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“Doing It Her Way”: Meet Casandra Rhoomes, Head of HR at ellenor.

Casandra Rhoomes knew she wanted to be in Human Resources (HR) ever since her university days.

But at that time – around 25 years ago – HR wasn’t a well-known profession. Companies weren’t offering placements or internships; HR was simply too difficult to break into.

That’s when Casandra decided to take a different approach.

One day, while riding the Waterloo & City line to her lectures, she spotted a man holding a bag with the words ‘HR Conference’. Casandra’s eyes lit up and as he left the tube, she ran after him – and their conversation kick-started her HR career.

Casandra’s HR career has since led her through various positions including roles within the NHS, and then on to a number of people-focused roles across the non-profit and public sectors. Today, she’s Head of HR at ellenor: a hospice charity providing care and support to life-limited and end of life patients in Kent and Bexley, along with their families.

She leads a team of six in ellenor’s HR department. Between them, they’re responsible for recruitment and onboarding staff, learning and development, retention, employee relations and off-boarding. They’re the first port of call for any team members who have challenges in their day-to-day roles.

“Our main role,” Casandra explains, “is to act as a conduit between the employee and management. It’s a dual role which in itself is a skill that is often overlooked. I’m passionate about being fair; that, whatever the circumstances, the process is fair. Just as our nurses need to be compassionate with our patients, we – as HR – strive to show the same compassion to our staff.”

That said, Casandra is quick to acknowledge that the public perception of HR might not always be so positive. HR professionals are sometimes viewed as ‘enforcers’, responsible for safeguarding the business’s interests – rather than prioritising the needs of its employees.

The reality, she says with a wry smile, couldn’t be further from the truth.

“My husband often likens HR to the police! I don’t like this term. We’re not here to police people. We don’t create the organisation’s policies and enforce them; we’re simply here to advise on best practice and to ensure those policies are applied fairly and appropriately.

“People often assume that HR is always on the side of managers – but that’s not the case. We are there to make sure both sides understand the process and depending on the situation support either the manager or the employee through the process, we act as intermediaries, bridging the gap between the manager and employee to make sure that both sides understand the process, and that everyone feels that process is being interpreted correctly. Our function is to clarify, facilitate understanding and ensure both the organisation policy and the law is followed.”

This openness and commitment to the right resolution – for all parties – is reflected in Casandra’s warm, welcoming nature.  It is not only evident in her words but also in her open-door policy which always stands wide open.

But it’s more than an open door, a smile, and over two decades of HR experience Casandra has brought to her role as Head of HR: it’s a fresh pair of eyes, too.

“In the past, there’s been a tendency to follow certain established methods. While I understand that these practices had their reasons – there’s always an opportunity to improve, change and grow. One of the reasons I’m here is to challenge the status quo. To ask why, and ask – what else can we do?”

To this end, Casandra’s team has been amazing.

“I love my team,” says Casandra, beaming. “They’re all such hard workers: showing up every day and putting their whole hearts into everything they do. In turn, they feel listened to – like their ideas are valued and taken on board.”

Listening to Casandra speak, it’s clear her passion for HR remains unwavering – even after many years in the field. With that in mind, we ask – how does the future of HR look? And how will ellenor’s own HR team need to adapt and evolve to meet the industry’s ever-shifting needs?

For Casandra, it comes down to understanding the emerging generations; in learning what motivates the next cohort of potential ellenor employees.

“HR practices need to change to match how Gen Z thinks. Technology has advanced and the way Gen Z interacts with it is different from older generations do. To attract future employees, we must explore innovative methods – and stay ahead of the curve.

“Younger generations bring vital skills to organisations like ellenor. But at the same time, we have a responsibility to guide and help them understand that the working world is a different environment to university or school. We’re here to support their transition.

ellenor is Casandra’s first role in hospice care. And she admits that, having had few direct experiences with hospices, it wasn’t the industry that drew her to the role at ellenor – but the charity’s values and vision.

So how has Casandra found working at ellenor?

“Everyone here is passionate about their work,” she says. “They deeply care about the services we provide, and about making sure that every patient in our care is treated with respect and cared for in the right way.

“I’ve worked in a lot of different environments, but very few compare to the genuine warmth and friendliness of the people at ellenor. You don’t always find that. But I think, because people are so passionate about what ellenor does, they go the extra mile”.

We want to end the interview not only on a positive note – but a musical one, too. So we ask: is there a song that sums up HR?

Casandra chuckles. It’s a question she’s already put to her team, so she’s quick to rattle off a few of ellenor’s HR heroes’ best ballads.

“Well, there’s Survivor, by Destiny’s Child. Frank Sinatra’s My Way. There’s also I’m Still Standing by Elton John – because sometimes you have to persevere through challenges!”

But Casandra’s favourite reflecting her commitment to foster a healthy work/life balance for her team – comes from the voice of Dolly Parton…

9 to 5!