One regret, one hope with James Saville

Reading time: 4 minutes
In this series, Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, chats to members of our community to find out more about them. Each fortnight she’ll be asking, what is the one regret that has shaped their past, and what is their one hope for the future.

This week Mona’s guest is James Saville, Director of Human Resources (HR).

Mona Siddiqui: James tell us, firstly, what is Human Resources?

James Saville: It’s a good question. I’ve always thought it’s a pretty important role because any organisation is about its people, and there can be a whole range of constituent elements about that but ultimately it’s the people that make the difference between why one organisation looks and feels one way and another. I’ve always thought HR is about making sure that the organisation is always set up to succeed, so whether that’s in recruiting the right people, developing people once they’re with you, making people want to stay in terms of how you treat people when they’re there, and how they feel about working with and for an organisation. Often there’s an important piece within HR that perhaps has got missed a little bit too much in recent years which is about the human bit of resources. I’ve always hated the human resources title, as in my mind it does a disservice to what we’re really talking about, which is people. I always think that my role and my team’s role is to make sure that everyone remembers that people element in everything we try to do and ultimately it has to be a balance between people’s desires, wants and needs, and an organisations because for all of us we need an organisation to be successful if it’s going to continue to employ us. So there’s sort of a virtuous circle I like to think we’re working to create.

MS: You’ve emphasised the people aspect of Human Resources, but I’m just wondering as someone who’s spent almost 25 years working at universities, how does Human Resources actually show that it values the people that work at the organisation?

JS: I think it goes beyond Human Resources. I think anybody working in an organisation, and the University is a perfect example of that, has a role to play in this. I think we certainly get a lot of kudos from new starters about how good things like our flexible benefits packages are. People will always quibble and say that they want more, and that’s perfectly acceptable, and they should – we should be pushed because we should be on the leading edge of employment and I take great pride in thinking that we’re in one of a relatively small group of organisations in the UK that pay the voluntary living wage and have signed up to the alliance. I think things like that are standard bearers of an organisation of this calibre and this desire to be at the leading edge should be striving for those areas. But I also think a lot of it comes down to line management, yes HR plays a role and we can be, if you the like, the Jiminy Cricket on the shoulder of a lot of people, but ultimately line managers are responsible for how something feels locally working with people and also I think people themselves have a responsibility in how they behave.

MS: Do you think that over the last few months, with the challenges of Covid, have you personally in your role faced any particular challenges in how the University has responded and just the management of staff?

JS: It has been horribly difficult for everybody, really has, and I know everybody in senior positions keeps saying this but it honestly fills me with pride every time I think about how the organisation has responded to Covid-19. It has been horribly difficult and I think we’re bound to have made mistakes but I am pleased with the speed with which the University reacted and I’m really pleased with the fact that every step of the way we tried to put the needs of everybody right at the forefront.

MS: As you know these interviews are about one regret one hope, so looking back at your recent or distant past is there one regret, either personally or professionally, you can share with us?

JS: Being very personal and very honest, some people may know because I’ve been open about it, I suffer from anxiety and depression, and I think one regret that I’ve got is that I didn’t understand that early enough and I didn’t get a diagnosis of that as early as perhaps might have been helpful to me. You might wonder why, I don’t regret that I have anxiety and depression and that’s part of me and actually shapes who I am and what I am. I think if I’d had a diagnosis earlier it would have helped me make more sense of it and probably helped me do things differently at a formative point.

MS: Thanks for sharing that James, and now what is one hope you carry forward with you?

JS: I think this is a slightly broader one but I’m genuinely hoping that off the back of what has been a dreadful eighteen months for the world we can retain the good we’ve learnt and that we don’t just drift back to old ways. I think within that, what I’m seeing across society at the moment and it is being reflected a little bit, unfortunately, at Edinburgh and the use of social media and all those things, is people taking quite polarised opinions on things and that for me, in a University, is not a good place to be because we have to work with freedom of expression and we have to work with different views and opinions and we have to talk things through and find ways forward. I think that almost being nice to each other, probably a bit utopian and completely unrealistic but I think that’s what I would say.

Photography: TartanZone Media