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A day in the life of… Sarah Aslam, ER Lead at Signet Jewelers
18 January,2024 | by Natalie Fresen (The Retail Bulletin)
In this interview, we talk to Sarah Aslam, Employee Relations Lead at Signet Jewelers to find out more about her role.
Sarah shares insights into her dynamic role, managing diverse employee relations matters and embracing technological shifts. With almost 20 years at Signet, she highlights the challenges and rewards of HR, emphasising adaptability and positive impact.
Walk me through a typical day in your role? What are the key responsibilities and tasks that you handle regularly?
A typical day for me involves managing a variety of responsibilities within employee relations and every day is different and interesting. It could range from dealing with complex cases and taking notes for investigations to supporting managers in application of our policies and procedures. My team and I also use a case management system to handle everything from flexible work requests to long-term sick cases. On any given day, my tasks vary from coaching the team to analysing trends in order to address specific issues proactively.
How did you end up in HR, was it deliberate and after 20 years, what keeps you motivated on a day-to-day basis?
Honestly, I stumbled into HR quite unexpectedly. I applied for what I thought was a PA role, only to discover in the interview that it was in personnel and not a PA secretarial role! I just went for it. I was young and it was a great in the moment decision because HR is dynamic and the gratification of resolving issues still keeps me energised.
What’s fascinating is the significant shift from the paper-heavy days of fax machines and manual record filing to the digital efficiency we experience now. The fact that each day brings something new is what I love the most—it allows me to make a positive impact on both individuals and the overall business.
How have you seen yourself grow or develop professionally since starting in this role? Are there specific skills or knowledge areas that you’ve gained over time?
Over the years, I’ve experienced significant growth, especially when transitioning from an individual contributor to leading a team. I completed the CIPD program in leadership, focusing on behaviours to drive team performance. The experience has given me the confidence to lead and manage a team effectively. Additionally, I’ve developed skills in case management, analytics, and proactive problem-solving.
Looking ahead, what do you see as the next steps or potential growth opportunities in your career within HR?
I see ongoing opportunities for growth, especially in the evolving landscape of HR. Personally, I aim to continue building on my leadership skills and explore new technologies that can enhance our processes. As HR continues to adapt, staying current and embracing change will be key for future growth.
Every job has its challenges. Can you share some aspects of your role that you find particularly difficult, and how do you navigate through those challenges?
One challenge is managing the balance between being hands-on with my team and handling strategic aspects of employee relations. Additionally, navigating through restructurings, like the one during the pandemic, can be tough. I tackle these challenges by empowering my team, promoting open communication, and leveraging technology to streamline processes.
On the flipside, what moments or aspects of your job make you think, “Wow, this is amazing!”? Are there specific accomplishments or experiences that stand out to you?
One recent accomplishment that stands out is implementing a case management system. It has significantly improved efficiency, providing real-time data and insights. Seeing positive outcomes in employee relations matters and witnessing my team grow into their roles are also incredibly rewarding moments.
For someone considering a career in retail or HR, why do you think they should pursue it? What makes this role rewarding or unique, and what advice would you give to someone starting out in this field?
A career in HR, especially in retail, offers a dynamic and fast-paced environment. It’s a role where you can make a meaningful impact on both individuals and the business. Adaptability, positivity towards change, and empathy are crucial traits. My advice would be to stay open-minded, embrace change, and understand that every individual is unique, requiring different approaches.
How do you collaborate with other departments or team members in your day-to-day activities? What’s the team dynamic like, and how does it contribute to the success of the overall operation?
Collaboration is key in HR. I work closely with other departments and team members, providing support and advice. Our team dynamic is built on trust and open communication. This contributes to the overall success by ensuring that everyone is aligned, and issues are addressed collaboratively.
If you had to describe your job to someone in just a few sentences, what would you say? What makes it stand out among other roles in the retail industry?
As an ER Lead in HR at Signet Jewellers, I handle a diverse range of employee relations matters, from complex cases to disciplinary proceedings. What makes it standout is the constant evolution of the role, the variety of tasks, and the ability to positively impact both individuals and the overall organisation.
Celebrating20 years with Signet in September is a milestone I’m proud of, considering my humorous start when I accidentally applied for a personnel assistant role thinking it was a personal assistant!
What’s your go to way to kick back and find balance after a day at work?
Balancing work and personal life is really important. I unwind by spending quality time with family and friends, going on holidays, and enjoying activities like going to the gym, shopping with my two daughters, and afternoon tea. Creating boundaries, both physically and mentally, helps me disconnect from work and relax after a challenging day. And, of course, my adorable dog Barney is a perfect companion for those essential moments of relaxation.
A first for Signet and a first for the UK, we’re the first on the high street!
Helping customers celebrate their love stories means that every week is always full of memorable moments, however earlier in the year was a particularly special one, because we are the first on the UK high street to launch Origin, our new and exclusive traceable diamond collection.
Like all Ernest Jones diamonds, each one in this collection is conflict free and responsibly sourced, but now, using state-of-the art blockchain technology, customers can trace the steps of their diamond’s unique journey from its origin so they can be fully confident in where it came from. Leading the way in trust and transparency, we’re also working towards a more sustainable future, with each of the beautiful 28 diamond rings in the Origin collection, handcrafted in recycled gold or platinum which is also fully traceable and made in factories using renewable energy.
We are proud to have reached a major fundraising milestone, raising £250k for Young Lives vs Cancer in microdonations, through our partnership with UK Fintech charity, Pennies. The milestone which represents the total raised so far, since the start of our partnership with Pennies in 2019, was reached thanks to one million individual micro-donations, made by our big-hearted customers and team members who are invited to make a donation via our card terminal screens when they come to pay for their purchase.
Just to put things into perspective, a month of microdonations in our stores could pay for two weeks of support from a Young Lives vs Cancer social worker, to help children, young people and their families deal with all the emotional, financial and practical challenges that they face throughout cancer treatment and beyond.
Sarah Smith, Partnerships Fundraiser at Young Lives vs Cancer, said:
“We can’t thank everyone at Signet enough for their generosity and support to help children and young people with cancer get the specialist support they need to cope with the many impacts of cancer.
Pennies CEO, Alison Hutchinson CBE, added:
“Congratulations to the team at Signet and their generous customers for reaching over one million micro-donations – those small acts of generosity have enabled all those pennies to add up £250,000 making a huge difference for the great work that Young Lives vs Cancer does so brilliantly. Thank you to Signet for being a wonderful partner.”
We’ve partnered with premium Swiss watch brand Rado, to open the first Rado boutique in the UK.
The boutique is situated next door to our Ernest Jones store in the Merry Hill shopping centre.
“We are very proud of our long and valued partnership with Rado, which spans over three decades. As one of their key retail partners in the UK, we are delighted to be strengthening it further by creating an exciting customer experience that combines our trusted retail expertise with the strength of the Rado brand," said Signet UK and Ireland MD, Neil Old.
The boutique features Rado’s signature collections presented alongside some boutique-only exclusive pieces.
Adrian Bosshard, Rado CEO, commented,
“Rado, as Master of Materials, is very happy to offer to our customers, a premium retail experience to feel the difference of the Rado brand. We are convinced that Rado and Ernest Jones customers will be very excited to discover our unique products in such a warm and inviting environment.”