Michelle Strong is the HR Site Lead at GSK, a company uniting science, technology and talent to get ahead of disease together.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I am a People and Culture (HR) Leader with a number of years of experience and a passion for supporting and enabling people. I have a background in Behavioural Science, HR and Industrial & Employee Relations.
In my work I work in partnership with leaders, employees, and external parties to achieve business goals while creating an authentically engaging culture to enable employees to maximise their potential and also thrive as individuals. I have worked across industries, in large multinationals, both white and blue collar, and generally in a very matrixed structure.
My current role involves the closure of a site, which allows me to focus on supporting our people to go through a major life change, in the way that best supports them to make a successful transition, whether that is to a new career opportunity, a transition to retirement, a tree change, or whatever that may be. It is actually some of the most rewarding work I have done in my career.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I am fortunate to work in a hybrid manner – working for a global company can mean that I need to be available later in the day or early in the mornings at times, to connect to colleagues in various different time zones, so I am sure to balance those hours of work with recovery time or “downtime”. I have found that if I don’t actively work in finding the balance that works for me, this can be a danger of burnout.
Like most HR professionals, there isn’t really any such thing as a “day in the life of” for me! It can vary dramatically. But my week is structured around the time I lock in to work with my various teams – either the team working for me or my partners in various senior leadership teams.
Around those commitments, I spend time considering the future of work to ensure that the business and I are anticipating how work will evolve and preparing to meet or exceed expectations of current and future employees. And I do find that working with people will also involve complex human situations that need to be worked through carefully and respectfully, which also takes time to do well.
3) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Work-life balance means the ability to manage our personal commitments in the best possible way for us as individuals. And that means it looks different for every person. It isn’t just about families with children, we all have our personal needs, commitments and circumstances, and we all need to know that we have what we need to meet those.
So to achieve that goal, I ensure that conversations start with the perspective that anything is possible, rather than that everything is a problem. If we are genuinely open to supporting people to meet their needs and start by listening, then we can work our way through most situations in a way that allows the employee to meet their needs and also allows them to perform for the business requirements as well.
4) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
I worked on a project in 2021 that involved quite a bit of work in time zones other than AEST. Being in numerous lockdowns during that time, I found that I was working extended work days and not giving myself time for rest and recovery.
Once the global project was completed, I made a conscious effort to be focussed on what I would say “yes” to or what I would put myself forward for. It has been a commitment to myself to care for my own wellbeing, while I also look out for that of others around the world.
This is a work in progress for me, because I love to get involved, but I need to balance my interest in lots of different things by prioritising those that matter most.
5) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I would always recommend Brene Brown – she is a researcher, author and American professor, who researches and then teaches us about being vulnerable and authentic.
6) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. As a professional in the highest office in NZ and with a young family, I believe she would make very considered choices about how to make her life work in the best way for the country she serves and also prioritise her family and personal needs.
I would love to hear how she manages all the calls she needs to make at all hours of the day and night and still be her best self both at work and with her family and friends. Like the rest of us, I’m sure she doesn’t always get it right – but how she learns from those experiences would be insightful.
7) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
As a leader, the most important thing that we can do is enter into any discussion in which an employee shares their needs with us with an open mind.
Don’t listen to respond, listen to understand. That way, you will be in a better position when you do respond and you will most likely meet the individual’s needs as well as the company’s!
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