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People Heroes: Olya Yakzhina, People Manager at Switchee

We proudly present you with another amazing People Hero: Olya Yakzhina, People Manager at Switchee, a proptech company that provides Smart Home Solutions for landlords. Among other brilliant achievements, Olya has started her own podcast in recent months as well as laid the groundwork for the Leadership Training Course at Switchee. In the interview, she explains how and why she mentors leaders, mainly focuses on solutions and what to expect in the future. 


Can you tell us about your role at Switchee?

My role at Switchee is your typical all-in-one people role. I head the People Department, work across the entire employee life cycle, create and optimise HR processes while trying to provide an excellent experience for everyone. My job also involves working closely with our leadership team and mentoring managers on anything related to people.

I’m one of those people who are obsessed with employee happiness and job satisfaction. I always aim to build processes and run initiatives that will directly or indirectly contribute to those key elements.

What exciting projects are you currently working on?

Over the last few months, I have been working on launching a leadership training course for middle management. We use this course to onboard new managers but also to upskill aspiring managers through internal promotions. I love this project because all the senior leadership team members are taking part in the creation of the material, help pick the sections most relevant to them, and also host those sessions. Essentially, they walk the talk and lead by example to build outstanding leadership in aspiring and future managers at Switchee.

The curriculum is inspired by a Leadership Qualification course I took. It included everything, from the difference between being a day-to-day manager and an inspirational leader, managing change and leading in times of uncertainty, building trust, and supporting career progression and performance.

I consider a leader an essential part of a person’s professional development and personal happiness at work. Therefore, I put together a mission statement that aims to inspire and progress great leaders to create a happy workplace in the long run.

Besides your roles at Switchee, you also run a podcast, The Modern Employer, and are the admin of People’s Stories Community. Can you tell us more about that?

Yeah, totally! Well, I’m not going to lie; The Modern Employer podcast has been created on the back of some personal and professional struggles I’ve had; back in March, I lost my job due to Covid and spent quite a few weeks looking for the next opportunity. During this time, I connected with various HR professionals and People persons and got inspired by the stories. They told me about the struggles of managing the crisis of 2020 as a People person.

There are many articles and podcasts with exciting and interesting titles. Yet, this content keeps mulling about the stresses and problems without providing any actionable tips or concrete advice. I already know what the problem is. I want to know what can I do to fix them.

I created The Modern Employer podcast with Karthika Baiju, intending to push content that would provide answers to these problems and encourage and inspire people professionals to revisit their processes to ensure they are progressive enough and fit for 2020.

We cover topics such as empathetic redundancy process, flexible and hybrid working, getting people back into the office without stress, and many other relevant subjects to provide approaches to the issues related to the pandemic.

And People Stories happened around the same time. I was fortunate enough to get accepted as a member of the People Stories community. I supported members and answered their questions, provided different HR advice, and hosted a few round tables to keep myself sane during my job search. Marie Krebs, the founder of People Stories, eventually invited me to become a leadership team member. It’s a match made in heaven! The People Stories community has inspired me to work harder and contribute to the larger mission of creating safe, enabling, and fulfilling work experiences for everyone.


In your role at Switchee, what challenges are you facing due to Covid? And how are you dealing with them?

Remote work has been a challenge for many of us regarding employee wellbeing and support and nurturing and supporting our culture through lockdowns.

So, take, for example engagement activities; people are used to face-to-face engagement activities. All of those had to be rewritten or created from scratch. It was genuinely a challenge to give everybody a fun break, combating zoom fatigue, managing their time due to increased workloads, and enabling working from home. I believe there is no perfect way of approaching this and indeed no blanket policy to work with.

It’s been a journey learning what works and what doesn’t, but most of all, it’s a collective effort of everyone. People often don’t realise it, but they are the culture! They make the culture, and no HR initiative could ever hide that or put blanket policies over that.

For me, the last 12 months were about identifying who my colleagues are as individuals and how they fit into our collective company culture. Rather than taking the role of a performer, putting on a clown mask, trying to entertain the masses, I’ve taken the role of an enabler to let those individual personalities shine through the darkness of lockdowns. I’m still on a journey and learning how to do things better.


How do you approach employee engagement?

My advice is to approach engagement by looking at the people you have instead of trying to find some magical answer on the internet. Try to investigate what people actually want before you give it to them!

There is a lot of advice out there. Google “fun things to do at work,“ and you get 67 fun things to do. Going through that list and bombarding people with all those activities is not the best way, because you’re trying to apply that blanket policy over individual people with unique needs and a distinct company culture.

At Switchee we have a Culture Club, where representatives of different teams provide me with ideas. I also run monthly wellbeing catch-ups; for half an hour I talk with every team member to ask them how they are doing, how are they experiencing the lockdowns, what they want, and how we can support them. Additionally, I use engagement surveys and wellbeing polls to see what people are missing and what could be exciting for them.

Which achievement in the last 12 months are you most proud of?

I always believed that employee happiness and the overall team dynamic and culture all come from leadership and the company environment. So, I respect leaders that walk the talk and take it upon themselves to be an example of honesty, integrity, humility, and empathy.

Therefore, it’s my goal to work closely with leadership teams to mentor them but also provide them with consistent support while ensuring the voices of the employees are heard, and their wellbeing is considered in every decision at the top.

It’s an achievement that in 2020 I managed to reach that goal and got myself into a company that allows me to do this. Switchee is an incredible kick to my professional growth. They believed in me and supported me while letting me participate in their leadership. I’ve been striving for that for several years now.

The last question; what do you look forward to most, both professionally and personally?

To continue to grow my network, meeting more people, more mentorship opportunities. People Stories is a great place to learn from progressive minds, and I’m lucky to have that.

And personally, I really want to get back to my happy place. The last two months have been a rollercoaster, and I’m planning to get back on top of my game — mentally and physically.

A big thank you to Olya for sharing her story and journey over the past 12 months - we are so excited for what the future holds for her and the Switchee Team.

You can check out Olya’s podcast here. For more information on Switchee, head over to their careers page here

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