International Volunteer Day 2020
To celebrate International Volunteer Day, we’ve spoken to Lucy Barker and Fiona Shafran, two HR professionals with years of experience in the industry who generously volunteer for our Advice Line. With record numbers of callers contacting us, it’s brilliant to have expert help from Lucy and Fiona. As they share, they get just as much out of volunteering with NABS we do from their time, care and expertise.
Lucy Barker, director and founder of Human Nature HR and part-time Advice Line volunteer
I first met NABS in 2006 when one of the team came to see me to explain how they help the industry. From then on, I became passionate about NABS, signing up to sit on their Support Committee, overseeing grant applications and working closely with the Advice Line team.
After 20 years at a fantastic agency, I decided to leave in December 2019 to set up my own HR consultancy. Everything was going great – and then COVID hit, so I lost contracts. Fortunately, I was in a position to be able to support myself for a bit, so I thought immediately of NABS and all the people who might need help. I wanted to do something to help during the crisis. I contacted Annabel, who runs the Advice Line, and said: “I’m here, what can I do to help?”
Annabel had also been wondering who they could reach out to for extra help. Our minds were aligned. NABS and I had a well-established relationship and they knew how I worked, so it seemed an obvious fit. They also know that I had solid experience in the kind of challenges that people might encounter in our industry because of my agency background.
I love helping people get over situations that they think are totally insurmountable. One of the most rewarding things is helping people talk through how they’re feeling and then guiding them to take steps to get the right help. The other thing that is so incredibly humbling working on the Advice Line is that people are always are so grateful for your time. They always say, I’m so sorry, you’re busy. But it’s a pleasure to say that NABS sets time and boundaries for people. That’s what we’re here for, to listen, not judge and support.
The sense of feeling that you’ve helped somebody out at the end of that call is really overwhelming. I didn’t expect to end up feeling like this but working with the team has also helped my own mental health, just knowing that I can help people articulate how they’re feeling.
I have a solid background in employment law, but I also offer compassion and empathy. That comes from many years’ experience of working with people whose everyday life problems inevitably become part of work and helping them to realise that it’s OK to bring those things to work. As a progressive employer, you know that if you look after the whole employee, you’ll get the best outcome both commercially and for your employees.
Working on the Advice Line, it’s not just about knowing what questions to ask. It helps me a lot to have the experience to listen to what people aren’t saying, what they’re not telling you, so that you can then ask the right questions to enable that person to tell you what they’re going through.
Having a group of people on the Advice Line gives a breadth of experience to NABS’ callers. It’s important that that there are different perspectives within the team; callers get a wealth of collective experience.
The pride I have in working with NABS is enormous. Even though I had a longstanding relationship with NABS, I never really understood the depth of support it offers to the industry. That in itself is incredible and it’s inspired me to be even more of a spokesperson for NABS, because I feel so passionately that NABS is the most outstanding charity. People call in and you don’t know what they are going to say. It could be anything from redundancy to family illness or financial hardship. You have to switch your head from one to the other. When I look back on 2020, I will feel a huge sense of pride in knowing that I did something not only to help support the industry but to help support the most amazing charity in NABS.
When somebody thanks me at the end of the call, I find that quite emotional, because for me I’m just giving that person an opportunity to talk. I get so much from talking to others. Also, the care that NABS shows for its staff is unbelievable. It is exceptional in the support that’s given to enable the team to download after those calls, and the time and space that you are afforded to enable you to balance your own mental wellbeing.
The experience has completely transformed my thinking about volunteering. I thought I would be volunteering to help other people, but actually what I’ve realised that it helps me too because of the purpose and sense of being able to make a difference to somebody who is having a tough time.
Fiona Shafran, HR consultant and part-time Advice Line volunteer
I joined DDB in 1996 as personnel director and I was asked to represent the agency on one of NABS’ support committees. I left DDB in 2012 to become a freelance HR consultant in 2013 and continued to be a member of one of the NABS’ support committees.
Annabel approached me in May to ask if I would be willing and have time to volunteer on the Advice Line, due to the increase in calls as a result of COVID-19. The team needed additional help to be able to respond as promptly as possible to their callers.
I said yes for a number of reasons. I recognised that it’s been a challenging year for everyone. I was very aware with all the campaigning going on – clap for the NHS and people volunteering and wanting to help – that I wanted to make a contribution where I could in terms of giving something back. I feel very loyal to NABS and they provide such a valuable resource to the industry. The work it does is brilliant, and I feel very much a part of its community, and I love that.
I’ve worked in the HR profession for more than 25 years, so I have extensive experience in people management, offering support and guidance to both employers and employees. Also, I can draw upon my own life experience and insights to support people and share knowledge with them.
The calls are a balance between people asking for help so that they’re able to make informed choices, and needing real emotional support that requires a listening ear. I tend to get the employment-related calls, but often there are underlying topics that come in. It might be an initial discussion around redundancy, but then there might be other questions such as team dynamics or mental health wellbeing issues that come up during the call. I believe l can respond in a holistic way based on my experience in HR.
NABS’ Advice Line team are a brilliant bunch of people. They’re there for support. I’m allocated a weekly buddy and it’s helpful to be able to debrief or to go over discussions with an experienced support team adviser. During a call we can discuss other resources that NABS can offer, such as therapy referral, or applying for an upskilling grant, or seeing a NABS career coach when it’s the right time for the callers to explore these options.
A real positive is getting spontaneous feedback from callers about the guidance that has been provided by the support team that has helped to obtain a positive result.
Personally, I’ve found it uplifting to get a different perspective from callers who are speaking on a one-to-one basis with me rather than as HR. The support team offers a friendly voice that’s here to say, how can I help? We’re impartial so people feel quite open to speak to us.
To anybody who’s thinking of volunteering, I would actively encourage them to do so. It’s very fulfilling.