HR Stars: Sally Fenton, Fairley House School

August 15, 2019
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HR Stars: Sally Fenton, Fairley House School
HR Stars is our series of interviews with prominent industry figures, who reveal the unique ways in which they’re fostering wellbeing in their workplaces.

This time, we talk to Sally Fenton, HR and Recruitment Manager at Fairley House School, a “specialist day school for children with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia”. Sally also runs an independent workshop at Fairley House and externally, called Invest in Rest.

1. Tell us about the importance of workplace wellbeing to the success of your business?

We place a really high importance on the wellbeing of staff, which include teachers, therapists and administrators.

We are a special needs school specialising in turning around the lives of children with dyslexia, so the pressure to value wellbeing comes from all directions – parents, pupils, specialist stakeholders, inspectors and school governors, as well as the need to uphold our reputation for excellence and being thought leaders when it comes to dyslexia.

Our success is based on the continuity within our teaching, so we try and avoid having supply teachers – therefore, we need our staff to be robust enough to cope with the day-to-day pressures.

Staff are role models for pupils so they need to be engaged in the ethos of the school. Many pupils arrive with very low self-esteem and we have a whole school approach to providing a thriving school culture.

Like many businesses, we have noticed the impact of work stress and life stress on our staff (and on teachers in general) and in particular stress related-illness amongst young people. We want staff to have a good work/life balance and for them to work in an environment where they feel supported.

2. What particular initiatives do you have in place?

We offer an earlier finish on a Friday with an opportunity to join in with sporting activities such as football and table tennis, or yoga (I recently qualified as a restorative yoga teacher and a children’s yoga teacher), as well as the flu jab. We provide fruit for staff every day and a free school lunch. We run the cycle to work scheme and an external benefits provider gives us discounted gym membership, free coffee and mobile phone insurance.

We have an open door policy, to give staff access to the headmaster or HR, should they want to talk to them about anything.

We organise lots of social events to encourage collaboration, as we are on three sites. We have many charity days and encourage staff and pupils to be involved and to nominate a charity to support. We also encourage staff to walk between sites.

We also encourage staff to share their skills with colleagues and pupils – for example, administrators with sewing skills help make costumes for school plays – this helps with our whole school culture and community.

3. How have they impacted the business?

Staff have told us that they feel supported by the open door policy. Staff have also found the mental health first aid training useful, which helps us to look out for changes in personality and work patterns and we really believe early intervention can help stave off long term sickness.

Staff sickness/absence has gone down and staff turnover is low, with staff only leaving due to maternity or to return to their home countries.

Staff are engaged with the ethos of the school and are natural ambassadors for what we do - they really are passionate. We get amazing feedback from pupils and parents and we’re proud to say that we really do change lives.

4. What would you like to improve on or implement in the future?

We are looking at a new benefits package for September which will offer rewards for long service in the form of sabbaticals and in the case of admin staff, additional holiday, more sustainable cycle schemes and a wider range of discounts and access to discounted health/dental insurance.

We are also trying to implement a no mobile phone zone for staff and pupils and are working hard to change the culture of answering emails during evenings and weekends.

I would also love to implement more workshops on mindfulness, resilience and self care and encourage staff to get away from their desks and classrooms and get out for a walk.

I am planning to implement some resource pages though our VLE for staff to access if they have mental health issues or financial worries.

My other priority for the next school year is looking at our air quality (we are based in the very centre of London) - we are measuring air quality in classrooms and I would like to measure our offices too.

We have implemented stand-up desks in some of the office areas - it would be good to roll this out this out further.

5. What is the number one principle of human resources/workplace wellbeing that you'd pass on to a young HR manager?

Good listening skills – often staff just need to download their day/weekend/worries, so I would say, be generous with your time because everyone has stress in their life. Make people feel looked after (i.e; affirm that they are important) – every single person matters in running a business. If they didn’t, they would not be there.

Listen by engaging staff – use surveys, staff forums and social events to gather internal and external feedback. Listen via networking with other HR professionals and listen and learn about the whole business you are involved in – whether you are recruiting, or are dealing with a disciplinary, or just onboarding, it really helps to have an understanding of the business – its aims, its history, its culture.

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