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Jessica Whelan

Head of HR Services

Tell me how you ended up in your current role with myHRdept.

I decided, after having my first child, to take a step back from the London commuter life. I was with Harrods at the time and the journey was pretty gruelling to and from work. As scary as it was, I decided to set up as an independent HR consultant and attended a number of networking meetings (that I always found very uncomfortable). From that I undertook a number of fixed price projects but one day received an email from Catherine, myHRdept’s Director. I met both Directors for an initial chat where they talked about their business and plans for the future. It sounded very interesting and something I was keen to be a part of. Now nearly 4 years later there is no looking back. It’s a fantastic place to work. I started initially as an ER advisor, progressing to HR Manager and then into the role of Head of HR Services. Naturally my roles have evolved as the business has grown.

How does this role or Company differ from your previous roles?

This role encompasses all facets of HR. I have previously specialised in the contentious side of HR (employee relations) and worked alongside other HR specialists. Now however my role focuses on achieving more strategic alignment and to work on proactive value add projects for our clients. Depending on our clients’ needs I wear different hats which is great because in any one day no skill is left unused.

The Company differs in the sense that it is in no way corporate or political. We are a family here. It is solution focused and extremely commercial which is fantastic as it allows us to really add value to our clients. 

What three words would you use to describe your role?

Stimulating, satisfying and ever-evolving 

What have your biggest professional challenges been?

My background was in retail. Unfortunately, I have had to undertake a number of large-scale redundancies requiring collective consultation and numerous closures. Logistically as well as emotionally these require great planning, training and timely execution. It is imperative that you remember your actions are impacting people’s lives and train your supporting management team to ensure it runs smoothly for all. If you become too detached from this you will lose what it means to be an effective HR professional.

I would also add that in HR it is imperative that you get to know your client base incredibly well. The purpose of our role is primarily to advise and safeguard but to be effective at this you have to have fantastic interpersonal skills in order to influence when required. (If you can’t influence then you must be fantastic at providing plan B and C to provide further protection to your clients).

What would you say is your biggest achievement to date – personal or professional?

My career to date and my children are of course up there but I suppose something that shows my personality a tad is that at the age of 15 I was awarded a bravery award from the Metropolitan police. A young man attempted to mug me but my stupid reaction was to start punching him as hard as I could and to hang on to him. He did stab me with a screw driver (no vital organs hurt) but by some sheer luck I took his number plate and recognised someone in the car with him. This resulted in a court hearing and conviction. (I am very determined and a tad feisty)

Describe a situation where you needed to persuade someone to see things your way. What steps did you take? What were the results?

This case involved a client who had received a complaint of racial abuse and threatening conduct from one employee against another that was witnessed by the whole team. The accused had long service and was a friend of the owner. The owner was hoping a disciplinary warning would suffice and that this whole matter would mend itself. Unfortunately, with matters such as breaches of dignity at work it isn’t so easy to appease. The conduct was so severe that it did constitute gross misconduct. If the client had left the accused in situ then they faced a risk of constructive dismissal (the complainant had over 2 years’ service). I advised the client of their options and associated risks and eventually the client came to the right decision for his business which was to dismiss.  

Tell me about the toughest decision you’ve had to make in your career?

I have 2…….

The first being that I decided 4 years into my HR career to specialise in Employee Relations (ER). All of my seniors advised me to stay generalist for at least 10 but I loved employment law and always found ER to be like playing chess. Most of my peers disliked ER too which I think is what made me love it all the more. Some said it was risky to pigeon hole myself but actually each and every career move I have made has been fantastic and all have added value to my in-depth ER knowledge.

Secondly, making the decision to leave the corporate blue-chip shiny world and enter self-employed stand alone. When I made the decision to do this it was either going to make or break my career. It is one I was glad I make as I really have benefitted. Since joining myHRdept I feel I have found my happy place, being a support function for numerous entities who like to try and test me on a daily basis is what makes me tick.

What are the three things most important to you in your work life?

Having a team ethic, a supply of biscuits and coffee and client rapport.

If you weren’t working as Head of HR Services for myHRdept what would you be doing?

I love people and understanding what makes them tick so I would retrain as a Criminal psychologist. Always fancied myself as a Dr of sorts.

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