Employees hold their employers accountable for how they handled and continue to handle the pandemic. Today’s guest did such a great job that her employees compiled a thank-you video for their HR department.
Meet Niamh Graham, VP of Global HR at Workhuman. In this issue of “Faces of HR,” we’ll learn a little bit about her approach to generating that kind of response from her employees.
Do you mind sharing with us how you got into HR?
By accident, actually. My background is sales and marketing, and operations. In this company, our approach to everything we do, in terms of Workhuman is putting the human back into work cultures. We’re putting the human back into Human Resources. It was a conversation I had many years ago with our CEO in terms of how important our people are, and our culture, that convinced me to move into HR. Being very connected to our people and culture and our product and our customers, and indeed nurturing all of them over the years made for a great fit. I wanted to make sure that as we continued to grow and scale, we were growing and scaling for success on behalf of our people and our culture and our company.
My previous experience, my approach, and my personality are that I always put our people first. I always do what’s best for our people. That’s really important for me. Aligning one’s personal and professional values is really important. If that comes naturally to somebody, it makes it smoother. It was certainly an opportunity that I wanted to take up and am delighted I did. And it did come naturally to me and still does
It’s been challenging at times, of course, but I wouldn’t change it for anything else. I’ve used all of my other hats from my other roles in this role. When we’re strategizing as an HR team, I bring to the table my experience from a sales perspective and a marketing perspective. The brand of HR in a company is very important. How we’re positioned in the company is very important to me and wearing my many hats throughout has been mutually beneficial.
What’s meaningful and what makes a difference to organizations and people have been really important, as well. I put myself in other people’s shoes probably a hundred times a day, every day. That’s how I make sure that I’m doing, hopefully, the right thing most of the time and on behalf of our people and certainly our company.
When I think about it, being a spokesperson for the company, when I’m talking to our customers all around the world, I definitely share with them our view, and my view, in terms of what great looks like. That’s all we always aspire to be—the greatest we can be as a company, as an HR organization, and me personally as an HR leader and executive of the company.
How has your organization managed during the pandemic?
We think of ourselves as the humans behind our humans at Workhuman. It’s definitely been a new experience for us all, as a company, as an HR organization, and as a world, unified in this one challenge of having to go through a global pandemic together. I think it’s given us strength. It’s given us resilience. We’re the people to keep connecting our people together, to keep a sense of resilience and a sense of togetherness, and to come together as one even though we’re apart. It’s really important that we’ve done that, and I think we’ve done that very well.
No one has said it’s been an easy experience. I think something quite unique about our company, and our culture, is that our employees say we’re like a family or an extension of their family. That’s given me and our team strength in terms of how one takes care of one’s family during normal times and then under these most uncertain times. Our culture has strengthened as a result.
And then there is the distance between us living in Ireland and our colleagues in the U.S. That’s something different that we’ve all had to experience. I actually lived in Boston for a number of months during my college days and still spend about 20%–25% of my time in the United States. That’s been a challenge, not being able to travel to a place I love to be, and I loved visiting our colleagues in our office there in Framingham. That’s been different, but thanks to the power of technology and video technology, keeping us connected has been brilliant.
The power of our own technology, our human-centric technology, has also really helped in our own company, as well as those companies that use our technology all around the world, in terms of staying connected and showing gratitude and recognition for one another through these times. It ultimately creates that sense of seeing the rise of humanity. Whether it be talking about our company or the world, we’ve seen the strength and the rise of humanity to overcome this challenge unanimously across the world. That has been so uplifting. Obviously, we’re still in the middle of it, but I look forward to that kind of resurgence of humanity to overcome such negativity.
You mentioned that your company’s employees feel like they’re part of a family, which is a challenge to accomplish. It can be particularly hard when companies espouse the values of families but then don’t live up to them (which I think happens an awful lot). Do you think your company had laid the groundwork for that before the pandemic? Or do you feel like that’s something that came together because of the pandemic?
I think it was something pre-COVID, I have to say. We have always focused on our culture and our people. It’s just the way the company has grown and evolved, and it’s something we’ve nurtured. It’s something we take great pride in. As a result of that, we’ve received multiple accolades for great or best places to work here Ireland and in Boston. Indeed, we’ve won awards for being the most caring company. Our people have actually voted us for being a really caring company. So that was all pre-COVID.
During COVID, we’ve been looking at some indicators to tell us if our people feel like we’re doing the right things. Again, we’ve seen that people are getting to know each other so much more than they ever did before. At one of our company town halls, members of the company had actually compiled a video thanking members of the HR team for putting our people first, and putting our people first ahead of ourselves even, to make sure that everybody was in a good place, as we’ve gone through the different aspects of COVID from the very outset, as well as for getting people working successfully at home and helping in terms of parents juggling homeschooling and lack of child care. When I think about how we’ve rallied together in creating and enhancing our great culture, I feel like we’ve done a really great job. That’s not just because I feel a great sense of pride, but our employees are telling us that, as well.
Indeed, externally, we’re hearing that from many of our customers, as well, who have actually utilized our technology to bring their companies and their cultures together in a way they’ve never done before. That’s a lot of our customers who are working in health care, pharmaceutical companies that are working on some of the vaccinations or some of the testing, and laboratories all around the world. All of that together creates that sense of unification, that sense of humanity coming together. For us as a company, going back to your question about that culture, that sense of belonging, that sense of purpose, and that sense of inclusivity, yes, I feel it was strong before COVID, and I feel it’s even stronger now.
A lot of HR people I know seem to get into HR from another field, and then they stay in HR forever. Is that true for you?
That’s a very interesting question. I’m the type of person who likes a challenge. I am always pushing myself. As mentioned I’ve moved from Sales & Marketing to Operations and now in HR. I really enjoy the roles I have had in this company, and I obviously very much enjoy the company, but I would never say never to anything. I feel the world is changing and evolving. I feel our company will continue to evolve. I think, as we continue on this, and hopefully coming out the other side of COVID, there’ll be a whole new set of opportunities and ambitions that our company will have and that I will have personally and professionally. As long as I’m adding value and enjoying what I’m doing I shall continue to scale and help build an even more successful company and culture at Workhuman.