Monday 24 January 2022
Bakul: ‘Hey, Irene! I see you’re an HR policy advisor. That sounds quite formal. What does someone like you do, exactly?’
Irene: ‘Well, I work on the various aspects that relate to employee well-being, developing vision, policy and practice – with a focus on sustainable employability. Simply put: we make sure that everyone at UT can work in a way that’s enjoyable and sustainable.’
Bakul: ‘I assume you have your hands full with hybrid working, then?’
Irene: ‘Among other things, yes. We strive to have a good working environment, both at UT and at home. Me and my team look for ways to reduce work pressure, for example. Also, I’m very interested in organisational development. Where do we see ourselves in the upcoming years? How do we make sure everyone has the right skills, tools and support? Work should be fun. I believe job satisfaction impacts whether we can achieve our organisation goals.’
Bakul: ‘By the sound of it, you love your job! But sometimes, work is just work, right? It can’t be all fun… Can it?’
Irene: ‘Of course, every job includes tasks you just ‘have to’ do – whether you like them or not. But balance is important. Overall, I believe your work should give you a positive feeling of accomplishment, energy or simple enjoyment. If it doesn’t, you should be honest with yourself. Talk to your supervisor and your team-mates to see what can be done. Figure out what you enjoy, what you need, and what this means for your work. At the UT Career Development Centre we can support you in this process. A good match between you and your job is a win-win situation for everyone.’
Bakul: ‘Do you have an example of a project you personally enjoyed working on?’
Irene: ‘Last year, we developed a new well-being leadership expedition. It is a program for employees with leadership responsibilities. We shaped it from scratch, together with people from all across UT. As you know, the academic workload is high, and people are very committed to their jobs. That combination is a risk for burnouts. To change this, we need a different approach to leadership: an approach where well-being is integrated as an important perspective in work.
In this program, participants learn how to incorporate this at three different levels of leadership: self-leadership, team-leadership and what we call system-leadership. I am particularly happy that there is space for personal development questions, related to leadership and well-being, throughout the expedition.’
Bakul: ‘What else is important for well-being?’
Irene: ‘There’s no scientifical consensus about that, but many aspects have been shown to be important. Autonomy is a big factor: having the feeling that you can do your own thing. Self-efficacy, believing you are capable to do your job, is another.
Besides that, there are many other underlying factors. For example, it’s very important that people feel free to say when something doesn’t feel right to them. And don’t underestimate the impact of your private life. Usually, people can handle some stress at work. But if something happens to a family member, or if they are feeling depressed, it becomes a different story. Therefore, we need to create an environment where everyone feels safe to talk about their well-being.’
Bakul: ‘Earlier, you mentioned the transition to hybrid working. How do you look at that?’
Irene: ‘If implemented properly, hybrid working can have many benefits. Many people have long commutes. By working from home, you can save over an hour per day to work out, read a book, or spend time with your kids. Hybrid working also makes room for flexibility in your day. You might start early, then take a long lunch break to go outside, and then get back to work for some hours.
But whatever rhythm you prefer, it’s important that you discuss it in your team and with your supervisor. Every situation and every team are different, so we can’t make set rules for everyone.’
Bakul: ‘I think the line between professional and private life has become very thin because of hybrid working. A lot of people have issues distinguishing the two…’
Irene: ‘I understand. My work desk is also my dinner table and the place where I relax in the evening. We’re looking for ways to help people to create a barrier between their work and private life. A controversial question: should we switch off our e-mail servers at night? Should we be strict to colleagues who keep working outside office hours?
It’s difficult though, because in the end this is not just about remote or hybrid working. Work and private life already were a balancing act for many before the pandemic hit. If you and your colleagues are sending e-mails at night, and then you are the only one who stops doing that, you are going to fall behind. I think those are the real issues we need to tackle.’
Bakul: ‘I see your point. Hey, but we’ve talked so much about work now. What does your personal life look like?’
Irene: ‘I love learning new stuff. This summer, it was mushrooms: I would listen to scientific mushroom podcasts for hours, go on forest walks to find some, talk about it all the time... I’m also reading up on mythology. First it was Greek, then Norwegian, and now Egyptian mythology. Also, I really enjoy spending time in nature and working out.’
Bakul: ‘What is it you like so much about all those subjects?’
Irene: ‘Once you sink your teeth into a new topic, you suddenly see so much more in the life there is around you. It opens your eyes. Did you know that on campus, there live at least five different species of bats? If you look closely, you can see them every day. There are so many special things around us if you know where to look.’
Bakul: ‘Wow, I didn’t know about those bats! I’m traveling back to India soon, but I’m definitely going to take this lesson home with me. Thank you!’