In our #WomanPower in IT, we welcome Karolina Strzelczyk, an HR professional, trainer, and a doctor of social sciences in psychology. In her work, she is passionate about the soft approach to management, professional positive psychology, and job crafting. For 16 years, she has been supporting companies in Poland and around the world in achieving and realizing their business goals, and for more than a year, she has been taking care of human subjects in our company. Today, she will share this extensive and comprehensive experience with us. You will read about self-development and taking care of ourselves, and we will learn practical tips on being offline. Please join us for this treasured conversation.  

1. Karolina, you are the Head of the People department at Ailleron. Your role is responsible, and you work with many people and different departments in the company. What do you do on a daily basis?  

Good question. 馃槉 My role is very broad. In short, I could say that I deal with everything related to employees at Ailleron. My main task is to manage strategic issues related to organizational culture, employee development, and People and Culture strategy. I also do business consulting in the human area and change management. A big part of my work is data and its analysis in the context of strategic decision-making and working with management.  

In charge of the People team, I work alongside a group of talented women. With their work and commitment, they show daily what is important to them; they initiate several tasks to build a healthy, engaged culture.  

My work is diverse. I operate in the areas of recruitment, candidate experience, employee implementation, development activities, and building employee experience. I am close to the topics of ESG鈥攅mployee welfare and corporate social responsibility. Together with the team, we are also responsible for employee engagement activities and internal communications.  

2. It is apparent that your work is your passion; you always approach new challenges with commitment. However, these are often sensitive and complex topics concerning employee issues and human subjects. How do you handle these more difficult moments? Does your psychological training help you in such situations?  

Oh yes, the job of Head of People is a demanding position. In this role, I represent the interests of various parties: the board, management, employees, and my team. My job is to combine these intentions and devise solutions that meet the needs of all these groups. It’s not easy, often impossible, to meet everyone’s expectations, and then you have to juggle, flexibly looking for solutions.  

3. One could venture the term that you are agile.  

Definitely, sometimes even very much 馃槈. I’ve learned about myself pretty quickly that I like people and want to work with them (which doesn’t mean I don’t have a moment of doubt), so the thought of studying psychology came naturally to me. When I passed an exam and entered a psychology study, it was in great demand, with more than 20 people applying for one place. Therefore, if I did not get into psychology, I had a plan B: environmental protection. Fortunately, plan B never entered the implementation phase. It was a psychology that stole my heart. Even though I’ve been doing psychology since 2003 (oh wow, that’s going to be 21 years), I still have so many things to discover, and I’m taking full advantage of it. 

Psychology education helps me a lot in my role and life. Thanks to my education and experience as a psychologist, I know the mechanisms governing our behavior and motivation. Even at the initial stage of recruitment, I benefit from this knowledge. Thanks to it, I know how to conduct recruitment processes and interviews. Many experience these meetings intensely, feeling difficult emotions about having to present themselves and undergo evaluation during recruitment. Here, with a helping hand, comes psychology, which allows us to break the ice during such conversations. It is also valuable in designing training, development, or management coaching programs. The psychological skills of conflict management, problem-solving, and building healthy relationships between employees foster a positive atmosphere. At work, we are often faced with complex tasks that may be outside our area of expertise. We experience stress that can paralyze, demotivate, and burn us out. In my daily work, I see how much effort it costs managers to manage their teams and the so-called “day-to-day” and operational issues. I believe that thanks to my psychological background, I can understand the mechanisms and be a real support for those who need it and come for them in more difficult moments. During my studies, as well as my doctorate in psychology, great attention was paid to psychometrics. Data analysis skills are also essential in my work. 

4. As People, of which we are a part (so we know it to our’s cost), we care deeply about relationships in the company; we try to build them on such foundations as mutual respect, cooperation and trust. What are the fundamentals for building good relations in such a large organization where many people with different characters work? How do you and the team manage to do this?   

I think many factors influence good relations. Let’s start with communication. What helps is a space where one person can say what actually thinks and has a sense that will be heard. This manifests in regular team meetings or individual 1-on-1 conversations at the organizational level. Communication is seemingly a simple matter; we communicate all the time, and everyone knows how to do it. And yet, it is the one that very often causes the most misunderstandings. We often forget how different we are from each other. What is obvious to one person is not necessarily apparent to another. The fact that we hear A in someone’s speech does not mean that this person said A. For smooth communication, we need trust. Without it, there is no way to build deeper relationships.  

What also strengthens our relationships is expressing appreciation and recognition for someone’s efforts and achievements. It is said that a friend in need is a friend indeed. There’s much truth in that, but another test for our relationships is how we put up with others’ successes. Can we appreciate someone’s work, commitment and say it out loud? It’s often easier to name and point out when someone does something wrong. It’s also important to talk about it and “not sweep things under the carpet” but to resolve conflicts that arise.   

Good relations are also influenced by mental and physical health initiatives, through which we promote healthy lifestyles and cooperation. Of course, we can’t forget about integration and company meetings that allow employees to get to know each other better.  

Do we succeed in this? Our Aillerons would have to comment. It’s worth remembering that we give tools, opportunities, and certain foundations as People. However, Ailleron’s culture is created by all of us, the entire company community and it impacts the relationships it creates.  

5. Building relationships or clear communication falls into the realm of soft skills. However, training in this area can sometimes be challenging, especially in such a highly technical environment. Why do you think nurturing this development area is as essential as developing technical skills?  

Both technical and soft skills are worth developing. Metaphorically speaking, you can be a great driver, know when to move up a gear, how to drive economically, and at the same time get frustrated behind the wheel, yelling at everyone, honking and being rude. Can it be done? Sure it can, but do we really want it? Is it worth it?   

And it’s the same with the work of technical people. They need soft skills to communicate effectively, present their ideas, and convince others of their point of view. Creativity and critical thinking will definitely help generate innovative ideas and ventures. Even if you are a programmer and have excellent technical competence, you need to know how to organize your work and choose priorities and tasks. At work, we are rarely a lonely island; we usually work together in a group. It’s often not an easy art to find a compromise, whether it’s already a bug or still a feature. 馃槈   

Another soft skill often sought after in the job market is adaptability to change and flexibility. My observations from recruitment interviews also indicate that technical people frequently have difficulty self-presenting themselves and their skills despite their talent and experience.  

In my opinion, the more competencies we have “in our hat,” the more efficiently we can handle various situations in life. It is often assumed that someone got an exciting job or opportunity as a lucky coincidence. I believe a lucky coincidence is important, but there is something more substantial. Opportunity favors those who are prepared for it. As Jackson Brown wrote – “Opportunity dances with those who are already on the dance floor.” It pays to be prepared for different life scenarios. Just because our professional life situation looks a certain way now does not mean it will be so in x years.  

6. At Ailleron, we emphasize employee development, including soft skills. Which initiatives within the company support this scope?  

Within Ailleron, we have several opportunities to develop our soft skills. A good opportunity is the development programs we organize for our employees. We have several editions of the Ailleron Academy behind us. This is our flagship development program, which consists of a series of workshops and follow-up sessions that address the soft skills needs of the business. Another development initiative is Power Up Camp, based on internal knowledge sharing. In addition, once a month, we prepare a Look & learn and Stay Well developmental review of the news on broadly defined mental health, which inspires self-development in various spheres of life. Our employees also have the opportunity to use 80h per year for development within working hours. Within Ailleron, there are development paths that indicate the purpose of the position, role description, required experience, knowledge, and soft and technical skills. These are development signposts, such as what areas are worth developing when the desire to change positions arises. Webinars organized as part of the annual well-being initiative also provide a great dose of knowledge and inspiration. This program, which lasts several months, aims to foster both physical and mental well-being.     

I think the important thing is that we emphasize a balanced approach. Development programs provide an opportunity for self-reflection, exchange of experiences, and safe testing of new perspectives and tools. Whether employees develop their competence depends on whether they translate the knowledge and inspiration gained through trial and error into their work. And this is the hardest work that each of us has to do. The training budget, the leader, and the People team initiatives can help us with this, stimulating us to develop. On the other hand, they cannot do this development for us. 

7. Team People is equally concerned with employee well-being and work-life balance. There have already been several editions of the #WELL-being program. In today’s runaway world, this ability to maintain balance is extremely important but also very difficult. From your practice and experience, what lies at the heart of successfully taking care of one’s well-being?   

Taking care of your health in every aspect is very important. In theory, we have mastered this platitude to perfection. We give each other courtesy health wishes on many occasions. When asked what is important in life, we loudly declare that health is most important. If one were to look at practice, the situation is quite different. The natural consequence would be to ask what you do for your health. And this is where the stairs often appear because many times, we don’t do much, and sometimes we even get into situations that harm us. Cognitive dissonance arises, which we try to drown out with a series of beliefs, e.g., you have to die of something, to minimize the gap between our declarations and behavior. Often, crises, loss of health, or illness of our loved ones or ourselves is a moment of pause. It gives us an impulse to reflect and reevaluate our current lifestyle. Paradoxically, it can become an opportunity to change our relationships, beliefs, and health.   

Taking effective care of one’s well-being involves many areas. Mindfulness is the common denominator of well-being, according to me. Checking what our needs are. Is what used to be essential and good for us still at the forefront? Looking at what serves us and what takes away from our health and energy. The solutions we reach for are often meant to “solve” problems in the short term. Still, in the long term, they contribute to exacerbating them, such as reaching for alcohol and throwing ourselves into work to drown out loneliness and low self-esteem.  

Taking care of your well-being is worth taking small steps, such as a balanced diet. Regular daily physical activity is equally important. By taking care of good quality sleep, you take care of your nervous system. Handling difficult situations and developing mental toughness is also very important in a galloping world of change. Surrounding ourselves with valuable relationships that are cared for and nurtured do “wonders” for our mental well-being. Regular medical examinations are also worth keeping in mind, as they allow us to detect abnormalities at an early stage and find solutions to potential health ailments. 

And here could be a very long list of things that doing or stopping doing could help care for well-being. From my perspective, it makes sense to start with things that we will be able to incorporate into our daily schedule. This will make it easier for us to persevere and develop a new healthy habit. How to do it? I recommend reaching for the book “Atomic Habits”, in which James Clear shows the mechanism of building sustainable routines that can be our allies in our daily journey.  

8. In your opinion, is it successful at Ailleron?  

That’s a question for each of us. As part of the People team’s activities, we create opportunities to care for ourselves. The idea behind the flagship #WELL-being program is to take care of the wellbeing of employees. Every year, the program is very successful. In the last edition, we had opportunities such as consultations with a nutritionist, classes with a personal trainer, or sessions with a massage therapist. Webinars on various areas of health, such as cancer prevention, were very popular. When examining the effects of the #WELL-being program activities, participants declared that they experienced real benefits, i.e., increased activity and energy, a better mental and physical sense of well-being, and a greater willingness to engage in work responsibilities. Joint trips to the mountains or on bicycles also appear. We focus on relationships, so we prepare initiatives that provide an opportunity to get together in the office. An important value at work for us is appreciating the work of colleagues.  

As in the case of development activities, each of us has a job to do in caring for well-being. 

9. The current lifestyle and the kind of work we do at Ailleron鈥攃onstantly sitting in front of the computer and staring at the phone鈥攄isrupt our well-being. We are constantly in information-taking, overstimulated mode. What are your 3 tips for being offline? And why does it pay off?  

I like the sports metaphor, in which we can compare our life to a race. In this view, life is not a sprint but a marathon. To be able to run through life, it is worth taking care of the quality of the run. Modern lifestyles, consumption, the desire to have, and screen media steal much energy from us. We live in an instant culture; we are constantly bombarded with information and images, and we are also continually hungry for them. This causes a sense of over-saturation and overwhelm. A return to the roots and nature is increasingly being discussed. Slow life is being promoted. For me, these are also significant issues that can help us regulate our emotions and function healthily.   

My top 3 actions that help with digital detox:  

Not installing social media on the phone – it’s the phone we most often have on hand, and the temptation is usually high to glance at it just for a moment, then find we’ve been looking at content that adds nothing to our lives for 15 minutes.  

Turn off notifications on the phone – the sound or sight of a notification display encourages us to reach for the phone because an email just came in. The absence of distractors can help build the deep work that Carl Newport writes about (I highly recommend the book).  

Scheduling reclaimed time – we often complain that we don’t have time, and when we do, we frequently don’t know what to do with it. Social media “preys” on our spare mileage. Plan activities, such as going for a walk or meeting with a friend or colleague. Instead of looking at your cell phone, tablet or computer, create an alternative way to supply your brain with dopamine. Building and writing down islands of memories can help. Ask yourself, what memories do you have from the last day? What happened in your life besides the hectic “day-to-day”? What is worth remembering from that day? What did you do for yourself or others? Moments like these build the quality of our lives. They are worth creating and noticing.  

10. You have a lot of experience working in the IT industry. What are your observations? Has the “boldness” and confidence of women in this industry changed? What influences these changes?  

Poland ranks very low in terms of the percentage of women among IT specialists in the European Union, according to research by the Economic Institute from November 2022. The largest percentage of women in IT work in testing, project management, or internal departments such as Marketing, UX, or People. Certainly, the rate of women in technical universities is increasing, but the majority of students in IT fields are still men. It is undeniable that there is a wage inequality between men and women in Poland in this industry as well.  

What can be helpful in increasing the number of women in the IT industry is education and awareness-raising, combating gender bias, specific activities that will encourage women to develop in the field of science, mentoring and traning programs. 

Based on the No Fluff Jobs report “Women in IT 2023”, it can be pointed out that 81% of female candidates who would like to start working in IT admit that finding their first job in the industry is challenging. I think we are moving towards more inclusive work environments, but it’s not a quick change. From my office observations, women are more likely than men to have challenges in the areas of self-confidence and self-esteem. They analyze a lot more before deciding whether they could apply for a position. They expect a lot more from themselves and often want to tick off all the requirements before they decide to participate in the recruitment process. This is partly related to the upbringing model we grew up in. Of course, this generalization does not apply to all of us functioning in this environment.    

At Ailleron, we promote women, among other things, through our #WomanPower in IT series, which features the stories of our female colleagues. We want this series to inspire other women.   

11. There can be no denying that there is a sense of #WomanPower in our People team. Eight ladies are a strong team. 馃槉   

Oh yeah! 馃槉 8 women in one team definitely creates power. Power to act, inspire each other with ideas, and exchange knowledge. That’s 8 different perspectives coming together to form one cohesive vision for authentic support of the company’s strategy and employees. Thank you, Girls!