HR & Culture / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Anna Wenngren, VP People & Culture at SafetyCulture

Anna Wenngren is the VP of People & Culture at SafetyCulture, an Australian startup helping companies achieve safer workplaces through mobile first products.

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

I’ve worked in Human Resources for approximately 20 years, across industries such as professional services, insurance, health care, big data and technology.

For the past 10 years I have also worked as an executive coach because I am hugely passionate about unleashing individuals’ full potential within an organisation. It’s a win-win because it enables people to live more fulfilled lives and the organisation thrives.

My current role is VP, People & Culture at SafetyCulture. We are a tech company that builds software that empowers front line employees to enable safety, quality and efficiency in their workplace. Our app allows for people to conduct inspections and audits within their workplace in a fast and simple way.

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

In a COVID-19 remote working environment, a typical Monday morning usually starts with an early morning run to mentally prepare for the day.

My first meeting is an executive team alignment meeting to share our teams’ areas of focus for the week and to discuss any company priorities that need attention. Then I have a meeting with my people team, where we discuss our projects, identify any obstacles and/or areas where collaboration may be needed.

Usually I have a couple of meetings with line managers after that. I try to take my lunch break outside, before I spend the afternoon doing some planning work, responding to emails and reviewing my team’s work.

To finish the day, I shut the door to my home office and mentally disconnect for the day with a walk around the block. This simulates walking home from work and I find it’s a useful way to tell my mind and body to switch off.

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

Currently our whole company is remote working. Speaking as someone who loves collaborating in an office environment with other people, this took some adjusting to!

I think I made all the possible mistakes in my first week and almost overnight I lost my work life balance. I was in back to back meetings and had no time in between to even make a cup of tea. I was responding to issues rather than being proactive about my week.

I was on calls with the USA first thing in the morning and with the UK in the evening, so my days were really long. To top everything off. I stopped exercising.

Now I am much more disciplined about my days. I have found a routine that works for me and it allows for all the things I value most. With this structure in place I feel energised, motivated and back to being my best self.

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

For me, work-life balance is about whether I feel balanced as a person. It’s more than just a goal. It’s a way of being. I work intentionally on living the life I want each week because it is the sum of those weeks that makes up the quality of my life overall.

Without being intentional, we can lose time to activities that don’t really matter.

Or alternatively we can invest our time disproportionately on one aspect of our life (such as work) when we would be better served by spending it in other ways. Consciously thinking about where and how I want to spend my time is key to living a rewarding life.

This is important because as humans we can access greater levels of resilience in the face of significant change when our lives have more balance. If you are heavily investing in one area of your life such as work, and then you lose your job, life can suddenly feel really empty and lacking in purpose. But if you’ve invested in other important aspects of your life, such as friends, family or your mental health, then these aspects will help to support and sustain you through that difficult time.

Ultimately, I ask myself: ‘Am I living the life I want to live?’. When we take a step back from our day to day and consider the bigger picture there is no greater question.

5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

The best habit I can identify is intermittently zooming out to consider my life from a macro perspective. This helps me course correct when I feel like I am drifting. It’s all about reconnecting with that intention. I identify the key components that comprise the life I want to live.

In my case they are work, partner, family, friends, health and fitness, hobbies and personal growth. If I ensure that I invest in each of these ‘boxes’ in a meaningful way each month, then I am able to create a life that is hugely satisfying.

The challenge is to reflect on the last month and review whether I invested my time wisely. If my intention is lacking, I may find myself spending too much time on work.

Or in a situation like COVID-19 where we are all staying home, I can become lazy when it comes to connecting with friends. So it’s really important that I schedule in time in my calendar for all of the things I know are important to me.

6) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

There are so many great books out there, but the ones that really come to mind are oldies but goodies. They have helped me live a life filled with happiness:

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. This has the ‘life box’ activity I mentioned earlier. It has helped me prioritise things in life that are important to me and take more risks in service of them.

The Relationship Handbook by Shakti Gawain. This book helped me view myself more compassionately and allowed for deeper, richer relationships with others.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

I plan my day and try and stick to it wherever possible. We never have access to more time, so it’s about how we use the time we have that really matters.

To do this, I have a clear intention on what I want to accomplish on any given day and then I need to be prepared to say ‘no’ to things that come up that are of a lesser priority. That said, I can’t always say no.

So sometimes it can be a juggling act, but on the whole this helps me to ensure that I am working on the most important things that will have the overall biggest impact.

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

I’m not sure about this one. Probably an artist or musician. I’m really interested in the experience of being in flow. Artists appear to experience this more intensely and so that fascinates me.

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

For me, there is no divide between work and life. We often speak of work-life balance which implies that they are at either end of a polarity. You are either working or having a life, but this is very binary thinking.

Work is an aspect of one’s overall life. It can be a very important aspect, but it’s only partial. I recommend making time for the things in life that really matter to you. This is very different from hoping that you will have time to get around to those things. If they are important to you, you need to bring a determination and focus to making them happen, otherwise they just won’t.

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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.