Lead(H)er profile - Lauren Zajac, Chief Legal Officer at Workhuman
In her past twelve years as Chief Legal Officer at Workhuman (formally Globoforce), Lauren Zajac has managed to find what most people only dream of: a job that is professionally challenging, emotionally satisfying, and aligned with her core personal values.
Workhuman is an HR technology company that is humanizing the future of work located in Framingham, MA and Dublin, Ireland. “Our mission is ‘to make work more human.’ We essentially sell thank-you’s,” says Lauren, who majored in English at Boston College before attending law school at Hofstra University, and considers herself “an analytical person.” Prior to joining Workhuman, she worked in-house for several software companies, “though none of them sold into the HR space.”
Lauren explains Workhuman as “all about appreciating people for what they do - making gratitude a business strategy. For stepping up, for thinking out of the box, for bringing a different perspective, or having the bravery to raise their voices or suggest different ways of doing things.” The company’s clients include hospital consortiums, financial services companies, banks, and technology firms. In twelve years, Lauren has watched these companies build their corporate cultures from the ground up. “Seeing what a program of recognition does for a company, for relationships, for day-to-day interactions, it’s actually miraculous.”
As an example, she cites JetBlue. “Every time one of us gets on a JetBlue plane, we’ll ask the folks manning the flight, do you use your Lift program? Inevitably, they love it, they’ll talk about it for fifteen minutes. It’s a great experience.”
As Chief Legal Officer, Lauren’s day-to-day responsibilities include managing a team of six lawyers, keeping abreast of legal compliance issues, managing the company’s intellectual property portfolio, and dealing with any labor and employment issues that arise.
As to what makes for a strong in-house legal team? “A lot of time people will say to me, oh, corporate counsel, you must read a lot of contracts. But to be a really good in-house lawyer, you also need to be able to see the whole picture. That means understanding the inner workings of the company, from multiple perspectives.” For Lauren, this can range from sitting with sales teams and negotiating contracts, to listening in on initial contacts to see what resonates with clients, to going behind the scenes with developers to understand how end-users interact with the software. “If you really understand the company, soup to nuts, from initial contact to product delivery, that perspective helps.” She encourages the members of her team to “know a little about a lot of different things.”
Lauren says that learning to access knowledge has also been an important part of her success. “As a lawyer, the buck often stops with you, and when something goes wrong, inevitably someone will say, well, what do we do?” Lawyers are trained to bring different threads together to make an informed decision, “but often times you don’t have all the information you need. So the key is to build relationships within the company, so you can access whatever information you don’t have personally. You need that to be quick and confident in your decision making.”
Lauren thinks of herself as particularly lucky to have landed at Workhuman. “It has turned into a strange confluence of the things I love as General Counsel and the things I’m passionate about as an individual,” she says. She particularly values the opportunities she gets to speak with industry thought leaders. “As a female executive, I feel strongly about a lot of topics, including equal pay, diversity and inclusion, and making sure different voices are heard.” Making sure these issues are addressed in her own company, and then at others, “that’s really gratifying.”
Outside of work, Lauren is involved with Boston’s Science Club For Girls, and helps with their annual charity event. She is also Chair of the Board of LeaderMom, an organization that strives to create community and supports for executives who are also mothers.
Lauren feels immensely grateful that she has managed to align career path, personal goals, and outside interests in such a synergistic way. She remembers this every day when she makes time to meditate. “Work is fast-paced, but meditation is really helpful,” she says, “because I remember that I’m choosing to do all of these different things.”
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I have three children who play three different sports. That takes up a lot of time. I have a son who is 14, my twin girls are 11, so basically I’m spectator, chauffeur, videographer!
What are your strategies for managing stress?
I meditate every single day. When I was in high school and early college, I started practicing yoga, but the thing that has resonated with me most and that I’m able to do with my limited time is meditate. I’m bringing a practice of gratitude to every day, for the littlest things, and that definitely brings my stress level down.
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
I’m down to one and a half! I’ve been trying to switch to green tea.
What's one of your favorite places in the Boston area?
I love the North End. I’m half Irish and half Italian, and when my grandmother came to Boston she lived in the North End. Her dad was a tailor, he made clothes, and she’d point out to me where they used to live, right off Hanover Street.
What do you consider one of your proudest accomplishments?
I think it’s an amalgamation, but right now, being in a place where I can mentor, and bring some of my hard-earned, slog-it-through experience to other people, maybe impart some wisdom and save others from the missteps I went through myself — that’s important to me.
Is this where you thought you’d be 10 years ago?
It’s where I hoped I would be!
What’s your advice for recent college graduates?
Try to find something that you are passionate about. Even if it’s just a thread of something larger, and even if it’s not core to what your essential job function is. Finding the part of what you’re doing that you’re passionate about gives you energy, puts fire in your belly. That’s what is going to get you up every day and make it all worthwhile.