Ellie was recently recognised as Employee of the Year at the annual Whitehall awards. Ellie has been here for over three years and has had a big influence on many aspects of day-to-day life for our employees. The working culture at Whitehall has resulted in us being ranked as one of the UK’s best companies to work for, every year since 2017.
Ellie, what’s the first thing that crossed your mind when you won?
I was shocked, I never thought I could win this type of award as an HR professional. In most companies the HR department is thought of as the “police” function of the company – very procedural, unforgiving and robotic, so winning this is a huge thing for me, it means a lot. I believe the award is a recognition for my hard work and strong work ethic and a confirmation that I am progressing. I am very self-critical, but as much as it is one of my weaknesses, it drives me to try my best and to find new ways of doing things, to make things better to have a greater impact. I hope I have changed some of the negative stereotypes of HR.
What do you think is different about HR at Whitehall?
I would like to think that our department is influential, kind and that we do things that are not only right for the business but also right for the employees, so it’s about trying to get the best out of people. I am a firm believer that an engaged workforce is happy to come to work and put the effort in.
On the day to day, there is a lot of variety. I like the challenge of not knowing what can come along at any moment. In other companies HR professionals are driven by processes and procedures and like the safety net of knowing what they are doing every day, but I like the variety and fluidity, and I love problem solving. I like the flexibility and the freedom, I work very closely with the business decision makers and they are very accessible which is rare in a lot of companies. If we come up with a good idea, we put a proposal together and it can be implemented within a few days. It is not overly formal or corporate and it allows us to be creative.
What has been your favourite initiative in the company?
Generally anything that involves creating something new and something that matters to our employees. We’ve had great feedback on the change of working hours, the allowance to split holidays (very popular), as well as the enhanced maternity and paternity leave. I’m also really pleased with the moves forward made in L&D, Talent Acquisition and Marketing. We have invested a lot of time in projects that matter to people including organising charity events, Dogs at Work Days and the ‘Wellbeing’ project.
What’s the Wellbeing project about?
It started a couple of years ago with the objective of creating an environment that resulted in happier employees. There are lots of different factors that make a happy employee and sometimes it’s just about someone feeling cared for, wanted, secure or recognised. It’s about treating people with respect rather than as a number.
Wellbeing for us is not just a buzzword or something we do to tick off the PR list, we have a genuine desire to look after our people and we try to implement initiatives that show our employees that we mean it. We focus on employee benefits, medical and counselling support, we talk about mental health, we have an open-door policy and we have worked hard to create a performance management process that engages employees and motivates them to improve rather than discouraging them. Our recruitment consultants have a tough job that requires tenacity, resilience and problem solving. It’s an industry where even if you work to your best, you might not see immediate results, so it is hugely important that our team members want to come to work and feel happy and comfortable in their environment. What we strive for is to offer a kind environment where our employees enjoy spending time in or even use it to switch off from any difficulties they may have in their personal lives. Wellbeing as a concept is now accepted across the business and we have seen a great improvement on our employee retention figure.
What are you passionate about?
I am very passionate about success and results. A success factor for me is employing talented people, making the right decisions at the recruitment stage, ensuring those people remain successful and making sure we retain them in the business. Sometimes it’s trial and error but we are always looking for ways to improve in these areas.
Why did you choose a career in HR?
I didn’t necessarily know HR would be my path, but I knew that I loved working with people. It was during my first job as an HR assistant that I learned about the profession; I could see more senior colleagues getting involved in lots of meetings and recruitment projects and that really appealed to me. During my second HR job I completed a CIPD Masters to get fully qualified, it took me three years to complete and a lot of hard work but I learnt a lot and it helped me get promoted. After eight years in that company I felt I’d reached my potential there and decided to leave to move to a more senior business partner role. I joined a rapidly growing software company where I supported around 300 sales employees and new acquisitions. I was still hungry for progression though and decided that one thing I was missing from my experience was working with a large multinational corporation. The role I moved to was very fast-paced with lots of project work and day-to-day HR tasks. I learned a lot about more developed and high-level HR initiatives; but naturally with any large multi-national corporate organisation, creativity could be restrictive due to the number and levels of roles required in making decisions for change. I started to feel more reactive in my role than having the freedom and flexibility to be creative. Around the time I was deciding to look for something, I saw a role advertised with Whitehall. I’d heard of them and I thought HR in a recruitment company would be an interesting way of combining my passions. I applied, and the rest is history!
What is your favourite thing about Whitehall?
The people. It makes a massive difference. I like everyone I work with because they challenge me but at the same time we work well together. I think it’s because we are all very passionate about the business – the work ethic, priorities and how we integrate with each other. There is no need to use relationships to your advantage, you can be honest and you can be yourself. If we continue to be diverse and open minded about what works for Whitehall, I do genuinely believe people will continue to enjoy working here. I understand that as in any business, the culture might not be for everyone, but there is genuinely something special about this place, it is the most enjoyable company I’ve worked for and I look forward to come to work every day.
Three things most people don’t know about me
I’ve sailed across the North Sea a number of times in a 34ft sailing boat, I love antiques roadshows and art galleries, and I live in a converted sail loft.