Keeping a distance

Although there are obviously brilliant things about working inside an organisation, one of the things I like most about self-employed HR consultancy for small businesses is the bit of distance you get. Here’s what I mean:

No involvement in politics

With the best will in the world, there are internal politics influencing, restricting, frustrating and colouring how most organisations are run, and consequently how HR works in that organisation. Working with clients rather than being employed by one company means very little involvement in anything like that, and you do not have the same restrictions and frustrations.

You do sometimes come across politics of course, but tend to be advising clients on managing it rather than getting drawn into or directly affected by it. If you have more than one contact at a client, there is obviously the potential for difficulty there, so I would always advise avoiding that if possible!

The tricky bits are easier

Many small business clients only reach out for HR help when they are in a difficult situation, facing the need to make redundancies, dismissals or deal with a grievance. Consequently, self-employed HR consultants working with small employers will naturally spend a fair amount of time involved in these activities.

Although it’s not the nicest thing in the world, the fact that you are removed from personal involvement makes that side of the job much easier than it is working in house for one employer.

When it comes to a client, you don’t know the employee involved personally. You don’t have a history with them, you haven’t socialised with them, and haven’t worked with them on a project. You won’t find them asking you for advice about an issue you are already advising their manager on from the other side (a very tricky situation indeed!), and will know little or nothing about their personal situation.

You can walk away after the meeting and don’t have to see them or work with them on a daily basis. You don’t see the fallout or experience the tension in daily working life that results from a grievance or similar.

You don’t get all the irritating stuff

Working as an internal HR manager or similar, depending on the nature of the organisation you work in, as well as your own approach and personality, you can find yourself somewhat an agony aunt on occasion.

As well as taking proper strategic HR advice or advice on managing a difficult employee relations case, managers and directors do have a tendency to use good HR professionals as a more general sounding board for lower-level people management advice, and for their own frustrations and difficulties. As you are the HR professional, you don’t necessarily have that internal option, so can often find yourself acting like a sponge, soaking up everyone else’s frustrations, and having nowhere to “squeeze yourself out” at work. Perhaps you use your friends and family to offload after a difficult day.

Working with small business clients, the fact that you are not there all the time means you are far less likely to find yourself in that position. You are giving proper HR advice on proper HR problems and challenges, and providing little or no “agony aunt” element.

Changes don’t affect you

Working in-house, you are at the mercy of decisions made higher up in terms of the direction and structure of the business, and it’s not just implementing those that is your concern, sometimes you suffer directly as a result. When small business clients make redundancies, or change the direction of their business, you are not going to be personally affected. You set your own direction and have more control over your future as a result.

So while there are obviously disadvantages as well, and while working in-house can be a fulfilling and exciting experience, the distance you gain by working for several clients is very liberating!


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