A different kind of business

Claire Morley-Jones wanted to create a different type of business when she set up her human resources company, hr180. She had seen working mums struggling due to inflexible working patterns in her other jobs and had experienced her own mum battling with work life balance issues.

Claire Morley-Jones wanted to create a different type of business when she set up her human resources company, hr180. She had seen working mums struggling due to inflexible working patterns in her other jobs and had experienced her own mum battling with work life balance issues.

So when she set up her own business she made sure it was as flexible as possible. Her efforts have won her a Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employers Award. The award is for SMEs, which is apt since hr180 provides human resources advice and support for SMEs.

The judges praised the company’s overall commitment to flexible working and its promotion of the business case for flexible working.

The company is run out of the picturesque-sounding Mulberry Cottage, Morley-Jones’ home. She has converted the top of the cottage into an open plan office space and kitchenette. The office is mostly self sufficient from the house and is situated in the small village of Aberford just off the A1 in Yorkshire.

Morley-Jones set it up in 2006. She had worked with a series of different employers beforehand, including O2, Eversheds solicitors, local government, education, an international start-up and little charities.

"I always knew I wanted to set up my own business,” she says, “but HR is one of those things you need to have done in a variety of cultures and organisations in order to advise people with the fullest amount of understanding.”

Flexible working

Morley-Jones doesn’t have children herself, but she has seen women having to struggle in inflexible workplaces. “Most business is still about being in at 8.45 and how dare you think of leaving before 5.30,” says Morley-Jones. She adds that she tried to change the culture in the organisations she worked for, but the 9 to 5 mentality was very entrenched. “It was always about what the business wanted and never about what could be jointly beneficial to business and staff,” she says.

She has long had an interest in flexible working and did her dissertation at university on part-time and flexible working, covering theories about how to enable people to have individualised working patterns. Growing up she had personal experience of the issues confronted by working mums. Her mum worked full time and unusually was the family’s main breadwinner. Her dad also worked long hours as a lorry driver; both saving to pay for her education. “Life never seemed easy for her,” she says. “She had to battle between being completely professional and never using the kids as an excuse – there were already enough people out there trying to say she was not as good as a man. She was a very strong female role model and I wouldn’t be half the person I was without her.”

Her mum was an office manager at a university, although she had no degree herself and at one point was in charge of around 3,000 people. “She was a very inspirational lady,” says Morley-Jones, adding that neither she nor her sister suffered at all from having a full-time working mum. “I’m sure she must have found it hard to go to work every day, but work was also probably her sanity,” she says. “I just always felt that it could have been made easier for her without needing to try so hard to juggle everything. One of the great things about mum working full time was the number of extra curricular activities we were able to do – I was in my element with drama and choir practice!”

At hr180 Morley-Jones was adamant that she would promote a different way of working, one which offered everyone an individual working pattern. She set the business up on her own and had to quickly learn all aspects of running a business. Her skills, she says, are in people management, strategic thinking, marketing and face to face sales. She has encouraged staff with complementary skills, such as telesales, to take the lead on those areas, building a rounded, holistic team who contribute to and compensate for each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

Cbeebies

As well as offering a variety of flexible working patterns, staff can bring children into the office in emergencies, such as during the cold snap earlier in the year when many schools were closed. Also, when children invariably fall ill the business can flexibly arrange work around them and their mothers, although several staff have still dropped by the office to pick up work and then worked from home. They are a diligent bunch, says Morley-Jones, attributing this to the give and take culture that the company has.

There is a laptop set up with access to Cbeebies, games and colouring books on offer for those children needing to drop in. Morley-Jones laughs that there is a photo of one of the children watching the laptop with a telephone headset on. “She looks like she could be one of our youngest workers, so we included her picture in our monthly client newsletter, but she was in fact watching Cbeebies,” she says.

The company is also very embedded in the community and many staff take time out to do work in the community. One member of staff, for instance, does mentoring work at the University of Leeds. She does the mentoring for three hours a week for eight weeks and makes up half of the time by staying later on other days, with the company giving half of her time.

Career development

Every member of staff has a career development plan. “It’s really helpful for me to understand what people want to do and, for instance, if they are thinking of increasing their hours or want more responsibility as their children grow up,” says Morley-Jones. “It means I can properly plan ahead.” For example, having only employed an intern for four weeks she sat down to talk to the individual and discovered that she was desperate to get into the HR field, but didn’t have any formal HR qualifications. Morley-Jones spoke to her, therefore, about sponsoring her for an expensive HR qualification in return for a commitment to stay with the business for 18 months.

Hr180 has nine members of staff, all female, and all but three are working mums. Everyone is paid an annual salary but also operates a timesheet system so that if they do more hours one day they can take them off on other days if there are emergencies. “It’s flexible and fair,” says Morley-Jones. “Lots of organisations we work with thought it wouldn’t work and it can be difficult, particularly in August and at half terms, but it gets easier the longer you work in this way and it means we can deliver something to our staff that other organisations can’t. Plus the flexibility has always worked both ways.”

Only one member of staff on a short contract has left in four years and that was because she wanted to spend more time with her children. As well as having high retention rates, offering flexible working also means that Morley-Jones can attract highly qualified staff with a range of experience. Many have had problems at other workplaces as a result of inflexible practices. One member of staff, for instance, was told overnight that she had to change her part-time hours to full time.

Morley-Jones says the entire team were “ecstatic” to win the Workingmums.co.uk Top Employers Award for SMEs. “It’s a recognition of the fact that we all work very hard in different ways and at different times. We hope to be able to act as advocates for the business case for this way of working. It does improve your bottom line and means you have more productive, engaged staff. We have doubled our turnover in the last two years. We are not just a namby pamby bunch of girls. We can show that this way of working does make a difference.”





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