People focus drives Sarah in HR career

Tue October, 6th 2020

Elastomers Australia Human Resources Manager Sarah Homsi lives by the same values that drive the company.

She is a people person and has a firm belief that if an organisation treats its people with respect, they will perform at their best.

“Elastomers Australia’s senior management team is so big on communication and respect, and that creates a fantastic culture,” Sarah says.

“There’s a real sense that our people are the reason for our success and although we’ve grown considerably over the years, we never forget where we came from and why we’re successful. We take the view that we are one team and operate that way.”

It is that interest in people that led Sarah into the human resources field in the first place.

While many people come to HR from different vocational areas, high school studies set Sarah on her path earlier than most.

As part of a business management class, she became interested in the topic of HR, and under the guidance of a motivational teacher, pursued the field as part of her university business degree, majoring in management and human resources.

“I always wanted to be in a people-focused position, to talk to them and help them to achieve their best,” Sarah says.

“There are some connotations about HR being largely focused on having difficult conversations and dealing with complex situations, but I’ve found the rewarding aspects far outweigh those notions.”

Following a two-month work experience placement with Elastomers Australia in 2014 while still studying, Sarah was alerted to the opportunity of some casual work over the summer.

“I really enjoyed my placement with Elastomers Australia, so as soon as I finished my final exams, I contacted the company again and two weeks later was working in a casual role,” she said.

“One thing led to another and I’ve been here ever since.”

In Sarah’s opinion, even those “difficult conversations” can lead to positive outcomes.

“Performance management has very negative connotations, but if it’s conducted in the right way, it can be very much about helping a person develop and improve their skills and understanding,” Sarah said.

“I take the view that people are human, they make mistakes and they are able to learn and change.

“It really comes down to ensuring individuals and the organisation have aligned beliefs and values.

“As HR professionals, we sit in the middle. We hear people’s voices and understand the company’s goals – and our primary role is to try to align those things. Managing upwards is an important part of that.”

Sarah says that even over the past five years, much has changed in the way HR professionals work within organisations.

She points to flexible work arrangements, more open approaches to mental health, and the ways in which employers and staff interact as some of the big shifts.

“It’s no longer a one-size-fits-all approach to employment and people management,” Sarah said.

“Managers have to be very diverse and adaptable in the way they manage and engage.”

“One of the biggest shifts is the realisation – only quite recently – that work and personal life are circular. Each impacts the other in positive and negative ways, and managers must be acutely aware of that when it comes to their day-to-day interactions with staff.

“It’s changed the roles and functions of HR professionals quite significantly. We become business partners, helping staff and the leadership teams to develop their skillsets when it comes to human interactions.

“Staff no longer just see HR if there’s a problem but also to gain input into growing their careers and achieving specific goals.”

The COVID-19 crisis has had an impact, but flexibility and adaptability are keys to effective management. It’s something everyone at Elastomers Australia has had to take in their stride.

While Sarah was accustomed to travelling to interstate branches on a regular basis to spend valuable face-to-face time with staff, she and the HR team have had to adapt and find alternative ways of interacting.

Her advice is simple and applicable – not just in terms of HR but across any work and personal interaction.

“Don’t resort to email, pick up the phone,” she says. “It’s important to at least have real-time conversations so we can maintain a sense of togetherness.

“We have to be very mindful of the way we communicate when we’re not in the same room. It’s vital to be honest and transparent, and to ensure there’s still a lot of involvement and consultation with people at all levels.

“That’s the best way to build and maintain a positive culture.”

Sarah says she is grateful for the opportunities presented to her at Elastomers Australia over the past five years.

“I am truly blessed to be part of such a great team and supportive company,” she says.

“I wake up looking forward to every work day and to helping staff, and that is about the best indicator I can think of that there’s a great culture at Elastomers Australia.”