HR & Culture / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Alex Hattingh, Chief People Officer at Employment Hero

Alex Hattingh is the Chief People Officer at Employment Hero, Australia’s first and leading all-in-one cloud HR, benefits and payroll platform.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I relocated to New York when I turned 25 and had the fortune of working at and TMP Worldwide over six years in various HR roles. I then worked for Yahoo! after completing my Masters at Cornell University; a dream that I had originally wanted to pursue in moving to New York City.

I then relocated to Singapore to work for Google in an APAC People Operations role. This allowed me to work across many different unique cultures and countries.

I am thrilled to be back in Australia, working as the Chief People Officer for Employment Hero. A dream job working in a FinTech, SaaS scale-up that is obsessed with making employment easier and more rewarding for everyone!

Prior to Employment Hero, I worked for a start-up in Sydney where I implemented Employment Hero as the people management system, so I had hands-on experience of where technology in a people management platform elevates your role in HR to be more strategic in freeing up and automating so many processes.

In all of my roles, I have had the fortune of working for incredible leaders who I have learned from.

Putting people first is at the centre of where my heart is.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

My days are never dull and certainly never predictable!

First of all, it has taken me years to learn this one: I do not check emails or Slack before work.

This goes for pre-COVID, and now, remote working. Finding a good routine of getting ready first is much better. Checking your phone for emails and Slack messages just starts your day in a frantic manner. Focusing on yourself, and getting ready first sets you up to have a great day.

Today, I started with an update from my LinkedIn feed for industry news, and to check-in on any overnight in-mails, or follow-ups on passive talent searches.

I like to start my day over coffee with my LinkedIn feed. It’s a reminder of why I do what I do; how much I love it and how obsessed I am with people, culture and my industry!

Next is a calendar review. Are there any meetings I need to move? Any I need to prepare for? Any conflicts?

I then do a quick review of my emails. I have learned over the years not to become obsessed by my inbox. You have to focus on the high impact output you can do. If something is important enough, someone will call or set-up a meeting.

Our People and Culture team ‘morning stand-up’ is next. I love seeing my team; hearing how they are; talking about our day ahead; celebrating any wins; talking through barriers and occasionally, talking through not feeling great personally with everything that is going on.

I am so fortunate to have an incredibly talented team who are so committed to creating a better world at work for all of us. This meeting and my team is a real uplifter to my spirits.

This meeting is followed by our ‘leadership stand-up.’ Again, talking about any updates or issues that need addressing from our earlier team stand-ups. Also, focusing on the strategic needs of the business; preparing for our weekly meeting; and discussing employee concerns and how we can address them.

I have regular one-on-one meetings throughout the day to support our managers.

I use Slack for messaging, so I’ll check that for any troubleshooting issues, as well as responding to our people’s needs, asks and questions, as well as coaching and concerns.

I then have a couple of final interviews for crucial roles, followed by approvals with my CFO as we invest in strategic initiatives.

Then come the transactional tasks, such as completing off-boarding for an employee who has resigned; assessing some support options for strategic initiatives we are completing, like workforce planning to support these projects; and some transactional immigration needs.

I also welcomed three new starters after my team completed an incredible virtual induction and on-boarding session.

To end the day, I look over tomorrow’s calendar to make sure I don’t need to reschedule any conflicts, and assess any meetings I need to prepare for.

In my own head, I’m thanking my lucky stars for my amazing team and everything they do on any given day – which just reminded me I need to actually thank them. Which I just did! Through Slack given it’s the end of the day – I always strive to make my team feel recognised and appreciated.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Employment Hero have always supported flexible work.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has seen us take a complete shift to what we are calling a ‘remote-first approach’; this encompasses every role at Employment Hero.

A cadence for communication and meetings has been so vital to our success in shifting to remote work.

Everything from ensuring key communications and engagement strategies, to showing our employees we trust them, and picking up on anyone not coping and how we can address this. We decided to do this after surveying our employees about their experience of working remotely during COVID-19.

Remote-first working has opened up our talent pool immensely. We have been able to hire in other states and further out from Sydney for some previously hard-to-fill roles, and even have current employees looking at moving further outside the city where they can afford a larger home and a different pace of life.

This fits into my life perfectly, although, I will admit I miss the office and the daily people interaction. I always relied heavily on body language and other clues to assess the engagement of our people. I’ve had to personally pivot to learn to rely on facial clues; changes in behaviour; reliance on manager feedback, and employee-happiness survey feedback.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I’ve never liked the word ‘balance’ – it may be that I am a true people geek, in that I genuinely love what I do. I also believe in the strength of having full trust in your people to deliver on outputs.

‘Work-life blend’ is a much better phrase.

Work-life blend, to me, means allowing yourself to prioritise what is important to you, commit to it and place good communications cadence around it. This ensures your manager, your stakeholders and your team know where you are (keep a transparent calendar) and can be flexible around that.

Commit to things like team meetings and one-on-one’s with your direct reports, only moving them for unforeseen events.

Family dinner is a really important part of my daily life. Work-life blend means that I prioritise this. I will leave the office to make sure I am able to be at the table for a family dinner – or in this new remote world, log-off. This might mean that I log-on after dinner to finish a project, or check emails and internal messages on Slack later in the evening.

Being in a senior role can mean weekend work or research; this is what blending is all about. Keep your loved ones up-to-date on what work you might need to attend to on the weekend, so you can plan around it and remain committed to family needs and events such as sport, celebrations or hobbies.

I strongly believe that you have to also practice what you preach, and lead from the front when it comes to work-life blend.

Be flexible with your own team. Allow them to put their important life commitments first, whether that’s picking up a child from school; starting work later to attend a yoga class; or perhaps, they are looking after a dependent during a health need. Support them, and make sure you allow your team to benefit from remote working. Give them the trust.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

When we first moved to working-from-home due to COVID-19, I got into a terrible habit of working too much. It was too easy to jump online in my at-home set-up after dinner. I was so worried about the whole situation, how our employees were doing, and what more we could do for them.

I started to block-out time for lunch in my calendar, and used my commute time to get some exercise and vitamin-D.

I’ve also adopted calendar blocking. This allows me to block time for action items, projects and to-dos around meetings. Saying ‘no’ or pushing out commitments is important; don’t overextend yourself. It has taken me 20 years to learn the impact of this.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

Too many! A few that top the list include: 

  • Powerful by Patty McCord, the former head of People and Culture at Netflix.
  • Nine Lies about Work by Marcus Buckingham – this will test many traditional theories about work, culture and people.
  • An older one is Drive by Daniel Pink. 
  • Lastly, all Employment Hero resources, whitepapers and blogs created by our incredible in-house Marketing team!

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

For work, Slack as an internal comms tool; Employment Hero as a people management and engagement tool; and G-Suite. I also use LinkedIn as a source for all relevant news and updates in my field, and for the industry-influencers.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

Arianna Huffington.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Life is too short not to work for a company where you are truly passionate about their purpose and reason for existing. Be true to yourself and seek such an organisation out.

Always be authentic, and be kind to yourself and others; especially as we navigate through this uncertain time.

Lastly, listen. Be present in meetings, for example. We have become too accustomed to multi-tasking. A good example is that with recent work meetings pivoting to video, I am more present at every meeting, as I want to be engaged on the screen and listening. In-person, it was so easy to be distracted by Slack messages, emails and thinking about your next meeting.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.