Once upon a time in a tiny island nation, the good people of the land only had three channels to watch, and two of three of those channels were owned by the BBC. But in 1982, seeing that more entertainment was required, Channel 4 was launched, and TV history was made.
In fact, the entertainment needs of the populace were deemed so important, that in 1979, both main political parties included the necessity of a fourth channel in their election manifestos. The 1980 Broadcasting Act included provisions for this media newbie and two years later, Channel 4 made British television history by, well, existing.
Forty-one years later, the media organisation is a stalwart of British broadcasting (although it was not broadcast in Wales until 2010), and produces some of the nation’s – and the world’s – most-beloved programming, including The Great British Bakeoff, The Inbetweeners, Hollyoaks, Gogglebox and Come Dine with Me.
The broadcaster now operates the All4 streaming service, as well as 12 TV channels.
Channel 4 is a very special place where you can make a difference and get your voice heard
Head of People
Such a weighty history could be intimidating to someone starting out with the company, particularly if that person’s role was to make sure that others in the company are happy, well and productive. But for Kirstin Furber, helping people be their best is what first attracted her to HR.
“I have always been fascinated by people and what makes people do great things,” she tells myGrapevine magazine Editor Sarah Williams in an interview. “When I went to university, I opted to study all the HR components within a business degree and from there, I became very interested in cultures and environments where people can thrive.”
In 2022, Channel 4 invested £5million and supported 23,000+ people with training, development and learning opportunities through 4Skills, Channel 4’s training and development programme. This investment is set to increase to £10million by 2025.
“This year, we have invested heavily in our learning and development support and it’s great to be able to provide learning in-person again!” says Furber. “We have an approach where we offer self-learning through the Learning Hive, that curates our digital and bespoke in-person programmes.
“Employees can sign up and, in some instances, employees are volunteered by their managers for programmes that will support their careers. Later this year we will launch our Career Pathing tool, that will provide employees with future careers they may want to consider and importantly what they would need to do to be successful.”
Having worked for some time with both the BBC and fintech companies, Furber joined Channel 4 mid-pandemic in 2020 – no easy feat for a People Director.
The broadcast and media industry, like any other industry, presents its own unique challenge set, and Furber acknowledges that it takes finesse to move sectors while keeping abreast of the latest HR ideas.
“Every industry is different and requires skills, therefore you can’t compare, really. What I can say about media and production is that it’s a very relationship-driven industry – our competitive advantage as a sector is literally our people! So it’s about engaging with people, being curious and understanding the industry,” she explains.
But industry specifics aside, Furber quickly rolled her sleeves up and rolled out some great initiatives.
The one she’s particularly invested in, 4Women, is one of the company’s ERGs, which works to make the workplace better for women and non-binary employees.
“I am immensely proud of 4Women, which I’m the executive sponsor for,” she shares. “This ERG worked hard to create and put in place our Menopause policy, our Pregnancy Loss policy.”
In addition, in November last year, the organisation introduced a partnership with Hertility, which allows Channel 4 employees who wish to, the ability to screen for possible reproductive issues via a free at-home test. It also screens for hormonal issues that may be impacting mental and physical wellbeing – certainly a bold step in supporting employees in issues surrounding reproductivity.
Furber refers to Channel 4’s great work in this area as part of their journey toward being a “reproductively responsible employer” – an admirable goal that will no doubt form an important part of the firm’s wellbeing and benefits offering.
I passionately believe it’s critical that, as HR leaders we look after ourselves
Furber’s other passion project is her work on helping people combat the feeling of dread or anxiety they may experience before starting their work week – typically referred to as “the Sunday scaries”. The HR pro blogs about this in both a professional and personal capacity on her website, as well as helping to implement mitigations to this feeling at Channel 4.
“That feeling you get on a Sunday that can impact your weekend and how you start your week is really important to discuss,” Furber says. As an HR leader it’s critical to create environments where people can do their best work. It’s competitive out there!”
This is such a passion of hers, in fact, that at Furber’s initiation, Channel 4 worked with Investors in People and the University of Exeter on a study about the Sunday night blues, and found that blurred work boundaries, weekend emails, and the combination of home and work life were to blame for a lot of these feelings.
According to the study, research shows that two-thirds of Britons suffer anxiety and sleeplessness on Sunday night, all related to work.
“Interviews with professionals from across the media industry have shown that triggers of the Sunday Scaries can include receiving emails over the weekend, unfinished work from the week before and self-imposed pressure to perform.”
The survey involved 650 professionals within the media industry, and found that even those who reported loving their job still experienced this feeling at an alarming rate. As part of Furber’s passionate work, as well as working with study results, Channel 4 is suggesting some fixes at the company, but in addition, the University of Exeter is in the midst of creating a toolkit for employers with helpful suggestions such as making a ‘to do’ list on a Friday for the following week, and organising positive interactions on a Monday so people have something to look forward to.
“For example,” says Furber, “at Channel 4, we’ll suggest that managers speak to their teams to ask them what would help them be at their best on a Monday, whether that’s a Monday morning check in and/or a Friday ‘check out’ to reflect on the past week. Also, as a manager try not to send emails during the weekend.”
I have always been fascinated by people and what makes people do great things
While the work that organisations and managers do to help employees dread Mondays less is important, one thing HR professionals are often guilty of is not extending their pastoral duty of care to themselves. Most studies show that HR is the most stressed-out profession, with a Perkbox study of 16,000 people in 50 cities reporting that a saddening 79% of HR leaders reported unhealthy or unmanageable levels of stress.
Of course, Furber has thought of this, too.
“I passionately believe it’s critical that, as HR leaders we look after ourselves when it comes to the Sunday scaries, so we can look after others,” she says. “Think about your diary on Monday – have you built in space for you? Have your mixed your day with difficult and positive meetings?”
Personally, Furber uses yoga to switch off mentally and physically, and shares that it’s helped her so much, that she trained to be a yoga instructor a few years ago.
“Doing something different physically and mentally really helps me switch off and/or put things in perspective. This was something very much tested during lock down!”
While the rest of us will continue enjoying the company’s broadcast output, at least we can do so rest assured (whether on Sunday night or not), that Channel 4’s employee wellbeing is in good hands.