Extra: Human Resources - People really are your best assets

Andy Ricketts talks to the Workforce Hub's Janet Fleming about why it pays to invest in HR.

Human resources and the charity sector are rarely seen as comfortable bedfellows. The high proportion of employment tribunal cases compared with other sectors has been well documented, and staff turnover is invariably higher.

Janet Fleming, head of the Workforce Hub, says it's crucial that charities make their HR responsibilities a boost for the organisation. "The point we make all the time is that your people are your most important asset," she says. "But this becomes clearer when you look at the hard figures. It can cost up to £8,000 to replace a staff member. It is not just the adverts, but the time it takes as well."

Fleming says the sector's reputation for being over-represented at employment tribunals does not paint a true picture. "This is not a stark figure about bad practice - it is about not settling out of court," she says. "A lot of charities cannot afford to do so; private sector organisations are more often able to."

Fleming says it's more important for charities to get their HR practices right before they end up in a tribunal because by then it's already far too late. "It costs thousands of pounds to sort a tribunal case out," she says. "It's far better to spend some time and money putting good policies in place before that."

Training is an important part of any good HR strategy, Fleming argues. "Our own research shows us that, although a high proportion of organisations in the sector do have training plans, many do not carry them out. This can be demotivating."

Doing the training does not necessarily mean breaking the bank, however. Organisations could put into place work shadowing or mentoring arrangements, either in-house or with other local organisations. "Small organisations can look at, say, sharing HR functions with other bodies," she suggests.

Fleming counsels against cutting back on the HR budget because of the credit crunch. "Charity income is likely to go down, as it will in other sectors," she says. "There will be some tightening of belts - but charities are more used to belt-tightening, so they should be better placed than many to deal with it."

Ultimately, investment in your staff pays off in the long term in terms of loyalty, says Fleming.

"Lots of research says it is worth investing in staff," she says. "If you support people and listen to what they want, you are making them secure, and that is one of the greatest motivators for them to stay where they are."

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