The inaugural meeting of the Wellcome Africa and Asia HR Network was held in September 2018. This provided an opportunity for HR professionals to meet, learn from each other’s experiences, share challenges and plans for the future.
Kathryn Wood from CIDRI-Africa and Fairoza Parker from Faculty of Health Sciences HR department represented UCT. Other delegates came from India, Vietnam, Malawi, Kenya and AHRI in Kwazulu-Natal, totalling 11 participants.
The meeting was led by Claire Fearn, International Operations and Partnership Advisor and Claire Fenton, Project Manager. The group was welcomed by Dr Simon Kay, Head of International Operations and Partnerships (Science) and Dr Kathy Poole, Director of People.
Some objectives discussed were:
Do we need HR?
Options to keep staff engaged
Reward/recognition to motivate researchers
Recruitment and retention
Integrating business systems
Bullying – research v support staff
Women in science
A presentation and discussion was led by Dr Anne Wozencraft who shared her career in HR management, starting as a scientist, she moved to HR Management with the British Council and currently is the Head of International Partnerships for Cancer Research UK.
Her take home message for organisational change was a clear compelling vision for the organisation with good communication and staff engagement, with HR as the business partner.
Following up on topics of interest that were suggested by the participants prior to the meeting, 7 HR Clinics were arranged where Wellcome staff came in to chair round table discussions in small groups.
The topics covered were:
HR systems with Glenn Foster who developed a HR paperless filing system and HR Information systems
Pay Review and reward with Carys Morgan who works a Rewards Advisor
Business Partner with Becky Thomas who manages people implications of proposed departmental and organisational change.
Diversity and Inclusion with Sarah Christie who supports Wellcome to be an employer that values openness, inclusivity and difference.
Performance, talent and succession with Nicole Randal who examines how to positively transform Wellcome’s performance beyond the current year and Leadership development.
Learning and Development with Amanda Berzins who is part of the Transformation and Development team responsible for designing and delivering learning interventions.
Culture and Engagement with Elizabeth Williams who leads the Transformation and Development team to develop Wellcome, the teams, the people and research leaders.
On day 2, Peter Larkum from LMI UK (Leadership Management International, United Kingdom) presented a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Half Day workshop. He introduced us to the concept of Mental Health versus Mental Ill Health. He discussed the “Mental Health Continuum” where mental health can change over time anywhere between “No diagnosis to severe diagnosis” and “maximum mental health to minimum mental health”.
He also discussed the development of mental health issues such as depression due to stress factors: physical factors such as lifestyle; environmental stress such as housing issues, new environments; emotional stress such as peer pressure and relationships; acute life events such as bereavements and chronic stress due to debt and existing mental health issues.
He encouraged everyone to become more aware of their colleagues mental health and to encourage conversations when signs of possible mental ill health are spotted.
The full training programme allows members of staff to be trained as Mental Health First Aiders within their organisation. These staff members are then available to have conversations with other staff who may be struggling with varying degrees of mental ill health. The Mental Health First Aiders are trained to refer the colleague to professionals such as HR, Occupational Health, on-site counselling and medical doctors, to assist them further. Many of the Wellcome staff have taken this opportunity to be Mental Health First Aiders.
Kathryn Wood: The take home message, was to be more aware of the behaviour of colleagues who may be struggling with mental ill health and to take the time to engage them in conversation and to show support.
The 2 day meeting was well organised and I was impressed by the many Wellcome staff members who gave up their time to engage with the group.
Fairoza Parker:My overall experience of the Wellcome Africa and Asia HR Network meeting and the Mental Health Half day workshop, has been very positive. What has stood out for me during the network meeting was my interaction with all the delegates and sharing experiences and knowledge as well as the value of getting a “helicopter view” of Wellcome Trust’s HR processes.
Whilst UCT has effective organisational health processes aligned to UCT’s needs, we could learn from Wellcome regarding the mechanisms they have put in place concerning mental health issues. Considering the increase in suicides, and the recent loss of our Dean to suicide, UCT could learn from the training provided for Mental Health First Aiders as well as the “Take 10 toolkit for mental health conversations.