Lucy Feavearyear is an employee relations consultant who has just celebrated 20 years in her HR career. With Pregnant then Screwed’s March of the Mummies national protest taking place tomorrow, she explains why she volunteers for the charity – and why starting her own business just before the pandemic was a challenge
I grew up on a farm in Suffolk and as a teenager was eager to find something a bit more exciting – although nowadays I appreciate my roots much more! After not really trying at school, by my 20s I’d started to become a bit more driven, both workwise and personally – running became a big part of my life for a while and I set myself a goal of running the London Marathon, which I achieved in 2005 (not bad for an asthmatic who used to bunk off PE)! I guess I’ve since had the normal ‘twists and turns’ which would be expected by this stage of life. Alongside three kids and work, my husband and I have very slowly been renovating our house, which when we moved in had not been lived in for years – it had no mains water, just a well in the garden, so we had to start from scratch.
Being totally honest, I fell into HR not really knowing what ‘Human Resources’ was all about. I was always quite creative and dreamt of working in fashion or journalism, however, 20 years ago I went for an admin job which just happened to be in an HR department and the rest is history! By 2008 I’d completed my Level 7 CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), sitting exams and completing the course whilst pregnant/nursing my first child. I gained Chartered status in 2012. In a way, I think going into HR with no real expectations helped. I’ve learned on the job and worked with some great people along the way.
At the end of 2018 I’d been diagnosed with a chronic illness. I was struggling to manage work and family life alongside this and ended up taking voluntary redundancy. Alongside my day job, I’d sat as a lay member on employment tribunals for a few years, so did more of that while I considered my options. I wanted a better balance but soon realised that part time/flexible senior HR roles were few and far between (remember, this was pre-pandemic). A couple of ‘lightbulb’ moments for me were from a career coach who initially sowed the seed about self-employment (although at the time I found 100 reasons why I couldn’t do it!) and an event I attended for freelance mums which really inspired me. I was able to get some free life coaching sessions through a friend of a friend who was training, which really helped to me to believe in and cemented the idea of becoming an HR Consultant. Everything then started to come together, I decided to specialise in Employee Relations and gradually connected with useful people to help with the areas I was less experienced in, that is, running a business!
One of the hardest things was deciding on a name. Everything I came up with initially sounded a bit naff. I eventually settled on Mustard HR after trying to encapsulate the qualities of the service I strive to provide. This led to the phrase ‘cutting to the chase’ and finally ‘cutting the mustard’. Given the connotations of competency and success this phrase brings to mind, not forgetting of course the association mustard has with East Anglia, it felt like a good fit.
The pandemic hit a few months after launching my business. I felt lucky to have secured regular work with one retained client, who I ended up working closely with for the first couple of years. Obviously, there was a lot to do for HR folk during the pandemic, including the ever-changing furlough rules. Then came the fall-out, where unfortunately some organisations had to make cuts to their workforce. Personally, I ended up working from home a lot more than I’d anticipated – suddenly overnight it became acceptable to carry out serious meetings remotely and I took on work from organisations based all over the country which I’d not anticipated doing before. Home schooling was another challenge I’d rather forget! Now things have settled down a bit, I am enjoying getting out and about when my more local clients require me to attend in person and I really like that variety.
I specialise in Employee Relations, which in a nutshell is the individual and collective relationships within the workplace. A positive employee relations climate, with high employee engagement, is obviously optimal but, with the best will in the world, being an employer is not always plain sailing. I help organisations who can’t justify an HR function or have one but require independent or specialist support. I use my experience to support clients with the usual contracts, policies and procedures as well as things like disciplinary and grievance investigations/hearings/appeals, restructures, managing sickness, TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) and flexible working – one of my passions. Earlier in the year I recognised there was a gap in my offer and decided to train as a workplace mediator. I am now fully qualified and offer a mediation service.
In my experience, clients appreciate honesty, someone who can act as a soundboard when needed but also who they can trust to just get on with it. I therefore strive to deliver my services with integrity, authenticity and tenacity and take a no-nonsense, ‘getting things done’ approach to my work.
Pregnant Then Screwed is an amazing charity which supports pregnant/working mothers. As a mum having done every working pattern going over the years to try to manage the load, I realised what a barrier having kids can be in the workplace, especially for mothers. I followed Pregnant Then Screwed for a while and decided to make the time to volunteer. I initially did shifts on their employment helpline and then became a mentor for women taking their employer to tribunal, who are usually unrepresented. You would hope that the pandemic had made it easier for everyone in terms of flexibility at work but it unfortunately we see that this isn’t necessarily the case and for a number of reasons working mums continue to face huge barriers and are still being pushed out of the workforce.
The Pregnant then Screwed ‘March of the Mummies’ takes place in various cities across the country, including our lovely Norwich, on Saturday October 29. This is a protest demanding government reform on childcare, parental leave and flexible working) and the charity requires volunteers (stewards, first aiders etc) for the event, so it would be great to get the message out there. Here’s a link: pregnantthenscrewed.com/volunteer-for-march-of-the-mummies.
I don’t think there’s any area or business which hasn’t been impacted by the cost-of-living crisis in some way. My clients want to support their staff (who are obviously personally impacted by the crisis) but are having to make really difficult decisions to ensure their businesses survive. I’ve recently seen evidence which indicates that as well as industrial action, conflict at work/employee activism in general are on the rise, which is thought to have been exacerbated by the current economic uncertainty. Employees appear to have higher expectations than ever of their employers, and, in many organisations, morale has fallen – and mental ill health is prominent. I fear that the current climate might mean employers are less inclined to deal with issues as they arise if it means spending extra in the short term, which longer-term could have far reaching consequences.
The thing I love most about what I do now is the flexibility and freedom running my own business gives. I also really enjoy that it gives me exposure to such a wide and diverse variety of sectors which I would not get in-house. I hope to continue what I’m doing while my children are still at home, growing organically as I go. As for the future, I can’t see myself being employed again (although, never say never). I would like to continue to grow a solid business and when the time is right, I will look to expand Mustard HR perhaps by branching out into other specialisms.
The Pregnant Then Screwed March of the Mummies National Protest takes place takes place tomorrow (Saturday October 29) – including in Norwich. The march starts at 10.30 outside City Hall. To register your interest for the protest, visit March of the Mummies Locations – Pregnant Then Screwed. Or Volunteer for March of the Mummies! – Pregnant Then Screwed. Also, visit www.mustardhr.co.uk.
Featured image of Lucy Feavearyear, by charlottegrayphotography.co.uk