In the latest of our Big Interview series, Jennifer Gaster spoke with Dave Hays, Director of HR, Research & Education at St Barnabas House and Chestnut Tree House, to hear more about his career and the biggest challenges he's faced.
How did you get into HR?
It was 1995 and I was working for Sussex Police in an admin role when my supervisor showed me an internal advert for a temporary role in personnel.
Her words to me were: “You’re good with people, you should apply for this.”
I applied for the position, was successful, and that was the start of it.
After a few more years with Sussex, I headed for the bright lights of London, where I started working for a national/international law enforcement agency that was tasked with investigating serious organised crime, such as the mass importation of Class A drugs, human trafficking, high tech and online crime – it was really in its infancy then.
It was fascinating and to some extent is still the benchmark I aspire to in being part of an organisation that I could really buy into.
Beyond that were various roles in the wider policing and law enforcement landscape, such as national policy and strategy roles, a secondment to the UK Border Force, a couple of years in City Hall in the Mayor’s Office for Policing & Crime and then into the Metropolitan Police.
Have you specialised on the way?
I’ve tended to be in generalist roles, though I’ve had a couple of policy roles along the way.
I’ve worked with some tremendous specialists along the way and I would rather get the right person with the right knowledge and skills onto a project than try and grapple with what can be some quite complex thinking at times.
What are you most passionate about?
I think the profession went through a phase where people – as individuals – were put on the back seat.
All organisations, large and small, have to make tough decisions, as is currently the case, and it is generally people who bear the brunt. That’s a fact of business, and I’m okay with that as a principle, but I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the human impact of these decisions and put people before process so as not to lose sight of what is important.
I like people, even the annoying ones.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Where to start?
Looking back, the health economy has been through the wringer this year and hospices have not been inured against that.
Hospices are largely funded by donations, so when fundraising activities had to be stopped because of COVID it obviously had a big impact on cash flow.
We had a lot of staff, mainly from our retail branch, who were furloughed.
For the HR team, this meant having to deal with queries in quick-time that we knew very little about ourselves. As you would expect, colleagues in the in business were looking to us to give them answers, which we did, but not always quickly as they would have liked.
Looking ahead, the challenge for me and the rest of the senior management team will be to guide us through the autumn and winter, in terms of being able to continue to provide great care to our patients and their families, looking after the health and wellbeing of our colleagues and, of course, ensuring we are able to keep the money coming in.
I’m looking forward to us getting to Easter!
How does your organisation approach Diversity & Inclusion?
Diversity and Inclusion is something we are continually working on.
Our approach to date has lacked maturity, which is something we have recognised and are dealing with.
We are based in a predominantly white community, which has been reflected in our workforce, however we are keen to move beyond this in order to not only improve representation across all groups of society, but to also demonstrate that we are truly inclusive organisation and one that is anti-discrimination.
What emerging trends are you seeing?
Beyond the money was also the challenge of suddenly being thrust into new ways of working.
Here at St Barnabas, the majority of non-clinical staff started working from home and the non-clinical area of the office suddenly felt very empty.
We have traditionally been an organisation where working from home was a rarity, so we had to quickly adapt to this. I think we are there, and people are generally happy now to have the option to work from home or come into the office.
How has the organisation reacted to the pandemic?
The pandemic has presented a lot of opportunities and we, ‘we’ being the hospices in Sussex, has looked to grab some of them.
While not a product of the pandemic, I am an example of where sharing service arrangements can work.
I am employed by St Barnabas Hospices, but spend the equivalent of a day per week at St Peter & St James Hospice as their Director of People Services.
I have excellent teams at both locations and I would like, in my view of the perfect world, to bring the two organisations more closely together in terms of policies, pay, terms and conditions, etc.
We may get there – it’s something I will be pushing for over the next year or so – as I believe it would be beneficial to do so.
Looking further ahead, I would really like to see a single HR team servicing all of the Sussex-based hospices.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Looking back, I don’t know if I would advise my younger self to do anything differently…we live and learn, after all.
I’ve benefited from working with some amazing HR leaders throughout my career: Althea Loderick, who is the Chief Executive at the London Borough of Newham; Siobhan Sheridan, the Civilian HR Director at the Ministry of Defence; Steve Corkerton, the Chief People Officer for the National Crime Agency; Sarah Garner, who now has her own people and organisational development consultancy and Laura Welsh, who kindly nominated me for this, who is the Head of HR for Lee Hecht Harrison.
I’ve learnt an awful lot from working alongside these people.
They all bring different things to the party, but I am very grateful to have had those experiences.
The advice I would give to others, irrespective of where they are in their career, is to learn from those people you work with.
Dave Hays is Director of HR, Research & Education at St Barnabas House a charity based in Worthing which provides palliative care to adults with life-limiting illnesses, both at the hospice and at home and Chestnut Tree House the children’s hospice for East Sussex, West Sussex, Brighton and Hove and South East Hampshire, caring for 300 children and young adults from 0-19 years of age.