Day in the life of… Director of HR at Chester Zoo Jane Hubbard

Guest Author
Last updated on 5th November 2019
3 min read

Jane Hubbard is the Director of Human Resources at Chester Zoo. She has been leading the HR team there since 2014. We spoke to her about her days at the zoo, mindfulness, and her advice for HR professionals.

My day starts early — and with some mindfulness

People will probably think I’m strange but I’m generally up at 5am. I like to do some stretches, check my diary for the day and practice a little bit of mindfulness.

I find mindfulness helps me in all aspects of my life and work. Chester Zoo is like many other organizations in that mental health issues are probably the biggest cause of sick absence.

I don’t think this is all to do with workplaces though; I think it’s more to do with the general pace of life. People seem to think you should meditate for 40 minutes a day, but even three minutes is fine, and the simplest mindfulness techniques can have a huge impact on your stress levels.

‘Good morning, HR team!’

I get into work between 8am and 8:30am—but I was a bit late this morning because I was feeding the pigs down the lane. I have about a 30-minute commute. When I get into work, I always greet the team by saying, “Good morning, team HR!”

I have a fantastic team. It’s a real privilege to lead them and I don’t think they realize just how proud I am of them and what we’ve achieved together over the past four years; although I do keep telling them!

They’re so willing, they’ll volunteer for anything and smash it every time. That’s what I’m after, that willingness to get stuck in. My deputy, Zoe, is an absolute stalwart. We’re like yin and yang—we really complement each other, and it means we end up with very balanced solutions.

A day at the zoo

There’s no typical day at the zoo. I’ve got 42 teams with 500 permanent employees, just as many seasonal employees and 200 active volunteers.

Plus, all those people are spread over a 125-acre site that includes more than 15,000 animals, five national plant collections and just under two million visitors a year.

Feeding time

Lunchtime’s totally dependent on what we’ve got going on. We have an incredible canteen that serves fresh food and healthy options from local suppliers.

The food and beverage team like to offer a good range and balance of food of homemade food. Some of our staff walk upwards of 12 miles a day, so they need a carb-heavy diet, whereas the office staff usually want less carbs and more protein.

I try to get out into the zoo, but at the moment we’re incredibly busy, so it’s often a standing lunch.  I have a standing desk and I sometimes conduct meetings standing up too. My understanding is that the mind works better when the body’s active.

What’s on my desk…

I’ve always got numerous projects on the go at once.

On my desk right now is a reminder to prepare the HR report for the next trustee meeting, there’s an event request to host a local HR group meeting next March, and there’s an agenda to finalize for the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums HR and Organizational Development Working Group, which I chair.

I’ve also got a succession plan scoping document to work on, and an end-point assessment plan for KATS (Keeper and Aquarists Trailblazing Standards). I’ve brought together 24 employees who work in the zoo, attractions and wildlife arena to develop a vocational qualification for keepers and aquarists.

Relaxing at home

I usually head home about 6pm. My commute is the only time of day I’m really alone, so it gives me a chance to think, reflect and formulate ideas.

In the evenings, I have a very good friend I like to relax with… and that’s Shiraz! Also, my partner and I live in an incredibly beautiful part of the country overlooking Moel Famau—the view is outstanding. Every day I look at that view and take a deep breath to bring everything back into focus.

Our evening routine

My partner and I have a nice evening routine. Monday is our reading night, Tuesday is personal admin night, Wednesday we’re thinking about the weekend and getting the internet shop done, Thursday is our cheeky takeaway night (well, we’re waiting for the internet shop), then Friday, it’s the weekend and time to put our feet up or, conversely, live it up with friends.

My biggest piece of advice for HR professionals

Before you come into HR, you need to gain worldly work experience. How can you have credibility with your employees if you’ve never been an employee? I’m not disputing the fact that HR professionals are employees, but you’ll gain more respect if you can understand where other employees are coming from.

Make sure that even if you can’t work in an operational environment, you go and find out what it’s like. Discover what’s best for them, and what’s worst for them. You must develop your empathy to really grow as a HR leader.

A passion for people

I’m an avid reader—I have about six books on the go at any one time because I like to dip in and out of them.

Whenever I discover something new or interesting, I make it my mission to weave it into my conversations with my team. For example, the other week I learnt the word ‘nomenclature’, and a few days later I used it in a sentence. I think you’ve got to apply the things you read for them to really sink in. And it’s good fun!

Bedtime is around 9pm, but I never fully switch off. People are my passion and my profession, so I love my work and I like to always be available.  My Twitter handle is @JaneHubbard247 because I was born on 24th July, and because I’m a 24/7 girl!

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