Behind the Scenes with HR’s Samantha Read
When Samantha Read joined One Broker as HR Manager in 2016, she never could have predicted the ups and downs of the past 18 months. In this article, she explains how the company supported its teams, adapted to change and maintained its reputation as a great place to work during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Since 2016, my remit has increased,” Sam begins, setting the scene. “The job role has expanded along with my hours, while the size of my team increased. At first, it was a standalone role, with Chloe [Miller] joining a year or so after me as our HR Advisor. Aly [Lindsey] joined the team as HR Administrator in February 2020.”
The need for additional capacity can be attributed to the ongoing growth of One Broker. A period of acquisition saw new employees rapidly join the group, which resulted in increased demand for HR support. And although Sam is based at the Norwich office, she travels to Cambridge approximately once a fortnight (pre-Covid), while Chloe visits once a month, ensuring a consistent HR presence in both offices.
“There is no such thing as a normal day for me!” she laughs. “I deal with people and with people comes a huge amount of variety. I handle employee queries every day and I support managers with staffing issues.
“As an HR team, we’re also developing and implementing the HR strategy across the group while dealing with HR projects, maintaining systems and managing recruitment, which goes through peaks and troughs. At the moment we have 3 vacancies and apprenticeships plus the Kickstart scheme.”
She goes on to explain that on some days, the phone may not stop ringing – and that was before Covid increased the frequency of calls!
The Spice of Life
“The thing I enjoy most about my job is the people and the variety they bring,” Sam enthuses. “Every day is different. We’re genuinely blessed to have amazing people working in our business. Unfortunately, they will come up against various challenges inside and outside of work and it’s important that we support them throughout.”
She highlights that fairness and reason are key to having difficult conversations and making decisions.
“Sometimes I have to hold the line, which can be challenging but we have to be fair and consistent. Just because something would work for one person, doesn’t mean it’s right for all staff or the business.”
When asked how she got started in HR, Sam points to a career guidance session at college, which led her in this direction.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do after college. A careers quiz suggested that I pursue human resources, business administration or psychology. When that came through, I read more about HR and thought it would be really interesting.
“The structure of my degree meant that the first year was predominantly focused on business operations with some HR modules. The second year was more 50-50 and the last year was 70% HR and 30% business. The idea is that nobody in HR is ever just looking at HR. You have to understand the business implications of the decisions you make.”
On April 1 2021, Sam was made Associate Director for the group, which she describes as “lovely” – and a recognition of her contribution to One Broker over the past year.
“I’m very aware of leading by example,” she says. “HR professionals live by the precedents set. If it’s not fair, then we’re falling foul of employment legislation and putting the business at risk.”
In light of leading by example, Sam actively keeps her professional knowledge up to date, attending training events and webinars, while subscribing to the CIPD’s People Management magazine.
“It’s very interesting and explains what’s going on in the wider employment world,” she says. “Employment law updates are often covered, exploring how other companies handle them so I can consider what we might do at One Broker.”
Training and development play a key role in employee satisfaction and it’s something One Broker takes seriously.
“We actively encourage employees to secure a CII qualification,” Sam states. “We pay for the coursework, the exams and we give study time. Plus, we give bonuses when an employee achieves each level of CII qualification, either the certificate, diploma or advanced diploma.
“We also encourage the use of Broker Assess, which is an online learning platform, and we’re part of the Willis Towers Watson Network. Both provide a number of bitesize resources on technical subjects. A large number of our staff are using those and the feedback has been very positive. And that’s in addition to the on-the-job training.
“As part of the recruitment process, we have found that lots of candidates are delighted to hear we offer training. It is one of the ways we attract people and it’s one of our best selling points.”
She is keen to highlight that personal growth and development can lead to career progression and promotion, citing that at least four directors across the group began their careers as account handlers.
Alongside internal promotion, recruitment helps One Broker maintain the levels of service it’s known for. However, with many potential recruits choosing to stay in their current roles after the pandemic, the recruitment pool is shrinking. To overcome that challenge, the company is looking to hire several apprentices in 2021.
“We believe that a cohort – say 2 or 3 apprentices – is better than one person,” she explains. “It means they’ve got each other to bounce ideas off and they have someone to discuss their work with. Plus, it’s as easy to deliver training in house to one person as it is to 3.
“We’re going to place them in either broking or claims, to help them understand that area and build a specialism. We want to give those apprentices the very best opportunity to succeed.”
When asked about the impact of Covid on One Broker and her day-to-day role, Sam admits that the past 18 months have been challenging.
“If you read any articles about HR professionals right now, they will say that HR teams are under more pressure than ever before. Chloe and I were constantly on the phone during the first 3 months of the pandemic, reassuring employees, giving guidance and trying to meet changing needs in an ever-changing landscape. We had to book out time to speak to each other so we could let the other know what was happening!
“We’ve had to find different ways to handle employee wellbeing during this time, whether that’s through referrals to private medical insurance or the charity MIND. We’ve also looked at what we can do internally, such as introducing regular Microsoft Teams meetings and encouraging more phone calls. Several of our managers, including myself, went out to see their teams, so they could have a socially distanced chat.
“Back in the summer of 2020, we encouraged employees that wanted to, to return to the office once social-distancing measures were in place. On the flip side, some people didn’t want to come into the office because they have health issues or someone in their household was shielding. It is important to flex our approach while retaining some consistency.”
And while supporting the team has been essential during this period, one of the biggest pressures has been staying abreast of legislation and government guidance.
“There were many changes during the early months of Covid. It was important to stay on top of the facts.
“For example, insurance brokers weren’t originally classed as key workers, which meant many members of the team had their children at home and were trying to home school. But then the rules changed! At that point, we had to formulate a letter to send to schools explaining that, under the government classification, our employees qualify for key worker status. It was all very fast-paced!”
Before the interview ends, Sam reveals why readers should consider becoming a member of the One Broker team:
“One Broker views its staff as the key to success. No question. Without our employees, we couldn’t give such an amazing service or achieve the goals we do. And because One Broker does so much to develop staff, we want to keep them. We’re a business that values its people.”
Join the One Broker Team
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