Coworking with Jana Galbraith

Executive general manager, people experience partnering—Americas, apps, and services at Xero
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· 4 min read

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Jana Galbraith is executive general manager of people experience partnering for the Americas at accounting software company Xero. She recently spoke with HR Brew about her role, and how HR technology has transformed in her 24 years in the industry.

How would you describe your specific job to someone who doesn’t work in HR? I do the hiring, the firing, and everything in between. But more broadly, I play a role in creating the best workplace environment possible for all employees. By “environment,” I mean the programs, tools, resources, and cultures that help people do great work [and] help serve the needs of the business. At the end of the day, I create the structural framework so that staff can do the work they enjoy and accomplish objectives in a way that makes them both productive and happy.

What’s the best change you’ve made at a place you’ve worked? Years ago, and in one of the most formative experiences of my HR career, I joined a small e-commerce company that was maturing beyond its startup days. They needed to evolve into an organization that followed relevant legislation, and provided employees with opportunities to grow. I had an opportunity to overhaul the entire company from the inside out, and turn it from a nascent organization with a real imbalance of power among genders to something based on professionalism and that was a culture fit for all different kinds of people. I found out I was pregnant four months into the job there, and helped shape their parental leave policy…We [also] launched a manager development program that had a huge impact. 

What’s the biggest misconception people might have about your job? People sometimes assume HR execs are immune to the stress and strain that everyone else experiences. For instance, when Covid hit, we held a lot of responsibility to ensure our people were okay, while putting our own needs on the backburner at times. Those responsibilities were emotionally and mentally taxing.

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What’s the most fulfilling aspect of your job? I get to make things happen that truly allow people to feel supported—in all ways. At Xero, we had been receiving many different asks around greater flexibility—a four-day workweek, summer hours, etc. We recently rolled out a program that gave people five extra days of paid leave that they can use however they choose. Staff can use summer hours on a Friday, or operate on a four-day workweek a few weeks out of the year, and give whatever they want a try. We met people’s needs without being too prescriptive about it, and it was a happy medium for all.

What trend in HR are you most optimistic about? Why? Increased flexibility, and the concept that work and life need to coexist more readily. Many employers have preached flexibility the last few years, but the pandemic really forced it into common practice. 

What trend in HR are you least optimistic about? Why? Holistically, I’m grateful for the trend toward well-being and making sure employees are treated like humans vs. machines. However, we’re still working to achieve the right balance that prevents people from taking advantage of well-being benefits, and empower[s] managers to ensure there’s still accountability among employees to get their work done. 

What do you think has been the biggest shift in terms of technology since you began your career? I started in the late ’90s…I’ve watched all the tools evolve, from applicant tracking systems, to HRIS systems, and tools to measure employee engagement. At Xero, we’ve got teams dedicated to ensuring we’re using the greatest and latest tools. 

Tell us one new or old HR tech product or platform that’s made your life easier, and why. This isn’t an HR tool, but Evernote is something I simply cannot work without. I gave up [using] a paper notebook in 2013, and couldn’t do my job as effectively without that tool now.

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HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.