RS-CONS-2008-Hayley Breen

How the pandemic showed Hayley she’d found her workplace match

Melbourne mum-of-two Hayley Breen accepted a new role just weeks before COVID-19 forced the world into lockdown. Walking into a workplace that fosters a culture of belonging, it became clear pretty quickly that it was a perfect match.

We chat to Hayley about building connections at work while onboarding, working through a pandemic, and how on earth she recharges when a holiday is not an option. 

Can you tell us about your career journey?

Wow, that might give away my age! I’m ambitious and love nothing more than having an impact and continuing to learn. I started my career working in the mailroom of a law firm straight out of high school, after not knowing what I wanted to do with my life – I had no interest in accumulating a HECS debt (student loan), just for the sake of going to university. A trade mark assistant role and a Graduate Diploma in Trade Mark Law still left me feeling unfulfilled.

My mum worked with people who were long-term unemployed – whether they had drug problems, had spent time in prison or had mental health challenges – helping them find work, and she always seemed to like it. So, when a friend told me about a job going at her recruitment company, I thought, that sounds like fun; finding people jobs, just like my mum. I did that for a year or so, and then one of my clients – an engineering consultancy – was looking for an in-house recruiter on a six-month contract. I jumped at the opportunity. I knew this was where I wanted my career to be. Working with organisations to hire the right people, develop those people, and work on exciting projects that impact all employees of an organisation positively. A Masters of Business (HR and IR) was the natural next step.

I had my two boys fairly close together, and when I was looking to return, I knew going back into the world of engineering and construction wasn’t going to cut it (they have come a long way in the last 10 years), so finding an organisation that was flexible, supportive and understanding of the realities of working parents was critical. 

Since then, I have worked for a range of different organisations honing my HR and leadership skills. All of the organisations I worked for were incredibly flexible, whether it was part-time work, a mixture of working from home or the office, or just being understanding, non-judgmental and supportive when I had to race out of the office because one of my kids was sick or had hurt themselves at daycare. You cannot underestimate the impact that has.

Six months ago, I was sick of travelling into the city everyday and missing out on precious time with my kids because of the commute. I kept asking myself, why can’t there be a role that is close to home, that doesn’t require me to take a step backwards in my career, is flexible and supportive of my family commitments and is in an industry that gives something back to the community? I knew I wanted to work for a company with a real purpose that I could connect with and be proud of. Is that too much to ask?!

Then along came BlueFit. 

You’re six months into a new role as Head of People and Culture at BlueFit. Congratulations! Can you tell us more about what it’s been like settling in at a new organisation amidst the pandemic and lockdown?

Wow, so many words come to mind: intense, overwhelming, rewarding, so much fun. I think I was about a month in when COVID came along. I have loved every single minute of being able to contribute to what is an amazing group of individuals across the country. 

Early on in the pandemic, and prior to knowing JobKeeper was going to be available, I had to make some pretty tough phone calls to people who I knew had families and financial commitments, to tell them that we had to stand them down. I also didn’t know them that well, being so new. These people made it so easy for me – they were more concerned for me having to deliver the news than the impact on them personally – it was pretty incredible. If I wasn’t sure I had joined the right organisation by then, the responses of the staff, the actions and attitude of the owners, the leadership team and the board, certainly cemented it for me.

There were offers to donate annual leave, help those not eligible for JobKeeper. This coming from people who are not on high incomes – they are just regular working Australians. 

How are you working flexibly and how do you make it work?

Depending on the stage of the pandemic, I have been working a mixture of at home and in the office. I have two boys who are primary school-aged and they have been remote learning. That’s been fun!

How are you engaging with your workplace, getting to know and staying connected with your colleagues whilst working remotely?

Lots of video meetings, phone calls, emails, Slack messages, and any other form of communication we can get our hands on. 

BlueFit is like a big family – so incredibly supportive. I remember the CFO calling me on my mobile one afternoon in the middle of the COVID chaos. We chatted and exchanged pleasantries as you do with colleagues. When I asked him what he was calling for, he simply replied that he was calling to check in and see how I was doing. It was such a lovely gesture; he probably has no idea how grateful I was.

What do you enjoy most about being a working parent and what are the challenges?

The biggest challenge is feeling as though you are never fully doing either well. I am getting better with my imposter syndrome. What is that saying about work as though you don’t have kids… ?

What I enjoy most is being a role model for my boys. I don’t refer to my work as somewhere I have to go to earn money and pay for things, I talk about it as something I enjoy, I have worked hard at and am extremely proud of.

How do you and your partner practically manage the work–life juggle?

As best we can!

My husband is working from home as well. He is a routine person and he instills that in the boys, which I think makes such a difference. The main thing is to communicate with each other. My husband knows that Tuesday is a day that I have a number of meetings on and it’s handy for me to be in the office for those, so he tries not to book any client visits on those days. Likewise, he has Monday morning meetings, so I try and ensure I am home and available to help the boys if need be so he doesn’t get interrupted. It’s a work in progress but I think we’re doing okay.

How has parenthood changed your perspective on life and career?

I would actually look at how my career and life has changed my perspective on parenting. I believe my career has shown me the skills and personal attributes I see as important and hope to instill in my kids. If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that change is a certainty, so get comfortable with it, learn to adapt, continue learning new skills, never think a role is below you – you just never know when you might need a job. If I can raise resilient kids, they can handle anything.

Kids help you see things in a much more simplistic way. As adults, we have a way of overcomplicating things where they don’t need to be. My kids keep me grounded and that probably flows through to my working style.

How important is it for you to work for an organisation that supports flexible working?

It is everything to me.

Since day one at BlueFit, I have felt completely supported. A matter of weeks into my role, my eldest son made it into the district swimming with his school and it happened to be held at a pool up the road from our office. Not only did our COO take time out of his Sunday to give my son diving tips so he wasn’t nervous diving into a deep pool, when I checked in with my boss, the CEO, as to whether he would mind me taking my laptop and working over at the pool so I could see my son race, it was without hesitation that he told me to go and enjoy the moment – not to take my laptop. I even brought my son back to the office to show off his ribbons. 

On and off during the pandemic, when the kids were remote learning and it was safe to do so, I was able to bring the kids into the office with me, whether it be for a few hours or a full day. Sometimes, when my husband had to be out in the morning for his work, I would work at home and then head into the office for the afternoon and he would take the home shift. At no time was I questioned, made to feel like I was less committed, or treated differently. The reality is that people have lives and families outside of work, and I think if the two can complement each other, rather than be such separate parts of your life, you will be more likely to achieve harmony. 

What’s your approach to health and wellness? How do you recharge?

Not sure I should be advocating my approach to recharging – enjoying a few cheeky wines probably doesn’t fall into the health and wellness category! I do avoid drinking mid-week though… Does that count as health and wellness?

I do walk my dog and kids as often as possible. Our kids, my husband and I have been doing a mini gym circuit in our living room to try and ensure we’re all moving and exerting some energy.

I love listening to podcasts and audiobooks, reading, sending sarcastic and inappropriate messages to my friends, and staying connected with them is important to me. Oh, and my ever-growing collection of indoor plants help me practice my mindfulness (it’s still a work in progress). I am currently sitting at around 16 plants! I think that means I am officially a grown-up!

I would go on a holiday to recharge but nowhere will let us Melburnians in!

The best career advice I’ve ever received… Set your own moral compass. Never stop learning. Pick a good life partner who supports you and your career goals.

I’m inspired by… people who have, through no fault of their own, not been afforded the opportunities that so many of us have, yet they work their arses off.

My favourite time of the day is… morning, most definitely. Nothing like my first coffee of the day, my kids still a bit sleepy, snuggling up to me on the couch. 10 minutes of bliss before chaos reigns!

I’m reading/listening to/binge watching… I have been reading an Australian author called Jane Harper. She writes great crime, mystery stories based in outback Australian towns. I have just finished bingeing Marcella on Netflix. 

I’m grateful for… being born into such an incredible country, having parents who cared about education and hard work. So many are not afforded such privilege. 

Discover more Real Stories from our Circle In community HERE.

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