The biggest challenge for Mirka Slater, EMEA benefits manager at Expedia.com, is finding enough time to manage changes across the 22 countries for which she is responsible
Mirka Slater, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) benefits manager at Expedia.com, which includes Egencia, TripAdvisor and Holiday Lettings, has found that working for a multinational organisation with responsibility for 2,200 staff in 22 countries gives her an enormously varied and challenging working week.
In her current role, the pace of change at Expedia can be so fast that being able to multitask and manage time effectively is a huge asset. “Just being able to identify, implement and launch a new scheme across the region is quite an achievement, just because we do not have time on our side, and things are moving so quickly,” says Slater.
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She joined the benefits industry almost by chance. Looking for a job after her master’s degree, she came across an interesting IT-based HR role advertised at Merrill Lynch. “The manager who interviewed me did not think I had the right IT background,” she says. “So she actually put me forward for a benefits specialist role that was available in the HR team. It was purely a fluke because I did not think a graduate with no experience could go in and apply for a benefits specialist role.”
Slater’s career has taught her the importance of clear, concise communication. “Every time there is a change, or every time you launch something, there are a whole host of queries that come back to you,” she says. “You have to be very clever about how to use tools like the intranet, build very clear frequently asked questions (FAQs) and be very clear about how you communicate changes, or new benefit launches. You have to try to anticipate what any questions might be.”
Slater thinks reward has become more of a negotiator’s role that considers cost savings for the employee and employer. “The role has changed to be more cost-conscious and to become a better negotiator to get the best deal and to leverage tax and national insurance savings,” she says. “I think that is probably a natural progression as well when you become more senior in benefits. It is just a sign of the times because we are in a tighter climate today.”
Despite her wide remit, Slater says Expedia’s working environment is very flexible and employees have the opportunity to manage their own workloads. “The working day or week might look very different, because there is no nine-to-five, office-based policy. There is more trust in staff to get on with their work and the fantastic thing is that the results Expedia has every quarter really prove employees are extremely productive.”
Of course, working across 22 countries can present very different challenges to managing just one, but Slater relishes the diversity it brings. “The biggest challenge, because it is such a varied role, is trying to find time to manage all the changes across EMEA at the same time,” she says. “Currently, there are a lot of legal changes coming up, so we are doing lots of market reviews, trying to keep competitive, and move with all the changes happening in all the countries. It is very varied; every day is different.”
How would you describe yourself?
I generally have quite a positive attitude. I do like to work with people and work well in teams. On the improvement side, my biggest problem, having so much to do in so little time, is that I skim through a lot of details, so my eye for detail could be improved.
Do you have a role model or someone who has inspired you?
The first manager I had at Merrill Lynch was a good mentor and role model in terms of how to manage benefits overall. The reward team I worked with there was fantastic and I had really supportive colleagues around me. It was my first job in benefits but I learned so much, and I have really been able to leverage a lot of that knowledge later on in my career and I still do, which is fantastic.
What is your favourite benefit?
The one that sticks out is our wellbeing allowance. We reimburse any wellbeing or sports activities annually to all staff. After every induction or reminder about the wellbeing allowance, people are very positive about it, and it is a good thing to have because there is no reason to say no to trying any activity when it is virtually free. So this benefit is definitely my favourite.
October 2009-present EMEA benefits manager, Expedia.com
November 2006-October 2009 UK and Ireland benefits management associate, AIG Europe (UK), London
Sept 2004-November 2006 EMEA benefits specialist, Merrill Lynch, London
January 2003-August 2003 business analyst, Origin Energy, Australia
September 2002-November 2002 auto processor, Australian Stock Exchange/ Perpetual Registrars, Australia
January 1998-September 2001 bank clerk/adviser, Svenska Handelsbanken (SHB), Sweden
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