Balancing the Grind with Elizabeth O’Brien, Global Head of People Experience at ASC

Elizabeth O’Brien is the Global Head of People Experience at Author-it Software Co, a world leading provider of on-premise and cloud-based products for authoring technical publications, e-learning and pharmaceutical information.

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

At University I did a Commerce degree with no clear path of what to do afterwards. However, my work experience during Uni holidays opened my eyes to Human Resources and it clicked that that was where I wanted to focus my career. 

I’m fortunate to have had some incredibly varied and interesting HR roles in different areas of the Tech sector, FMCG and Sport. I started my career in New Zealand then spent 6 years in Australia before making the move back to New Zealand with two new family members in tow (twin girls).

My current role is Chief People Experience Officer for Author-it Software Co, a SaaS provider with over 100 staff globally. I’m part of the Executive team and my remit covers the entire People Experience landscape which I relish because of the impact I can make.

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

My twins have just turned 5 so my days start early. I check my calendar first thing in the morning to get my head in the game, then focus on getting the kids off to school. I’m fortunate to work for a business who understands the need to be flexible so I work a 32 hour week, Monday to Friday, during school hours.

This role has huge breadth and depth and the type of work I focus on is changeable, meaning I adjust to the needs of our people in real time so I will work a little at night and in the morning to stay on top of things.

I generally start my day by spending a few hours clearing the emails and Slack messages that have come in late in the day or overnight. Some of my typical BAU activities are in the areas of recruitment, core HR operations, onboarding and comms, which involve a lot of coordinating and iterating of information.

I then switch into support mode on topics such as performance, wellbeing, growth, career development and leadership enablement. That can involve a lot of meetings as I co-design solutions with the people who these are being built for.

For my project work I use Microsoft Planner so I review this and try to focus on one or two high impact projects at a time. My core work day finishes at around 2.45 so I can collect my kids from school and enjoy the late afternoon as a family.

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

I like the term work-life blend, because while I prioritise my family and want to spend a lot of time with them, I also care deeply about my role and the company so I utilise flexitime to ensure I can attend meetings outside of core business hours or achieve urgent things that may need to be done in my personal time.

However, I do set some boundaries and am thankful that our business leaders support this and do it themselves. Role modelling this behaviour is key to embedding genuine flexibility practices into business culture. I even asked about the attitude leaders had towards flexibility at the interview stage for this job and their genuine response was a key consideration when I took this role.

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

Yes, I’ve actually made more time for work outside of core hours. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but it means I can be there for my family at the important times, and catch up on work when it’s quieter on the home front.

Embracing asynchronous communication has also been important, which means deprioritising Slack and email for periods of time to focus, then responding later in the day. Of course, calls for important or urgent things are always accepted because things in the People Experience world don’t stop.

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

I’m stretched for time these days but I like to hear from those that have similar attitudes and values to me relating to work, especially around the Employee Experience. I currently follow Humankind and Excellent, who have just published the first EX Manifesto, as well as Employment Hero who are very valuable sources of practical information.

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

Not a particular person but I’d like to see more from working fathers. Working mothers tend to be quite vocal about work-life balance and while we’re fantastic jugglers of it, I know there are extremely capable fathers and others in similar caregiving roles who also do a stellar job of maintaining and supporting this balance who should be heard.

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

How I like to work will be different to how others like to work, so to employees I would say to know what best suits your role and lifestyle and then try to find a healthy compromise with your employer. This compromise I have found to be the key to feeling like I’m (mostly) on top of everything. To employers, I would recommend that you lean into this not-so-new way of working, be inclusive, and co-design this approach with your people and you’ll likely find your productivity, culture and engagement will positively improve!

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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.