Lauren Zajac is the Chief Legal Officer, Data Protection Officer, and Corporate Secretary of Workhuman. "As the name suggests, the company makes work more human," says Zajac. It does this through employee recognition programs and performance management.
As a leader, 2021 presented Zajac with many challenges as she was not only navigating her personal ups and downs, with extended remote work periods, but also taking care of her team.
"The need to be authentic and vulnerable in your leadership has been elevated by the pandemic," says Zajac. She reflects that female executives often take on an assertive persona but working in a time of unprecedented change required being vulnerable and open in order to connect with remote colleagues. That could involve sharing in the absurdity of the things everyone was struggling with, such as children or pets interrupting Zoom calls.
"Being open with my team about how I was dealing emotionally with this huge change in my day-to-day work life really connected us at a different level," says Zajac. To help her team reciprocate this openness, she would ask herself 'what are our shared experiences, what are our shared struggles?' and use those questions as a basis for a conversation that allowed others to be vulnerable. She believes that being a vulnerable leader has "hugely increased engagement in the people that work for me and with me". Ultimately, she has acquired a new ability to understand and work toward a common goal in a way that is different than before the pandemic.
In 2021, the Workhuman legal team's biggest technology win was the successful implementation of an AI contract search/database program that allows the team to keep up with business growth. "As a tech company, we're always looking for a new and innovative approach to standard issues or standard struggles of growth of business," says Zajac.
Workhuman also uses its own employee recognition products at a larger percentage of payroll than anyone Zajac has heard of. She attributes using their technology to the success of Workhuman during the pandemic. "We have been able to hire during the pandemic with such success and maintain the culture and continue to grow in a way that was consistent with our previous footprint."
Zajac did not feel isolated working remotely in 2021, which she says is thanks to the constant check-ins with colleagues and sharing wins through Workhuman's recognition platform. However, looking to this year, she is keen to return to the office. "As much as our products work tremendously to keep people connected remotely, it is really our fundamental nature and culture to be in person together."
Zajac's proudest moment of 2021 was also a bittersweet one, her deputy General Counsel being offered a fantastic opportunity to take on his own GC role. He had worked with Zajac for eight years. "Although it was tremendously sad, and a loss, I felt like a proud parent," she says. "I think one of the greatest joys I have as a General Counsel is to be able to bring folks in who aspire to do what I do, and to teach them and to expose them to things and watch them thrive."
Because remote work dominated 2021, Zajac found herself constantly looking to the business and asking, "How can we effectively support what was a centralized business that is now completely decentralized?"
"I think every GC has the pandemic as an overarching theme they dealt with this past year," she says.
Growing her skillset in different operational areas of the business is one of her goals for 2022. She reflects that she is fortunate to have been able to do things outside of the normal purview of a GC at Workhuman, such as whiteboarding and designing the Inclusion Advisor product with the product team. Continuing to expand her professional horizons beyond just legal and legal operations excites her.
Another goal is "zealous partnership", which Zajac explains as "working with the overarching question of 'how can we be the best partners to our other functional areas, and really support them in a way that makes their lives easier?'"