A Day in the Life of… a General Manager at Unite Students
8 March 2023
Unite Students’ Day in the Life series is back to shine a spotlight on more of our frontline employees and the fantastic work they do in our city teams.
First up is Karina Croft, General Manager for Leeds North, who has been with Unite Students since 2005 and last year won the CEO Award at our internal Stars Awards – we hear about a typical day in her role, how it felt to be recognised, and the most unusual situation she’s had to deal with.
What does a typical day in the life of a General Manager look like at Unite Students?
I wouldn’t say there’s a typical day in my role, but I spend a lot of time managing the team so that we can create an environment for our students in which they feel safe and can have fun, and for our team where they enjoy coming to work as well.
We have one-to-ones, and quarterly performance reviews with the management teams that they can then cascade that down to the team members. I also have ad-hoc conversations with people as and when they need them – I’ve got an open door policy so if people do need to come to me, they can. It’s about creating somewhere where we’re open to conversations and trying to make things better. That’s the environment I’m trying to create.
I also work with our Higher Education partners quite regularly. We do reviews with them to ensure that they’re happy with how we’re working where we’ve got nominations agreements with them. Often we just have catch-ups to make sure we’re working alongside each other. It’s just really important to keep those relationships going strong.
How do you keep yourself and your team motivated?
I think it comes down to always creating an element of fun. There are days that can be slightly more challenging, and we have to work out situations, but if there’s that element of fun then everybody can buy into what’s going on.
I also think it’s important to create a calm environment where people have time to understand what’s going on, what they need to do, and how they contribute. It creates better buy-in and a nicer environment for everybody, which then ties into people understanding how they fit within the city structure and the wider organisation.
What’s the most unusual situation you’ve had to deal with in your role?
One that does come to mind is an occasion when I was doing kitchen inspections in one of my previous roles within the business, and I went into a communal kitchen where somebody had taken it upon themselves to cover every single item in tinfoil in order to prank their flatmates for when they arrived back from their break. So that was interesting – it was literally everything!
So the posters were covered, mugs covered – everything. We did have to give that person a little call after having a bit of laugh about it, and say that they were going to have to take it down and get it sorted.
What’s the favourite thing about working at Unite Students?
I know it’s a bit clichéd, but I do think the people are absolutely what makes Unite Students what it is. I think even on some of the more difficult days that we have, knowing that you’ve got such a great team around you – whether that be those who are in my cluster or whether it be the support functions that we also work with – there’s always great people in this business, and it makes it so much easier to come in, enjoy it and have a bit of fun while we’re all here.
What’s changed within student accommodation over the 18 years that you’ve been working for Unite Students?
Since I started back in 2005, there’s been a massive shift in our focus on student welfare and our student support offering. When I started with the business, that wasn’t something we considered. A lot else has changed, but I think that’s been a real core element that’s made such a massive difference in our students’ lives and, actually, in our teams’ lives as well. They’ve got a better understanding of what’s going on, why it can sometimes be difficult when you’re living away from home, and how we can support them.
Then the introduction of support functions to help operations functions with that is just been amazing. It means that we’re getting better and better with every year that we’re working on it.
Is there any advice you’d give to anyone that wants to work in student accommodation?
I would recommend that they have a level of resilience, because it’s so varied. So you just need to be comfortable with that changing nature of the academic year, even day by day depending on what our students want. So if you are adaptable, I think you’re made for it and can certainly fit in.
You recently won the CEO Awards in our Internal Stars Awards. How does it feel to be recognised?
It did take me by surprise, but it was a massive honour to hear my name called. I certainly wasn’t expecting to hear it. But I think it made it more special when I heard that the nominations had come from my team and people that worked within the cluster of buildings that I managed. It showed that they’re getting on board with what we’re trying to create in Leeds North. It was really a lovely moment, and it’s something that has pride of place on my desk and will stay there forever.
You can watch our previous Day in the Life videos here.