The ambitions and challenges of HR

Heavy workloads, social safety, recognition and rewards: the HR landscape is more extensive and challenging than ever. How does Radboud University deal with today’s HR issues? Patricia (left), HR Director, and Elian (right), HR Manager of the Faculty of Science, talk about the ambitions and challenges of HR within Radboud University.

How is HR organised within Radboud University?

Duo portret van Elian Hondius Boldingh en Patricia Gielis

Patricia: “We have one joint HR division within Radboud University. That’s where experts work on an HR topic, develop university-wide HR policy, prepare development opportunities for all staff members, handle payroll processing or manage HR applications. In addition, our seven faculties and central departments each have their own HR advisory teams who work on HR issues at the faculty or unit level.” 

The different characters of the faculties and the interplay with the central departments makes the work environment at Radboud University extra interesting.

What are the advantages of this type of organisation? 

Elian: “From a faculty perspective, it’s great to be so close to the organisation, which means that supervisors and staff members can always drop in if they have a question or a problem. We advise as best we can on the entire scope of HR, but it’s a real luxury to be able to call in an expert on a certain topic from within the division. This helps us to learn from one another and work together to develop even better HR services.

Patricia: “I wouldn’t want to see us collaborate in any other way. I believe in the ‘one size fits me’ approach rather than ‘one size fits all’. Each faculty has its own identity and issues, and you need a tailored approach if you want to do the right things. This means that an HR expert can write a policy document from within the division which should still be customisable for each faculty.

Elian: “At the Faculty of Science, for example, internationalisation is a big part of our identity, while the Faculty of Law has a more national focus. Our differences make the work environment at Radboud University extra interesting. And we all have different work environments, so we can look at an issue from different angles when doing joint HR projects.”

The university carries out important research, and you contribute indirectly to that as an HR professional.

What is HR’s ambition at Radboud University?

Patricia: “To put it simply: to make you feel it’s the best place to work. To make you feel at home at your work and on campus. To ensure that your talents stand out and that you’re responsible for your own employability. And that, in its role as employer, the university considers your vitality and well-being. The university-wide themes, such as recognition and rewards, personal leadership, the reduction of workload, and diversity, equality and inclusion, reflect this ambition. HR is involved in all of these issues within the university. How great is that?”

Elian: “We also try to be the best employer for everyone, including people with a disability or those at a greater distance from the labour market. Within my team, for example, there’s a staff member who has a severe hearing impairment. Together we look at what work suits him best. We try to do this for everyone in a similar fashion.

What are the major HR challenges we’ll address in the next few years?

Foto van Patricia Gielis

Patricia: “Social safety is an important topic that’s also very much an issue in society at large. We currently distinguish ourselves from other organisations by how high this issue is on the agenda. As a university, we also have an important role in this area. We’re preparing twenty-five thousand students for their social role as researchers or professionals, which means we also want to help them in other ways as they prepare for the world beyond campus. This requires an awareness of the importance of social safety and personal resilience, and what this means for behaviour.” 

Elian: “At the Faculty of Science, we recently organised a successful afternoon for the management which focused on social safety and involved the help of a theatre group. The scenarios they portrayed were so convincing that it felt like you were experiencing them yourself. Everyone got involved straight away and continued to talk about it afterwards. It shows that policy documents aren’t always the solution, but that seeing and feeling something has a much greater impact.” 

Patricia: “In addition to social safety, we hope to reduce the heavy workload within the university and make career paths, particularly those of scientists⁠, more transparent. We’re already distinguishing ourselves in the area of recognition and rewards. While many organisations still work based on performance monitoring, we’ve chosen to approach things from a different angle. We’d like to emphasise how you make a difference from a research and education perspective. That you can experience your contribution is based on the philosophy that everyone has a part to play and everyone’s talents will be accommodated.”

As an HR professional, I never have to be afraid that I, or my people, will have to give counterintuitive advice.

Why do you like working at Radboud University?

Een foto van Elian in gesprek

Elian: “I enjoy working at an organisation with a connection to science. The university carries out important research, and you contribute indirectly to that as an HR professional. Working in a scientific organisation means you’re surrounded by smart people, which challenges you to make a compelling argument. There’s also a great atmosphere throughout the organisation and I feel our HR policy is quite humane. If a poor performance or dismissal case unexpectedly arises, there is scope to take the time necessary to resolve the matter respectfully. As an HR professional, I never have to be afraid that I, or my people, will have to give counterintuitive advice. That’s very important to me as an HR manager, but it’s especially important to me as someone who works in HR.”

Patricia: “My initial work experience was in financial services. Reorganisation and downsizing dominated this field over the past few years, partly due to digitalisation and a change in user requirements. In the next stage of my career, I was keen to work at an organisation central to society and with an important mission: to prepare students for their future role in society. At the same time, I wanted to join an organisation that looks to the future. A growing organisation may have the same HR issues as a shrinking one, but the solution is completely different. I also want to commit to our mission: ‘Radboud University contributes to a healthy, free world with equal opportunities for everyone.’ Each day, I’m committed to ensuring that our HR organisation reflects this mission in the best possible way.”

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