A school work experience placement in a wedding events venue set Ruby on a path to a career in hospitality but it’s a strong personal commitment to her continued professional education that has seen her rise through the ranks in human resources. Combining full-time work in the hotel sector with self-funded part-time study, Ruby’s determination to keep challenging herself with new ideas, new responsibilities and new work environments has paid dividends. Today, as the People and Culture Partner of a 5-star hotel and stately home, Cliveden House, she’s is playing a major HR role in embedding a people-focused culture in one of the South East’s most prestigious hotel establishments.
Food & Beverage Assistant (Country House Wedding Venues) – Receptionist to HR Administrator (Q Hotels) – HR Coordinator (Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons) – HR Officer (Soho House - Soho FarmHouse) – Senior HR Officer to HR Manager (AB Hotels) – People & Culture Partner (Iconic Luxury Hotels - Cliveden House)
Human resource (HR) Managers implement processes to keep people performing at their best in the interests of the organisation. This can include a wide range of activities such as recruitment and team retention, training and development, motivation and incentive programmes, disciplinary and grievance procedures, culture change programmes and payroll administration.
What is your first love – hospitality or HR?
“I love HR but 100% it is hospitality for me. It's such a passionate, fun, creative industry and I just love it. When I was young I used to go on family holidays and the hotel resorts always felt like a home from home where everyone was trying their best to create a memorable experience. Once I started working in the sector, I soon realised that was just the kind of environment I flourish in.”
Can you explain your job title - what is a People and Culture Partner?
“I’m effectively the HR Manager at Cliveden House in Maidenhead. My role is to support managers and team members by delivering people-related processes across the business. I look to encourage a positive work environment and influence the culture. We call our department, People, and Culture because we understand that without getting both of those right, then we have no business. The goal of our parent company, Iconic Luxury Hotels is to make every guest want to return and every team member wants to stay so that means working hard to create the right environment. That’s why we recruit for personality and train for skill and we look to find the right people to fit our ethos.”
How did you get your first job in HR?
“I got my first job in hospitality while still at school, working in food and beverage at a country house wedding venue having already completed some work experience there. After that, I’d gone to university to study International Hospitality Management and always thought one day I’d love to be a general manager at a hotel or resort. But things changed during my placement year. I was working on reception at the Oxford Belfry Hotel and I met someone who was joining as a HR officer. After a few weeks, I was thinking, as much as I love meeting the guests, when they leave they leave, and building longer-lasting relationships was quite important to me. So I thought HR could be a great option. Then when I went back to university I did my final dissertation on employee motivation and reward, carried on working on a casual basis for the hotel and I got my first job after graduation as a HR administrator with the same hotel group.”
What qualifications and training have you had in your career?
“My BSc Honours degree in International Hospitality Management which I obtained at Oxford Brookes University. During my degree, the university had its own restaurant so you got to spend 12 weeks working as a chef and 12 weeks waitering. That was a great experience. Later on, while I was working, I also acquired a CIPD Level 7 post-graduate diploma and a Master’s degree in Human Resource Management which took 3 years in total. You don’t really need the diploma until you get to HR Manager level but I knew what I was aiming for and just wanted to get it done so I was happy to self-fund it. For me, it’s always been a positive to get those qualifications. They give you confidence and allow you to put theory into practice, and if you want to get to Director level, which is what I strive for, I do think it’s better to have them.”
Didn’t you change industry for a while during Covid?
“Yeah. Hospitality was hugely affected so I tried HR in manufacturing for a year and a half
in a business making building products. Of course, they haven't got the swimming pools or the golf courses or the restaurant, but there's so many similarities. They always used to say, just look at cement production as a big cake mix. I thought I adapted well, but I did miss hospitality. I just think if you're passionate about something, that really shines through in your work, and I want to put 100% into whatever I do so I applied for the job at Cliveden House.”
What does a typical day look like in your role?
“There's a great amount of job variety and it's incredibly fast paced. In HR, sometimes the responsibilities are broken down so you might have a payroll specialist, a recruitment specialist, a performance and reward specialist, and so on. But at Cliveden, being focused on one site, it’s a very generalist role and so I get to do it all and that’s one of the reasons I adore working here. Post-pandemic there’s a lot of recruitment so I do a lot of organising job adverts, arranging interviews, doing the whole onboarding and we do a lot of team events and building relationships with schools, colleges and universities including the Talent Showcase with Buckinghamshire Business First.”
What skills do you think a candidate needs to be a good HR Manager?
“You need empathy for sure and having worked operationally in hospitality has helped with that. If you can get that experience, do it. You’ll get people’s pressures and understand when not to disturb them. You don't go to a chef in the middle of service, for example. Also, collaboration and being fair and consistent. Sometimes you’ll be dealing with issues such as grievance or disciplinary where it’s important to take the emotion out of a situation and just be efficient, factual and fair.”
What advice would you give to somebody thinking about working in HR?
“Just try everything and if you can make your first HR role a generalist one so you can start to understand what areas you like and don’t like. Also, continue with your studies but do it while you’re working so you can still build your experience. HR is a great career and in hospitality it’s extra fun because of the strong team culture.”