In the series “Job Profiles”, we talk to various members of the InterNations team about their position and the work that they do.
For the latest feature, we’ve interviewed our two Feel Good Managers, Denise and Sarah, who discuss the increasing importance of this type of position and how their job empowers them to help shape our company culture.
How long have you been working at InterNations for? And why did you decide to join our team?
Sarah: I started working at InterNations about two years ago, in November 2018. When I found the ad on a job search engine, I thought immediately, “wow, this is the perfect job for me!” Before joining InterNations, I was employed at a law firm. While many office management tasks stay the same, no matter where you work, I was looking for a more casual work environment, something less strict and serious. And since I’ve always been passionate about foreign languages and other cultures, this aspect of the company culture at InterNations appealed to me the most.
Denise: I joined the InterNations Team more than seven years ago, and I was also attracted to the international atmosphere mentioned in the job ad. I liked the idea of speaking English at the office and working with people from all over the globe. I was in between jobs at the time, and my previous position as a project manager at a social start-up had been rather intense and stressful. The organization had run into trouble with their funding, changed their business model, and downsized the team. I had actually been among the last employees to wrap things up. In comparison, the job at InterNations sounded fairly relaxed; however, my new position turned out to include a variety of tasks, way beyond the original job description, which can also be challenging at times — but in a good way.
What are your main tasks and responsibilities as Feel Good Managers?
Sarah: We decided to divide the tasks between us. I like organizing various things for our colleagues, from providing packing cases for our storage room to buying Christmas presents for the janitor and the cleaning staff. I’m usually the go-to person for everyone else in the team, making sure that our office runs smoothly. I’ve taken over supply management from Denise, so I order all office supplies, such as coffee beans or stationery, as well as branded items for the Community Engagement Team’s event kits. I also assist Denise with organizing our team events. For example, I was in charge of the cocktail ingredients for our Christmas party. Right now, I’m busy clearing out some of our local offices because we’ll be reducing our office space due to the increasing importance of remote work. The next step will be remodeling the remaining office building, and I’ll probably be involved in this project as well.
Denise: At the moment, my top priority is to re-envision the concept of employee benefits and how to keep our employees happy, considering our new way of working. When I started at InterNations and came up with various employee benefits and programs for the team, these were very much based on people being present in the office. Now, due to COVID-19, we’ve been working remotely for about ten months, and with the company expanding more and more, we also have an increasing number of employees that aren’t based in Munich. This is why we want to make our benefits more inclusive. It’s still a work in progress, though, so I can’t give you any concrete examples yet.
As for my other main tasks, you already know that sustainability is pretty high on our list of priorities. We’ll keep working on the Sustainability Initiative in 2021. Last but not least, I will also be involved in the office renovation project. I call it the “offline” part of transitioning to an organization with a stronger focus on remote work. We’ll have different processes and structures, all of which need to be taken into account when planning the new office setup.
So, what’s the difference between Office Managers and Feel Good Managers then?
Sarah: I think some office management tasks are all about feel good management. For example, it’s very important for our team members to know that there’s someone they can ask more or less anything. Even if I’m not the right person for the topic, I will handle their requests, so they don’t have to go through all available communication channels to find the information they need. And if I can’t help them myself, I will put them in touch with someone who can. This helps them save a lot of time and do their own work more efficiently.
Denise: Our position is actually called Feel Good Manager, though — rather than Office Manager — and I think our tasks and responsibilities include so much more than “just” office management. There’s a part — which Sarah has already mentioned — that I would consider office management in the traditional sense of the word. But we have so many other projects, and everything we do is about employer branding, employee satisfaction, and employee retention. This is why Feel Good Manager is exactly the right term for our role. I think every company should have this kind of position, even if the actual job title is slightly different.
Sarah: Generally speaking, the job of Feel Good Manager has been becoming more important these days. Its significance is being increasingly recognized, so InterNations seems to be a bit of a pioneer in this respect. Office managers often have some of the same tasks, but I agree with Denise that it’s not exactly the same. It’s the emphasis on corporate values and being there for your employees that makes a difference.
What kind of impact do you have on our corporate values and company culture?
Denise: In my case, the answer is quite obvious: sustainability. It’s not only generally important for us as a company to know what our carbon footprint is, to reduce it, and to join other entrepreneurs taking action against climate change, but it’s also a useful topic for employer branding.
As we keep hearing from New Work SE and other sources, the “war for talent” won’t get any easier to win. It will become more difficult to recruit and retain professionals that really fit our team and that genuinely enjoy working for us. Today, lots of young people choose their employer by criteria other than just their tasks, job title, and salary. They’re also looking for a sense of purpose. So, the Sustainability Initiative isn’t only good for the environment, but it also makes sense from a company perspective.
Sarah: Actually, I subscribe to working@office, a monthly magazine for office assistants, to keep up with industry trends and to get advice and inspiration. They recently featured an article about a survey that also shows this trend — it’s no longer just the salary that’s important to many employees, but also intangible values, for instance, how sustainable the company is. So, InterNations really benefits from Denise’s work. At the beginning, I must admit, I was a bit skeptical about the Sustainability Initiative. I thought, “well, that’s all very nice, but don’t we have more important things to take care of?” But now InterNations is a pioneer in this regard, too.
Denise: I believe that measures such as the Sustainability Initiative are more than just nice to have. My main driver for all the topics mentioned so far — company benefits, team events, and sustainability — is the fact that we want and need our employees to be happy. They should do a good job, fulfill their potential, and stay with us for a long time. Everything I’ve worked on — our benefits, our yearly employee satisfaction survey, and more flexible working arrangements even before COVID-19 — was conceived with this goal in mind. The better you feel about your job, the better your output will be. Anything that a company contributes to employee well-being ultimately offers a return on investment.
However, being a Feel Good Manager shouldn’t be the same as being the “office clown” and merely keeping people entertained. While fun, this aspect isn’t the be-all and end-all — entertainment doesn’t really increase employee satisfaction in the long run. Deeper satisfaction comes from finding a good balance between your job and your personal life, and from corporate values that help you identify with your employer. This will always outweigh the occasional “freebie”.
With neither of you being an expat yourself, why were you drawn to such an international company? And what do you like about being part of a multicultural team?
Sarah: While I was born and grew up in Germany, both my parents acttually come from Poland. Unfortunately, I didn’t speak much Polish as a child, even though my mum worked as a translator. I think this is such a pity! It’s a gift to grow up with an additional language, learning it effortlessly without having to study it as an adult. But I stayed in touch with some of our Polish relatives and used to visit my grandma in Lubón regularly. Sadly, she passed away in 2019; but as painful as this was, I also met so many other family members at her funeral. Once this pandemic is over, I will go on a tour of Poland to visit them all, together with my daughter. I’m also sending my daughter to a bilingual German-Polish daycare because I want her to have some connection to her heritage.
My professional background also reflects my interest in foreign languages and intercultural communication. After completing my vocational training in the tourism industry, I worked as a receptionist at a language school before deciding to get some further education. So, I got my bachelor’s degree in culture, language, and translation studies, with my main focus being the Spanish language. Right now, Spanish is very important to me because it’s my daughter’s second language too. In general, I really enjoy interacting with colleagues from so many different countries and backgrounds. I’m also glad to have the opportunity to improve my English at work and to brush up my slightly rusty language skills.
Denise: I’m originally from Augsburg, less than 80 km from Munich, but I used to be an expat myself. I lived in Paris while studying for my degree in art history, and then I moved to Australia for a year after graduating from university. Just like Sarah, I like foreign languages and greatly enjoy meeting new people from all over the world — but I also love Munich. And let’s be honest: the older I get, the more “settled” I feel. When I was in my 20s, moving abroad felt really exciting, but now I know that building your life from scratch in a new place also has its drawbacks and challenges. That’s why InterNations exists in the first place! At this point, I probably wouldn’t be willing to leave Munich for an extended period of time, let alone forever, so my job at InterNations represents the best of both worlds, so to speak. I can practice my language skills and interact with great people from across the globe while staying in Munich.
Personally, I also find working in such an international team very helpful when it comes to getting a “reality check” regarding your own culture every now and then. How people from your culture usually handle things isn’t necessarily the best way. For example, it’s a well-known cliché that the average German is very serious, a bit aloof, and doesn’t give compliments very often. But there’s more than a grain of truth in this stereotype, and I’ve even noticed it about my own behavior. I hope, though, that I have improved in this regard and learned to tell other people more often that I appreciate them and that they’re doing a great job. In this way, being part of an intercultural team can influence your personal development and interactions.
Image credit: InterNations / iStockphoto