Celebrating the career and life of Dr Penny Tamkin

IES News

4 Oct 2018

It is with great sadness that we note the passing of Dr Penny Tamkin. Looking back on the extraordinary life and career of our much-loved colleague and friend, who sadly passed away earlier this week, there will be many who will recall with fondness the personal impact she had both on their work and their personal development.

Many of Penny’s qualities as a researcher and as a leader reflected both her decency and her humanity. The authenticity with which she led, supported and developed her colleagues, and the relentless and unshakable positivity and optimism she brought to her work, are especially noteworthy.

Penny was a determined believer that leaders can make a transformative impact on the performance of both individuals and organisations, and few people can have tried harder than she did to embody this belief in their own leadership style.

When she joined IES in 1993, she had already established herself as a seasoned HR professional with plenty of hands-on experience in sometimes challenging working environments. In subsequent years, she was able to effortlessly tread a path between the pragmatism of the HR practitioner and the more rarefied heights of applied and academic research. She managed to rise steadily through the hierarchy at IES at the same time as bringing up two children and studying first for an economics qualification and then a PhD.

Her reputation as one of the UK’s most prominent HR researchers was built on a number of hard-hitting and high-impact studies looking, for example, at the diversity impact of performance reviews across the Civil Service, the contribution of people management to business performance and the characteristics of outstanding leaders. She approached even the most complex projects with a cheerful ‘can-do’ attitude which always infected her colleagues and inspired them to give of their best.

Penny found out that she was seriously ill just over a year ago. It was a devastating blow, especially for her wonderful family, and her over-riding concern was for those around her. She told me that she was determined not to get angry that her life was to end so prematurely – that to do so would be corrosive and unhelpful.

In the year that followed she has, despite a slow deterioration in her health and several painful and frustrating setbacks, remained lucid, positive and dignified. Despite her health preventing her from working – eventually forcing her retirement several weeks ago – Penny was ready to offer solid advice and a much-needed sense of perspective both to me and several of her peers.

The very many colleagues, both at IES and at The Work Foundation, who had the privilege of working with her, will always remember her cheerfulness, her positivity, and the infectious laughter that echoed through the office whenever she was around. She made no enemies because she always saw the best in people and her core belief was that much more can be achieved through cooperation than through conflict.

Her legacy will be that she stuck to these principles – and showed that they work – even through the most testing times.

Everyone at IES – current and past colleagues, our trustees, our clients and collaborators – have lost a great friend and a role model, but our thoughts are now with her family; her wonderful husband, Rick, her two fantastic daughters and her grandchildren. Her love for them was intense and her pride in them was unwavering.

While it will be hard for all of us not to mourn Penny, what she would really want is for us to celebrate and redouble our efforts to promote the fine values for which she stood, exemplified during the brilliant years during which she enriched our lives.