Microsoft Canada’s head of human resources, talks about the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, implementing DEI measures and supporting employee mental health

Q. What top challenges do you face in your role?

A. It will come as no surprise that many of the challenges I currently face in my role result from the pandemic. As our chief executive officer, Satya Nadella said recently, ‘we have participated in the largest at-scale remote work experiment the world has seen and it has had a dramatic impact on the employee experience.’ This applies to countless organizations across the globe, including Microsoft.

Read: Half of employers plan to continue flexible working policies post-pandemic: survey

We’ve long had a flexible work culture, but I don’t think we can underestimate how mentally taxing it can be to focus on work in the middle of an event as monumental as a global pandemic, especially for those responsible for childcare or the care of a loved one.

Q. What new programs or initiatives are you looking to implement?

A. I look forward to continuing our work in creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive culture at our company. This past February, we announced the evolution of our partnership with the Black Professionals in Tech Network — an initiative that will help bridge the talent gap and provide a platform for members of the Black community to thrive. I look forward to seeing this partnership come to life and building the tools we need to attract, hire, retain and promote Black technical and non-technical talent.

Q. What programs do you consider the most successful or that you’re most proud of?

A. We understand that every individual is facing unique changes in their personal and professional lives during this ongoing pandemic and that it’s not been easy. To offer greater flexibility and to alleviate some of the stressors of juggling so many priorities, we offered a variety of support options to help our employees and their families, such as a paid pandemic school and childcare closure leave.

Read: How can employers support staff with children during pandemic schooling?

Career crib sheet

September 2018 – Present
Head of HR, Microsoft Canada

June 2016 – September 2018
HR leader (commercial and technical sales) and talent director, Microsoft Canada

November 2014 – June 2016
Global HR business unit leader, IBM’s global business partners

February 2011 – November 2014
Global talent partner, STG sales, IBM

February 2008 – February 2011
Senior compensation manager, IBM Canada

April 2005 – January 2008
Human resource business partner, global technology services, IBM Canada

May 2001 – April 2005
Compensation professional, IBM Canada

May 1999 – May 2001 Benefits administrator, IBM Canada

Q. What key human resources issues do you expect in the year ahead?

A. Looking at the year ahead, I think we’ll have to work harder than ever to ensure all employees feel engaged and included in their workplaces. Employee engagement can be especially difficult when working in a hybrid culture and many organizations are still figuring out what their norms will be post-pandemic. But hybrid work cultures also have a lot of upside. It’s critical to ensure all employees have the right tools to stay connected, collaborative and productive no matter where they’re working and to encourage practices that enable more asynchronous work.

Q. What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

A. The pandemic has had a profound impact on me on many fronts and I’m spending a lot of time practicing gratitude and really connecting with my loved ones. Right now, I’m reading Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat. Mo talks about how we can change our beliefs and trade up our thinking to achieve lifelong happiness and enduring contentment. I highly recommend it.

Q. What’s your favourite employee benefit and why?

A. It’s not so much a singular benefit, but a statement about our culture. At Microsoft, we like to say ‘it’s OK to not be OK’ and we stand by that. We communicate to employees about mental and emotional well-being throughout the year, while also coaching managers so they can build this foundational support with their teams. Our culture places a large emphasis on leading with empathy, and it’s an incredible privilege to help continue building and supporting this.

Melissa Dunne is the interim editor of Benefits Canada.