Do you find the subject of Human Resources a bit of a minefield?


I have always found the subject of Human Resources a bit of a minefield. Every school is different and every member of staff is different, that is the crux of the matter… HUMAN resources. 

We are all different, with different aspirations, different characters, and different priorities. Working as we do, hopefully in a close-knit team of support staff, we are all aware how diverse human beings can be. Some members of staff are very driven and ambitious, some are extremely conscientious- working well beyond their contracted hours, others prefer to stick rigidly to the contract – and have every right to do so. To be honest I do not think it would work if we were all the same.

My difficulties arise with requests for ‘time off’ and ‘sickness’. You will probably say that is why we have policies, and you are right, we do need robust attendance policies and sickness procedures. The majority of the support staff I work with are female – teaching assistants, technicians and office staff,  and I daresay that is a similar pattern across many schools. Whether you agree with it or not many of these team members are the first, if not only, port of call when they have sick dependants and need a day off to look after an unwell child or someone else when the need arises. 

I find it difficult to discuss sickness absence with a member of staff, who has had a bad run of illness, with a view to seeing an improvement, particularly if they are a hard working member of the team, as opposed to someone who may have a record of absence on a regular basis for what appear to be minor problems most others might ignore. It is indeed a part of the job. There is a ‘discretionary’ element to our policies but I am always concerned about justifying my discretionary decisions.  

I prefer a democratic and transformational leadership style– if you have an autocratic approach to leadership you probably don’t suffer the same angst. If you are like me, here are some mechanisms I use to guide me through this process:-

  • I bought a book called ‘Fierce Conversation’ by Susan Scott, I am sure there are other equally good books available. It has been very useful for pointers in holding those difficult conversations and to get over the hurdle of saying what has to be said.
  • Have good HR support, whether ‘in-house’ or bought in. We have an exceptional HR advisor who is always available to guide me through processes and the use of discretionary decisions. If someone disagrees with you it is much easier when you have HR support, and are able to inform them of this.
  • Document everything including ad-hoc conversations, they can be invaluable if you run into problems; and keep careful records of sickness absence and leave requests. Make sure that paperwork is accurate and up to date.


I still don’t like difficult or contentious conversations

but by using these pointers I am getting better at it!


By Rowena Morris - October 2017