Faces of HR

Juggling Empathy as an HR Professional

The workplace has seen a move towards the blending of employee’s personal and professional lives. At least, that’s what one HR professional has witnessed. Applicants

Meet Sanja Licina, Future of Organizations at Globant, a company that specializes in digital and cognitive transformation. When she isn’t crunching numbers and running statistical models, and even when she is, she’s trying to better understand human behavior. Specifically, she’s trying to understand what makes employees tick, what dynamics exist in the workplace, and how to harness the power of empathy.

What is your background?

I have a PhD in organizational psychology. I subsequently went and completed an MBA because I absolutely love school. In my career, I’ve gone from talent acquisition and focusing on helping with recruitment strategies, to really narrowing in on improving people’s experience at work today in my role at Globant.

To give you a perspective of how much incredible growth we’ve gone through just in the last couple of years here at Globant, we have more than 11,200 people. When I joined about 2 ½ years ago, we were around 6,000 people.

A big of my role here is making sure all employees, old and new, have a great experience while at Globant. As we’ve grown, a huge part of my role has been dedicated to ensuring we stay true to ourselves and our values, and that our employees have positive experiences. I work with our people team at Globant to analyze all these different dynamics between people in our organization to make sure that whether we are starting out in a new country where you have a different regional culture, or for acquiring a new organization, that everybody is really well integrated including along our organizational vision, mission goals, et cetera.

Do you feel like you have grown as this company grows?

Tremendously. It’s been a little over 10 years since I got my PhD, and it’s incredible how much the way we do research has transformed. A lot of my training was around how you create a survey measure. How do you administer a survey measure? How do you do different statistical modeling? I took more statistics classes than I can remember on how you do the different analyses, from ANOVAs to regression stuff, etc. And it was how research was done for a really long time, with the exception of maybe now, instead of paper-and-pencil surveys, we’re doing a little bit of online surveys.

One of the things that’s really interesting working for Globant that’s been different from the previous part of my career is that Globant is a technology company that does HR, as well as many different technologies. Now what that means is that we have, for example, an entire department that is composed of data scientists and people who are specialists in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

When I look at developing different kinds of technologies that are focused on HR, it allows me to collaborate with them a lot more easily to understand what’s possible today. And recently, I was actually speaking with a couple of colleagues in Madrid who did some personality testing. And we were trying to think about how we can apply that to our different employees across Globant.

Has all this helped you look at things differently outside of work?

It has tremendously. I was actually just talking to somebody about work/life balance and workplace everything. I think one really interesting thing is that where I’ve seen my personal life and my work life kind of collide recently is in an area of empathy. Let me give you some context from my background.

I was born and raised in Serbia, and my whole family’s from former Yugoslavia. When I was young, I moved to the United States, and I went to school and finished my PhD and MBA in the United States. And then, I had this incredible passion to do international work and to return to Europe. So I went and lived in London for a couple of years. And currently, I’m actually based out of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I have professionally and personally turned my life upside down a few times because of the different passions I had, both for my professional career and for what I aspired and wanted to do personally—where I wanted to live and what kinds of cultural experiences I wanted to have.

A big part of what I do for work is understand people. What are their motivations? What are their desires? What do they value in work? What are their strengths? And then, how do you help them build better relationships to work? How do you effectively connect them with others?

So when you have people with different professional backgrounds and merge different genders, ages, races, all of that, it’s really interesting. It’s something that’s being talked a lot about today—going beyond diversity and going to inclusion and how people connect. I started talking about empathy. And one of the things I found both in my personal life and then professionally is how incredibly important having empathy is and how incredibly difficult it is.

It’s really hard for a lot of people to truly put themselves in somebody else’s shoes if they haven’t experienced something somebody else has.

And now, you have this different level of desire to be in that position; maybe some people realize the value of empathy a lot more than others. But even for those who do, there’s still sometimes this challenge: “OK, I’m sitting across from a family member. I’m sitting across from a colleague, and they’re sharing something with me, and I’m concerned with them. But it’s really hard to relate, so what do I do?”

A lot of what I’ve seen from my work life and personal life, and where I think there’s still a tremendous opportunity for us to grow as a society, is how do we help people connect better? How do we help people understand each other better but, in some ways, at least, value those differences, accept those differences, and maybe accept the fact that they can’t fully put themselves in somebody else’s shoes, but they don’t judge them for it, and they can still have those relationships?

To me, it’s a huge deal. Coming into 2020, I really want to look at solving this issue because I think if we can solve it in some ways in the work context, it’s so incredibly important inside of work and outside of work, as well.

Yeah, I mean, absolutely because we spend most of our time at work. And the tendency is for people to try and leave all their personal stuff at home, but you’re spending the majority of your time not there. So why shouldn’t those problems be addressed at work?

Absolutely. You spend so much time trying to create a space that’s better for people, right? A space professionally where they feel like they’re really happy. When it comes to empathy in the world of Human Resources, we think we know what employees want, right? Because I’m an employee, too, but there are so many different people, and there are so many different needs.

One of the things we absolutely cannot forget is to open our mind to the different needs of the different people. And to make sure that we understand where everybody else is coming and the relationships in the office. Globant recently conducted a research report and 62% of respondents said they wish they knew their colleagues better. And 83% of them said that they believe if they knew their colleagues better they will be more productive.

It’s really interesting because people are increasingly telling us that work is really becoming a much bigger part of their lives. I can say from a personal standpoint that some of my favorite people in the world are my colleagues today and my former colleagues because I got to know them at a very different level.

When you come from home and there’s something difficult going on, they can usually see it. And it’s becoming a lot more acceptable for us to open up and share that at a human level so that I don’t walk into the office at 8:00 and put my work face on because why? Why if I can have such an amazing support system?

And so I think it’s also interesting that we’re seeing people telling us more and more, “Hey, I want to know what my colleagues are doing for fun because I would love if somebody is really passionate about yoga, if somebody’s passionate about cooking, or if somebody is trying to learn how to be more mindful and wants to take a class. How great would it be for us after work to go or to do something at lunch?”

So we’re seeing those lines blur a lot more, and now, we’re also trying to think how we could help people do those things more effectively. So these barriers between the people you work with and the people in your personal life are very much blending today.