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University of Sheffield HRD on work/life balance, job design and communications

University of Sheffield HRD Andy Dodman shares his thoughts on job design, work/life balance and more

HR magazine recently spoke with University of Sheffield HR director, and 10th Most Influential Practitioner in the 2015 HR Most Influential ranking, Andy Dodman. Here he reflects on work/life balance, job design and the importance of communication in HR.

Dodman on… Work/life balance

“I struggle with the phrase work/life balance. It frustrates me. I don’t like it as it assumes there should be a division between your work and your life, and that HR should define that division so people can operate in separate spheres.

“I think that’s wrong. A lot of people’s lives and happiness in life are defined by the job that they do. Why can’t staff bring their talents and creativity into work? If you have things you love doing at home don't keep them from us – bring them into work. [Our health and wellbeing programme] Juice is a great example of that.

“A lot of our academics are so passionate about what they do. It could be their life’s work and they are often the experts in the country in their niche. It’s a passion, so it’s wrong for me to tell them their work and their lives are separate.

“Of course you have to be careful. I wouldn’t want people to be always working or on email, and I understand some employees do want a stronger division between the two. It’s about working creatively.”

Dodman on… Job design

“A big challenge for HR is how do we build flexibility and creativity into people’s jobs. I think job design is a big issue for HR as a profession and we have been too focused on writing prescriptive job descriptions. We all know you have to write a job description and it has to be clear, but I wonder whether that’s the wrong way as you’re forcing people into a list of duties. Are you then not enabling them to use their talents beyond that?

“We should be developing people’s talents to enable them to do their jobs better, but also developing people’s talents beyond their jobs, so they’re always thinking about things they could contribute to outside of their roles.

“That’s about workforce flexibility and moving people around doing different things. The holy grail is unlocking new talents in people that they didn't know they had. We should be giving staff the opportunity to explore that rather than just doing the things in their job descriptions day in, day out.”

Dodman on… Communications

“There is a big connection between HR and communications. The obvious is communicating internally, but if you’re doing that you have to assume it will go external. The biggest issue is reputation, and that relies so much on what our staff do.

“HR people need to be really good at writing copy. They are often communicating quite complicated messages to staff and mixed audiences, and you need to be nuanced and skilful to do that. We need to share those skills between marketing and HR. HR people don’t get trained enough [in writing] and I’m not convinced as a profession we emphasise the importance of that skill. A lot of the development HR professionals do is around technical knowledge, but if they can’t present it in an appropriate way or write it recognising the complexity and ambiguity [then its use is limited].

Language is really important for our profession, and when you are communicating and building relationships with staff HR can be accused of ‘not getting it’. We need to think about how we communicate to different audiences. Sometimes HR people will write for one group, not recognising that other people will read it and have a different interpretation. Being able to articulate things in writing has helped my career progression. Understanding the language, the tone and the audience really matters.”

Look out for a full interview with Andy Dodman in the November issue of HR magazine, and online later in November