Balancing the Grind with Michelle Zappala Wood, Head of People at Birdie

Michelle Zappala Wood is the Head of People at Birdie, the leading home healthcare technology platform that aims to radically transform the lives of older adults.

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

My current career is in People & Culture. I’m currently the Head of People at birdie, a home health technology startup with a mission to reinvent care to enable older adults to age with confidence at home.

Before this, I worked at another Tech for Good startup, Elephant Healthcare, which gave me my first taste of start-up life! In my previous life, I worked in the financial services sector, and have held roles across People, Ops and Investor Relations. I like to think my eclectic background has given me a unique perspective on how to bring People to life.

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

No two days are ever the same for me, but in any given week, I’ll have worked on most of the following:

  • coaching stakeholders on any people problems they’re facing or acting as a sounding board on their team structure & org design;
  • acting as a friendly ear / informal counsellor for employees who are struggling or just need someone to talk to;
  • working with my team to design and deliver trainings for our people leaders on topics ranging from giving feedback to wellbeing;
  • researching and implementing initiatives (performance cycles, remote working principles, benefits offerings, etc) or reading up on current legislation changes;
  • chatting with my team about their career progression, any roadblocks they’re facing and helping them find the right solution;
  • setting our People strategy for the year, with quarterly metrics to keep us on track;
  • writing blog posts (like this one!) or LinkedIn posts to help shed some light on People & Culture;
  • producing reports that help guide my thinking and inform my strategy

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

For me, work-life balance doesn’t mean how much time I spend either in work or ‘life’ because what I do is a big part of who I am. It’s more about making sure that at the end of the day, I feel a balance between having accomplished things I’m proud of (whether they relate to work or not) and having time to decompress and rest.

Things I’m proud of could include researching, writing, coaching colleagues, but it also includes exercising and giving back in some way. For me, rest is anything that helps me slow down, be it a slow walk in nature, a relaxed dinner with my family, watching telly or sitting outside with a coffee.

I’ve learned to be very disciplined about saying no to things, protecting my mornings for exercise and protecting my family dinner time.

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

Yes! I started cycling before work about 3 days a week, and going for walks on the other 2 days. I’ve been able to keep this up pretty regularly all year (in part due to having bought a Peloton bike that I love riding).

I also stopped saying yes to things that I wasn’t excited about. I’m much better now about how I allocate my time – if things don’t add some value, it’s a no from me. The last couple of years have taught me to forget about FOMO and embrace JOMO, (joy of missing out)!

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

An eclectic mix of fitness, mental health, fun, productivity and some rock n roll:

  • Fitness Flipped podcast, by Peloton
  • Mental Health at Work podcast, by Oliva
  • Sentimental Garbage podcast, by Caroline O’Donoghue
  • Atomic Habits by James Clear
  • Storyteller by Dave Grohl

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

Work, life and balance is different for everyone. The biggest learning for me has been to find what fuels me, set my own bar accordingly and stop worrying about what anyone else thinks or is doing.

I feel like we waste so much of our precious time stressing out about what we should be doing, instead of doing what feels right for us personally. For some people, being on all the time is what helps them thrive, for others, it’s volunteering, having regular down time, or meditation. These days, I’m far less worried about what others are doing and more focused on what works for me.

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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.