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Work life: Dealing with people

Living
 Work life: Dealing with people (Photo: Maureen Osiche)

As it often happens, the time had come for Maureen Osiche to search for greener pastures. She had a job, but she applied for another one, went to the interviews and clinched the job of regional HR.

Excitedly, she went back to her old job and resigned. Her manager informed the CEO, and what happened next would be a life and career-defining moment for her.

“The CEO said he needed to talk to me. I think I had just met him once when I had gone to do a presentation,” she says.

Apparently, the CEO had been impressed by what she presented that day and told her he could not have to lose her.

I think I was one of the professional HRs in his company. He asked what he could give me, so I gave him the contract I had been given and he was able to match it coin for coin.

I told him I wanted to go back to school and he said he would pay it, yet it was about Sh600,000. That was somebody saying, ‘You are valuable and we will do whatever it takes to keep you.’”

It was very validating - all her hard work had paid off.

Maureen, 38, grew up as the firstborn of five children, in Mumias, her parents were teachers. Their teacher salary, plus the philanthropic heart of her father which led him to pay school fees for other children, meant that they did not have enough money to meet all their needs.

She figured it would be up to her to step up to the plate and be the game-changer and help her siblings and parents.

“True to that, when I got my first job, I took a loan and assisted my brother in enrolling at Daystar University. Later on, I offered accommodation and chipped in where required when my other brother joined JKUAT (Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology),” she says.

“So I always believed that working hard and getting what I wanted in life was very instrumental in changing the landscape of our family.”

Nairobi was a very foreign place when she arrived, and just being in the big city straight from the village was scary in itself. She was there to study Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) at Kenyatta University (KU).

“My BCom course was also moved from the main campus to Parklands Campus. Parklands was expensive, so I had to look for accommodation elsewhere. My uncle connected me to a lady who was living somewhere in Upper Hill, in one of the Railway Houses with a garage. I lived with her in that garage,” she says.

“I had no fare, so I would walk from Upper Hill to Parklands for classes and then back to Upper Hill. It was very tiring and I often lacked the most basic things like water. These challenges were something else but I had to keep pushing because I knew what I wanted.”

Another unexpected thing happened – she got pregnant, suddenly having to grow up much faster. And then, later on, amidst the dizzying pace her life was moving in, she got married at 22 while still in university.

“When I got married so young, I didn’t look at it the way you should, as companionship and all that. I got married for the wrong reasons. All that took a mental toll on me,” she says.

“It was a mistake because it changed the landscape of a lot of things. I did not get the experience you should have as a young lady, of moving to your place and such. I only got to learn that I could also have my own space later in life. Not that the person I got married to was bad, but the timing was wrong.”

However, she is not one to wallow for long. She took it all in stride, as evidenced by the fact that on the flip side of the coin, she also got her first job opportunity before finishing university. Not the one she was in school for, but one that ended up changing her life forever.

“I did Bcom in Accounting in KU, but when I was in my fourth year I went for attachment. There is this manager who hired me. She has always been my mentor and is at Access Kenya Group. She hired me as an intern to assist in the admin work of the HR department. I was hardworking because I knew I needed that job given my background and everything,” says Maureen.

She did not go back to university as a full-time student but had to take evening classes because the manager wanted her on board. That was how she got her first job in HR instead of Accounting.

She was later promoted to HR admin, earning sh 15,000 which was a lot of money to her then. She was then later confirmed as an HR officer permanently in the same company.

She then went back to school to perfect her HR skills, eventually ending up with a global HR accreditation. She would rise through the ranks and today, she is the Human Resource Manager at a global health insurance company, Cigna.

“It’s an American Insurance Company with a global presence. I am in charge of HRM in the Kenya office. It entails disseminating the global HR strategy to make sure that the African market meets its strategic objectives around HR, workforce and people,” Maureen explains.

As an HR practitioner who has walked the talk on how to rise through the ranks, we asked her what it took and what it would take for other people to do the same. She says that one quality she has that stands out for her is just doing what you are supposed to do.

You have to be very diligent at your job, and when you’re given a job, do it without having to be supervised, she says that that is the only way you remain relevant in your job.

“People should be able to count on you. Be very honest and have integrity. Your papers can get you a job but they cannot keep you there. Integrity and honesty will keep you in that job,” says Maureen.

“I am one person who my boss would say, ‘Look, Maureen has got this.’ Being dependable. Being trustworthy. That is one thing that has taken me where I am right now. Anywhere you go, they will always tell you, ‘That lady delivers.’”

She also credits being firm but fair in her work, not letting power go to her head but interacting with people, getting to know what they are going through, being there for them, and being empathetic.

“You are dealing with human beings, so empathy is very key. And then going back to thank God for everything that you achieve,” she says.

At the same time, she also had to make sacrifices, including letting go of some toxic friendships and toxic familial ties.

“It reached a point in my life where I had to shed quite several friends. I only have three girlfriends. These three are people with whom we sit and have constructive discussions, talk about investments, go for sherehe – at the end of it we think about what our endgame is,” she says.

“I have also shed off some of my relatives. Some of them can be a bit toxic. That toxicity sometimes pulls you back. You might think you are trying to help, but once you help you hear some toxic comments and they kind of pull your spirit down. I keep lean relationships, be it friends, be it relatives.”

Her advice is to cut off early and have a lean circle, picking one or two friends who can be there for you and go to the ends of the earth for you. In general, she gives one piece of advice for everyone to chew on: Make good decisions in life and that will take you far.

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