Kathleen Maes

Kathleen Maes, based in Switzerland lifts the veil on what her team does, why she decided to return after eighteen months out of the business, and why having a good manager makes all the difference.

What is your role and what does your day to day look like?

I am the Europe Colleague Experience and ER (Employee Relations) Director in our Global unit. Bottom line is that I am heading up the country HR teams in Europe, excluding Hungary. My team and I enable and support the implementation of our strategy in-country. My team and I get involved in many activities. We advise functional HR business partners, line managers and employees regarding local legislation procedures, we guide and support our employees with implementing our business strategy at a local level and we handle all the works councils consultations and negotiations that need to happen because of our strategy. To be honest, in the past 2 years, we haven’t been bored at all: we consulted on and had to implement major strategic projects and we are currently engaged in implementing our brand new HR system. However, I believe the most important part of my role is sharing information so that we all understand where we are going and more importantly, that we feel part of that journey. Whether it is sharing with my team, our colleagues or the works council shouldn’t matter.

You briefly left BT a few years ago. What made you want to return?

The people and our culture. When you are part of a company it is easy to be influenced by the branding campaigns of other companies so that you forget what makes your own company so special. Leaving BT for a while gave me the opportunity to understand what is truly important for me: to not only to be good at my job, but to be inspired (and inspiring) as well. It turns out it isn’t the money or the title, but the people and the caring culture we have. We might not fully realise it, but our culture of helping others out and leaving no-one behind is special and is something to treasure. Not many companies offer this at the same level we do. As a returner it also helps me to put things into perspective when I feel a bit frustrated or lost in a process or system that doesn’t work. To be honest, for me, it all comes down to our purpose, as I think it defines it very well: we connect for good. 

How has BT helped support your career to date?

By trusting and believing in me. I was, and still am, very fortunate with all the line managers I’ve had in BT. Having a great line manager makes all the difference. It allowed me to work on projects with a defined outcome (the “what”) whilst I was given the opportunity to define the “how”. The projects my team and I are work on are not always easy, but trust and having the right level of support makes all the difference. It allows you to not be afraid of making mistakes, and as a result, you dare to try to do things differently. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but I’ve never felt like I’ve been hung out to dry. 

How has BT supported your wellbeing?

In many different ways: my line manager checks in with me on regular basis, we’ve had virtual coffees, and we discuss wellbeing in our team calls. I’ve also been able to spend time with my family during the pandemic during the limited times when borders were open. In Global HR, we were also the first to introduce the wellbeing day initiative. I really appreciated the gesture from our Director of HR and it turned out to be such a success that BT later rolled out the idea on a wider basis- not just for our colleagues in Global, but for all colleagues across the business. On a more local level, we organised our own Olympic event where different teams had to cover the distance from Rio to Tokyo stopping over at lots of different virtual cities along the way by entering all the kilometres covered through walking, swimming, cycling and running. In total we covered 46.475km in 70 days. Currently, we are doing a similar event in Switzerland in Q1. As I live close to the office, it pushes me to cycle to the office and no matter how stressed I am, cycling with the Swiss Alps as décor is the perfect mindfulness exercise for me. 

What initiatives have you got involved with outside your day-to-day role?

I strongly believe in paying it forward: if throughout your career you have received support, whether you get offered career opportunities, were mentored or took part in a talent program, I believe you should give back too. I also believe that all of us carry so much potential within and sometimes all you need is a little help tapping into it. So, when I was asked to be a progression sponsor for a junior colleague in BT, it was only natural for me to accept. I have to say I love it. I find it very engaging and energising and it is nice to be able to do something completely different from my day-to-day role. And I only ask one thing in return: pay it forward. Only by paying it forward can we create meaningful change and enable future talent to be successful.

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