zendesk claire walsh hr
Claire Walsh, associate HR business partner at Zendesk. Image: Connor McKenna

‘Sometimes, all employees need is someone to chat to and hear them out’

30 Jan 2018

The HR industry is going through a metamorphosis. Here, Zendesk’s Claire Walsh discusses the latest trends in HR and how that manifests in her role.

The HR industry is undergoing some exciting changes, and the latest trends indicate that HR roles themselves are being transformed to align with shifting priorities in top firms.

Here, Claire Walsh, an associate HR business partner at Zendesk, talks about what her job entails and how her work has defied her preconceived notions of what HR professionals do.

What is your role within Zendesk?

Associate HR business partner.

If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?

Every day is different, but that’s what I love the most. The majority of what I do revolves around people.

On any given day, I could be leading our new hires through induction, chatting with managers about what’s going on in their teams, working on internal team projects or answering emails from employees on everything and anything.

If it all gets a bit much, you’ll find me losing a game of ping pong in the kitchen.

What types of project do you work on?

HR covers so many different areas. There’s administration work that will always keep the team busy. Along with that, we manage compensation and benefits, payroll, employee relations, employee experience projects, and learning and development, to name a few.

We like to think of our employees as our customers and we always strive to make sure we provide a great service, where staff can get assistance no matter what office they’re based in, at any time of the day.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

Communication skills are essential in my role; I deal with so many different types of people who have different personalities, different cultures and different levels of experience.

It’s all about being adaptive to the conversation, and being able to gauge that as you get to know someone. It’s important to be a good listener; I act as a sounding board for many and, sometimes, all employees need is someone to chat to and hear them out.

This brings with it an importance of coming across as approachable as well as having an open mind.

What is the hardest part of your working day?

Dealing with people that are going through a tough time, I suppose. We all know it’s hard to separate your personal life from your work life.

Things play on your mind and it can affect your working day, which is where I come in.

I like to think we create a relaxed and happy atmosphere at Zendesk, and that aspect can help if an employee has something difficult going on.

Secondly, one of the hardest parts of my day is resisting the snacks in the kitchen.

Do you have any productivity tips that help you through the working day?

Good stationery. Yes, I know, but it really works. Get yourself a nice notebook/diary and a good pen and you’ll be happy to write notes, keep lists and stay on top of your workload.

I also have a postcard hung up at my desk that reads ‘Get Shit Done’ – I’m all about the motivational quotes.

When you first started this job, what were you most surprised to learn was important in the role?

I started as office manager for Zendesk more than four years ago. We were approximately 30 people in a serviced office and we were in total start-up mode.

My degree was in event management so I never thought I’d end up in HR but, when you are people-facing all day and multitasking – because when you work in a start-up, everyone needs to do extra jobs they wouldn’t usually – I moved more towards a role of looking after people.

I made sure everyone had food, a desk, a laptop, functioning Wi-Fi and beers in the fridge, plus all the other things the team needed to be happy and productive.

I had a stereotypical view of what it would be like to work in HR – and whatever I thought it was, it wasn’t. Yes, there’s the whole element of ‘hiring and firing’ but it’s so much more than that.

We partner with the different parts of the business to make sure teams are as productive as they can be. Staff relies on HR for help during important milestones in their lives, such as relocating, moving house or having a baby.

Of course, we’re there to support during the not-so-good times, too. We help decide what cool benefits to offer to staff and we implement new systems to make it easier for employees to self-serve and find information for themselves.

I like to think that people see me as a safe outlet to have a chat and get support if they need it. A big part of my job is to ensure that people are happy to wake up every day and come to work.

How has this role changed as this sector has grown and evolved?

Traditionally, in my eyes, HR was about policy development, employment contracts, dealing with worker complaints, and paperwork – lots of paperwork.

This was pretty much the idea I had in my head before I took a role in HR. Today, it’s about employee engagement, job satisfaction, succession planning, influencing others, being part of business decisions and being part of the strategic plan for the organisation.

There are also more roles within the HR function now compared to 10 years ago when there may have been just a HR manager. Our team is made up of business partners, learning and development team, compensation and benefits team, and a HR information systems team.

We recently hired a manager to focus solely on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

As the company grows, I find it increasingly important to keep up to date with employment law throughout Europe. Small differences in law from country to country can have a big impact on employee rights and entitlements.

Finally, as the tech industry grows, especially within Europe, it’s important we grow with it and ensure we have all the resources we need to make Zendesk a diverse, organised and happy place to work.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

Watching the company grow. I look after the onboarding experience for all new hires in EMEA.

Everyone comes to our Dublin HQ for induction, and I lead the two-day programme. I love to see the new faces, seeing where new hires have come from and meeting people from all over the world that have chosen to take a job at Zendesk.

I’m so proud to work here. I know it might sound cliché, but I’m so lucky to work in a company that lets me be who I am, work how I want and also to work with talented, happy people every day.

We are moving to a new building in Dublin in 2018 that will accommodate 500 people, so I don’t think there’ll be any real slowdown.

It’s such an exciting place to be right now, and I look forward to growing our team over the next couple of years.

On Saturday 3 February, Zendesk is hosting one of numerous workshops around the globe as part of Global Diversity CFP Day. The workshop will be held at Zendesk’s Dublin office and is for anyone interested in speaking at a tech conference.

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