Never has Mental Health Awareness and Self Care been more at the forefront of our minds than now.

So, undoubtedly we’re more aware, but have our actions kept abreast of our understanding?

There’s a line from George Michael’s song, ’Praying For Time’, ”and charity is a coat you wear, twice a year.” it has always stuck in my mind, and at times we’ve worn that coat just because of an ‘Awareness’ week or because we’ve sponsored a colleague to undertake some hideously arduous physical event.

But if you’re in HR, that coat stays on, regardless of the season, and sometimes the role can feel very much like a ‘poisoned chalice’.

And I speak from experience here, my previous role in HR, in a very operational environment, had the ability to take my emotions from the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows, sometimes within the same working day!

At any one time there could be upwards of 300/400 employees on site, with our HR team a little over 1% the size of the workforce – crazy when you think about it!

Of course we weren’t alone, there would always be a team of managers on site, but of course they would often be busy operationally, and so many colleagues deemed it their ‘right’ to command an audience with HR at a moment’s notice! The perception was that being available 24/7 somehow came with the territory!

Now you don’t put that many people together under one roof without drama and tragedy lurking just around the corner – and I saw both, frequently, up close and personal.

If I’d had a crisp £10 note for each time I uttered, “well I’ve seen/heard it all now”, I’d be writing this from a Caribbean island! Human behaviour never ceases to amaze me – and I witnessed colleagues both at their best, but sadly at their most rock-bottom too.

I can honestly say that I ran the full gamut of issues during my time there, dealing with theft, physical violence, sexual harassment, bullying, all types of addiction, suicide and death (both at first hand), and disturbingly, incest and pedophilia, the list was infinite.

Am I a trained counsellor? No

Was I trained in how to deal with such serious matters? No

Whilst I did have company-wide support on dealing with serious people matters at the end of a phone or email, I was very much on the front line – the first port of call, dealing with the rawest of emotions and the most graphic details.

I can recall on one occasion having to excuse myself from a such a meeting as the shock of what a colleague had divulged actually made me vomit.

I can also bring to mind the countless times I cried, once safely behind my own front door, not knowing who to confide in…so things got bottled up. Well you can’t show the world you can’t cope now can you!

I also recall, fairly early on into my HR career, taking notes at a disciplinary meeting where a male colleague was dismissed. To my surprise and subsequent shock, once the meeting had concluded, the dismissed individual leaned across the table, and told me to “watch myself as he knew where I f*****g lived.” All this was said in front of his Union Representative, and my more senior colleague who had conducted the meeting. I was the only one who hadn’t uttered a word through the entire proceedings!

When I confided in my then manager about how intimidated I’d felt, she simply laughed and informed me that I needed to quickly “grow a set” if I was going to make it in the world of Distribution HR.

So not wanting to appear ‘rattled’, I kept my mouth shut and poured my frustrations out to my more supportive partner once I’d arrived home.

Picture the scene then the following morning when I answered my doorbell, opening my front door only to see the dismissed employee and his equally bad-tempered dog. A stream of foul-mouthed obscenities from him brought my partner to my aid and he intervened to break up the fracas.

When I reported this back to my manager, instead of a little empathy as I’d expected, she simply laughed and said, “welcome to HR, told you that you’d need to toughen up.” Quite the baptism of fire!

That was quite a few years ago now, and of course I did develop several layers of ‘thick skin’ as time passed, but the same thought often struck me throughout my many years there – just who looks after the people who look after the people? Who do you trust to be a loyal confidante when you are so often bound by confidentiality? Who helps you offload and dump the emotional baggage? Who makes YOU the cup of tea and listens without interruption or judgement whilst you talk things through.

So often, the person involved with the most people can be the loneliest. Always being the adult when others regress to more childish behaviours. Dispensing advice and solutions virtually 27/7. Being Mum, Dad, Sister, Brother, Doctor, Priest, Financial Advisor, Truth-teller and Confidante to others.

HR can be a tough gig!

So when I met Kelly Swingler, I was delighted to see that she’d recognised the need for such support, providing that much needed space and guidance, so clients can offload, reflect and become resilient and proactive, without ever losing authenticity.

So, HR Professionals, we understand the path you travel as we’ve trodden it too, and if my story sounds all too familiar, who’s looking after YOU?

Sue Alty – The Creative Coordinator

Contact Sue

We think Sue must be a ‘Master of the Dark Arts’, as she has hidden depths! Running our office with meticulous planning and capability, Sue is an avid list writer with a keen eye for detail. But don’t be fooled by that organised demeanour, for Sue is as creative as she is efficient! A skilled communicator with a humorous edge, Sue is as passionate about people and their learning and development as she is about becoming the future Mrs Tom Hardy or Mrs Benedict Cumberbatch (either will do!).  An interesting career path has taken her from the glamour of working in luxury London hotels to the chilled Distribution Centres of supermarket retail, and whether managing small groups or large teams, people are at the heart of everything Sue does.