09 June 2023

How working around the world can shape an approach to workplace and balance

With employees hailing from over 90 countries and offices spanning 4 continents, Exness embraces diversity and fosters an international work environment. This rich tapestry of backgrounds offers our teams the opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge and experiences that know no bounds. Many of our employees embody this diversity within themselves, having already acquired international experience. One such example is Karen Hutcheson, our Head of People Asia, whose story we share with you today. Karen's international profile is truly remarkable, having been born in the Philippines, studied in the US, and worked across various Asian countries, as well as in the US and Australia. In our conversation, we explore her personal journeys and how they have shaped her approach to work-life balance while driving organizational change and leading a team of HR professionals.

Working with people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and situations not only helps us learn about ourselves, but also uncovers areas where we can improve."

Karen Hutcheson Head of People Asia

I am the Head of People in Asia, and I am responsible for managing the end-to-end people experience for all our employees here. In this role, we oversee the administrative, people care, and operational aspects of the HR function, working closely with our HR business partners. Also, I work closely with the centers of excellence teams, including talent acquisition, learning and development, projects, total rewards, and internal communications and events, even though they do not directly report to me. We collaborate on numerous projects together. Therefore, my main focus is on ensuring a positive and comprehensive experience for all employees throughout Asia.

Showcasing our work

We have several ongoing projects, but one that stands out is the feedback initiative we conducted with all our employees. We've recently undergone significant changes, including adjustments to our senior leadership structure, and we asked our employees to share their insights and experiences, both positive and negative. Then, we launched a project to gather and address their feedback, with the support of our wider People team and other departments.

There are critical areas we are prioritizing in our project, but it is an ongoing endeavor. We can address certain issues as low-hanging fruits. For example, in response to feedback about our food program, we made a swift change by providing food allowances instead, allowing employees to order the food they prefer. This was a quick win and was well-received by the team. 

However, some concerns cannot be resolved overnight. For instance, our employees have expressed the desire for improved support and engagement from their people managers, along with greater transparency and fairness. Therefore, we are actively working on enabling and empowering our people managers across the organization to provide the necessary care and guidance.

Another important focus is building a culture of honesty and transparency, where employees feel comfortable speaking up.

We want to ensure that they have the freedom to approach any leader, including our CEO and COO, to express their insights and feedback. It requires a more comprehensive development and coaching approach, as well as time and concerted effort.

Simultaneously, we continue to encourage our employees to engage in conversations about their experiences with the changes we implement. We rely on their communication to ensure that the improvements we make truly meet their needs.

My People journey began 22 years ago

I initially started in learning and development. From there, I transitioned to projects and change management, which exposed me to various other HR functions. Over time, I delved into different areas, including HR business partnering, talent acquisition, employee relations, internal communication, engagement, total rewards, and communication. I accumulated a breadth of experience that allowed me to understand the end-to-end processes.

I can't envision myself pursuing any other career than HR. However, I genuinely believe that HR is one of the most challenging jobs in the world. It's a role where you may not receive expressions of gratitude or appreciation. Instead, you frequently encounter complaints or grievances. So I believe, to thrive in HR, you must have a genuine love for people. You need to truly care about individuals because you'll often confront the negative aspects of the workplace. Despite this, you must take care of every employee, ensuring they have the best experience possible. It can be demanding, but when you make a decision or assist someone, it's incredibly rewarding to make a positive impact on their personal or professional life, regardless of its scale.

When people ask me why I chose HR, I always emphasize that it's a role that adds value to every individual's life within an organization. Embracing people professionally is at the core of this job for me."

When people ask me where home is, it sometimes confuses me

I was born and raised in the Philippines, but I have been fortunate to experience life in various places, and in a way, it has prepared me for the next adventure. Here's a brief overview of my journey:

  1. Initially, I spent some time in the United States for my education. 
  2. Upon my return to the Philippines, I played a pivotal role in establishing a company that was rooted in the United States, and an industry at that time, witnessing the contact center rise.
  3. Hong Kong became my next destination, where I worked for a travel company in a regional role that supported the Asia region. This incredible opportunity allowed me to immerse myself in diverse Asian cultures and gain insights into labor laws and working styles, enabling me to become more effective in managing people.
  4. After Hong Kong, I engaged in extensive travel between the United States, the Philippines, and India, overseeing the growth of the outsourcing business for a company from New York. 
  5. Later, I joined Telstra, Australia's largest company, overseeing the expansion of their operations in the Philippines and establishing companies in Singapore and other Asian regions. I was among the initial 12 employees, but by the time I left, the team in the Philippines had grown to over 2,000 employees. During my 6 years at Telstra, I thrived as an HR professional, taking on various roles and honing my skills.
  6. Eventually, Australia became my next stop, where I diversified my experience by working with various businesses, including consulting and the government for more than 2 years.
  7. In 2019, I embraced an opportunity in Thailand, joining Agoda, a travel company. As my husband and I have a love for Asia and a passion for travel, we were happy to relocate there. Subsequently, I was recruited by Foodpanda (Delivery Hero) to lead their HR team in Thailand amid the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

And then, one day, I received a call from Exness. I have been with the company for 5 months now, and the journey feels incredibly fulfilling. So far, I am thoroughly enjoying the journey. It presents its challenges, but at the same time, it is incredibly rewarding.

I cherish this traveling and expatriate lifestyle. However, there is also a downside to it. While I have family and friends scattered around the world, it often feels like I am far away from them. Fortunately, in today's interconnected world, there are countless ways to stay connected, thanks to the Internet and all those fantastic applications.

How international experience influenced my approach to HR

I always emphasize to new employees or team members that the most valuable learning comes from experience. Working with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures not only helps us learn about ourselves, but also uncovers areas where we can improve. Based on my experience working in different regions and companies of varying sizes, including large multinational enterprises and small yet fast-paced tech startups, I would like to highlight 2 important insights:

  1. Human beings are more complex than they may initially seem. My experience has deepened my understanding of people. We are intricate individuals shaped by our upbringing, families, countries, education, and communities. To truly understand others, we must consider the impact of their background on their reactions and approach them with an open mind, acknowledging the gray areas in situations. What may be offensive to one person might be normal to another. As HR professionals, adopting this mindset is vital to appreciating each person's uniqueness.
  2. The evolution of the workplace is inevitable, and we should embrace it. I love witnessing the evolution of the workplace and especially the changing mindset of young employees. When people criticize the new generation for being solely focused on social media platforms like TikTok, I don't view it in such a one-sided manner. The younger generation in the workplace is brilliant and understands what truly matters. Their approach holds promise. They place less emphasis on bureaucracy and seek faster growth, learning, and compensation. I appreciate their focus on mental health and flexibility. During interviews with younger candidates, I see that their priorities differ from those of my generation. They are less concerned about titles and pay, and instead, inquire about flexible work policies and wellbeing programs. HR needs to evolve with the changing workplace and avoid restricting new employees with outdated practices.
It's encouraging to see the younger candidates’ emphasis on the right aspects, and we must understand their perspectives and preferred ways of working."

Getting started in a global team

If you want to work in an international company, I recommend you consider the following 3 approaches.

  1. Maintain an open mindset. It is vital for success in a global team. Be willing to learn and understand how people from different cultures live, behave, and communicate. This will enable you to adjust your approach accordingly. While you don't need to fully adopt their practices, making slight adjustments and showing respect for their culture demonstrates your willingness to assimilate without offending anyone. For example, if you're relocating to Asia, take the time to familiarize yourself with Asian cultures and ways of life. You should also embrace the differences of your teammates. Instead of taking things personally if you don't like the way people communicate, consider the possibility of a communication or cultural gap. This perspective will help you prevent frustration and encourage you to seek clarification by asking questions when needed. This leads us to the next approach.
  2. Make constant learning your focus. Working in a diverse environment offers abundant learning experiences, both professionally and personally. At Exness, we have colleagues representing approximately 95 nationalities, which is truly remarkable. Every day, I have the privilege of interacting with them and learning something new. These interactions expose me to their cultures and unique ways of doing things. Cultivate a mindset that allows you to absorb this wealth of knowledge and bring these learnings back to your own country, enriching the perspectives of others. Appreciate the learning opportunities presented by the diverse global team you work with.
  3. Leverage the diversity of thought. Each team member brings their unique perspectives and ways of thinking, shaped by their backgrounds and experiences. Actively listen and appreciate what others have to contribute to various situations or problems. This approach ties back to having an open mindset and embracing constant learning. It is the key to unlocking more comprehensive and innovative solutions within your team.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance

Hard work is commendable. I devote a great deal of time and effort into my work, driving organizational change and leading a team of HR professionals. However, I firmly believe that maintaining a focus on work-life balance and nurturing a fulfilling personal life allows you to bring your best self to both work and life. Pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion may yield impressive results but for a short period, and then it may lead to burnout and resignation.

In my younger years, I was driven by a desire to prove myself, dedicating 12 to 14 hours a day solely to work, without considering anything else. My perspective shifted when I joined an Australian company. I witnessed a culture that valued and respected individuals' personal lives, where colleagues would leave early to attend their children's events without any scrutiny or judgment. They didn't have to ask permission or reveal the details of their plans; they simply told their colleagues that they were leaving. 

This experience prompted me to reevaluate my approach. I realized that no matter how much we love our jobs or how essential we may feel, the reality is that we can be replaced if necessary. 

This shifted my focus to acknowledge that, in the end, my family and my husband are the ones who truly consider me irreplaceable. And this moment became the starting point for me in maintaining a work-life balance."

While the perfect balance may vary for each individual based on their unique values and circumstances, I would like to highlight 2 universal practices that have greatly helped me:

  1. Set boundaries. It is important to avoid exhausting yourself. Personally, I find it effective to focus at work until around 18:30 and then leave the office to transition to my "third space." This concept involves compartmentalizing the day into 3 distinct areas: - Work - Family (or if you're unmarried and have no children, it could be sports, arts, other hobbies, or just being at home) - Transitional space between the two By creating this separation, I give myself the opportunity to rewire my mindset. When I finish work, even on stressful days, I put on my earphones and enjoy a walk home while listening to music. During this time, I consciously avoid thinking about work, my family, or any responsibilities, allowing myself to relax and recharge. By the time I arrive, I have completely shifted my attention away from work and can fully engage with my husband and family. Similarly, in the morning, having breakfast with my family, I focus on home matters, avoiding thoughts of work. Then, during my transition to the office, such as driving while listening to music, I find moments of peace and quiet. This deliberate separation helps me arrive at work refreshed and ready to start the day. Creating a third space can be an effective way to find balance and bring your best self to both personal and professional life, ensuring neither sphere suffers and preventing stress overload from impacting your overall wellbeing.
  2. Develop emotional maturity and a sense of humor. These qualities allow us to maintain a positive outlook no matter what is happening. Having a high emotional quotient enables us to navigate challenging interactions without taking things personally. When employees express negative feelings, it is important to remember that it is not about us but about their own experiences. Practicing patience, emotional maturity, and actively listening to the employees is key. Maintaining composure in such situations is a hallmark of a great leader and contributes to a healthy work environment. While cultivating emotional maturity and a sense of humor may require effort, they are valuable skills in any industry.

Growing diversity while growing the company

I believe that maintaining diversity and inclusivity is extremely important for every company in today's world. At Exness, we have placed a strong emphasis on our Diversity and Inclusion program, and we have implemented several initiatives to support it. One example is our active promotion of language awareness, ensuring that everyone in our truly international team possesses the necessary skills to communicate effectively in English, our primary business language.

Another important initiative we are planning to do is the establishment of a women's group within the company. This group aims to empower and support women, providing them with a platform to learn from one another and have their voices heard. It is essential to address the existing gender gap in leadership roles within organizations worldwide, and we want to examine this area to achieve a better balance.

Furthermore, it is important to approach cultural diversity with respect and sensitivity, particularly within the Asian context. To this end, we are working towards developing an LGBTQIA+ agenda and program, which is becoming increasingly common among many companies in the region. As a first step, we plan to create an internal community for team members who identify as LGBTQIA+, offering them a supportive and expressive forum.

As an organization, we still have numerous opportunities for growth and improvement in these areas. We aspire to further enhance diversity in our hiring practices, seeking to include individuals from an even broader range of nationalities. Currently, we are privileged to have team members from 95 nationalities, which is truly remarkable. However, this commitment remains at the forefront of our focus, and we will continue to explore ways to expand in this space.

I think that by implementing these initiatives, we can foster a work environment that celebrates and embraces the differences and contributions of all individuals."

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