with a member of my team, looking at the positive and negative aspects of last month’s work and discussing new ideas for their role. I am keen to let my team use their own initiative to make the HR service more effective, so we decided on some goals and set clear dates for completion.

Then I was working on an ongoing project reviewing our internal absence management procedures. I’m evaluating data to find opportunities for improvement and I’ll prepare a report to present to the senior management team. 

This was followed by a consultation with a member of staff and a trade union representative. We were consulting on proposed changes to working patterns and the employee put forward some good ideas which I’ll take to my manager.

I then spend the rest of the day responding to emails, ranging from employees querying gym membership to managers wanting advice on terms and conditions.

Why did you choose to work for a social enterprise?

social enterprise meetingI wanted to work somewhere that wasn’t driven by profits. Even when I have to make undesirable decisions - such as disciplinary and grievances - I know that the decision is based on the fact we provide care for vulnerable clients. My role works towards ensuring they are provided with excellent care by properly trained employees who adhere to professional codes of practice.

What qualifications and training do you have?

I studied four A-levels in English (literature and language), media studies, communication studies and psychology.

I then did a degree in communication studies and management at the University of Leeds, and later went back to university part time whilst working full time and did my postgraduate diploma in human resource management.

As the law constantly changes, I must constantly update my knowledge by attending seminars and external training courses.

As part of my membership to CIPD I must also update my CPD and ensure that I am maintaining my professional development through experiences and also through formal training.

What other skills do you need?

Patience, listening skills, interpersonal skills, decision making, time keeping, organisational skills and analytical skills.

What’s the best bit about your job?

Knowing that we ensure all employees are treated fairly regardless of who they are. By updating, implementing and training employees on our policies we then ensure the care our clients receive remains high.

I also like the fact that we work with local government to offer apprenticeships, casual work, and temporary jobs for people who have been unemployed for a while.

I also enjoy implementing ways to enhance the employees’ work life, as they work hard and need to know we appreciate that.

What’s the most challenging thing about your job?

Taking my own emotions out of situations, such as when people are having serious issues that are affecting their ability to fulfil their role. Sometimes it’s hard to think how I would feel if someone in my family was in that situation. It’s also hard making unpopular decisions, but we must weigh up the human element and business needs to make the right decision.  

What’s the most important thing to think about when running a social enterprise?

Ensuring the beliefs of the enterprise stay true but also that the business plan for it ensures it’s self funding

What advice would you have for anyone who wants to start a social enterprise?

Stay with it, work hard and check out external sources of support such others in your situation and websites such as Business Links.

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