Q&A with Anna Walsh, HR Director at Ipsen Ireland

HRHQ_Q&A_ Anna Walsh,

Anna Walsh is HR Director at Ipsen Ireland, a mid-sized global biopharmaceutical company. Ipsen improves patients lives through research, innovation and the development of transformative medicines in Oncology, Rare Disease and Neuroscience.

We asked Anna to share her thoughts on HR, her career and the challenges facing her and Ipsen Ireland.

HRHQ: Tell us about your career journey and what originally attracted you to a career in HR?

Anna Walsh: My career journey into HR wasn’t a straightforward one. After graduating with a law degree from the University of Wroclaw in Poland, my natural path took me to the legal services industry where I worked for 8 years. Subsequently I moved to an in-house role with a utilities services company, where I managed employment law and compliance matters. From there it was a natural progression for me into the field of Human Resources, where I have enjoyed working for the last 10 years, working within the construction materials industry, and now in my role as HR Director at Ipsen Ireland, a bio-pharmaceutical company that manufacturers medicines for patients with life-threatening, rare and underserved conditions.

HRHQ: What has been the most significant change in the HR world since you began your career?

AW: Without question the breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the most transformative event in the HR world since I began working in it. Almost overnight we had to rethink our ways of operating as a workforce away from our usual workplace – from the rapid introduction of remote ways of working, to the gradual rollout of a hybrid working model. With that in mind, here at Ipsen we have worked hard to evolve our policies and procedures to align them with the new, post-Covid reality, and we continuously work with our site leadership team to upgrade our HR strategy and initiatives to ensure that they fully support our employees.

A positive change that I have seen in the HR world since beginning my career is the greater work-life balance and flexibility afforded to parents in the workplace. For example, we recently updated our policies for new parents including fully paid maternity leave and extended paid leave of six weeks for any employee whose partner is having a baby to help our employees at a crucial stage as parents.

HRHQ: What is the most important HR challenge facing you currently?

AW: Our main focus is on attracting and retaining excellent talent. We do this by providing our employees with first-class training and professional development opportunities which facilitates clearly defined career paths, with opportunities for progression within Ipsen, both in Ireland and abroad. From internal research we know that the majority of our employees feel they have more opportunity to grow professionally at Ipsen than they would have in a larger scale pharmaceutical company, and our aim is to continue to improve upon and develop this culture of employee growth and progression within the company.

HRHQ: From an employee’s perspective, what does a great HR service mean?

AWL A great HR service involves providing employees with holistic support for their wellbeing. Here at Ipsen our wellness and wellbeing strategy is based on three key pillars of physical, mental and financial support, ensuring that employees have access to the right HR tools and resources as they navigate life’s various events and changes.

Having a robust Employee Assistance Programme and on-site occupational health also ensures that problems are addressed in the best possible way. We also make sure to celebrate all cultures, religious holidays and days of significance within the company so that everyone feels included in the culture.

HRHQ: How should HR professionals design their career and how much can you realistically career plan? 

AW: As HR has become an integral part of every business, HR professionals have great flexibility when it comes to choosing a sector that interests them most. I personally feel that there is great value in starting within a company in a non-HR role, building up skills that are relevant to the sector, and then transferring into HR. I encounter more and more HR professionals who have changed their careers after working in recruitment, finance, psychology and legal services and they are very successful in their new professions.

HRHQ: What advice would you give a person at the start of their HR career?

AW: Having a good mentor and manager will give you a great start in your career – choose wisely where you begin your work journey. They will help you to learn and grow and will be a strong role model and a supportive voice.

I would also advise people at the start of their HR career to accept challenges and get involved in as many projects as feasible: that is the best way to learn and get to know the business that you are part of. In-depth knowledge of the business will give you an advantage and will help you grow and progress further. Making mistakes is a necessary part of learning – don’t forget that!

HRHQ: What soft skills do you believe are key to progressing your career? 

AW: What has helped to progress my career to date is being a good listener, taking a real interest in getting to know people, and trusting my instincts in order to make sound business decisions.

However, communication skills are essential in developing relationships and becoming a trusted partner. Being inquisitive and open to change are also crucial skills for HR professionals in particular – the ever evolving environment requires you to be resillient and nimble.

HRHQ: What experiences should HR professionals try to get as they build up their CV? 

AW:  My start in the legal services sector has really shaped my way of thinking – especially around risk taking, compliance and having robust work policies in place.

Having an open mind and not shying away from expanding your knowledge base when it comes to employee relations, recruitment, organisational change, talent management and compensation and benefits will give you that well rounded experience as a HR professional. You can then decide your path depending on your interests and strengths – specialising in any of those disciplines or becoming a generalist.

HRHQ: What are you most proud of in your career?

AW: I am very proud of my role in navigating a company through the Covid-19 period and coming out of it with a more committed, supported and engaged workforce.

I am also proud of myself in my ability to apply myself to new sectors, industries, companies, supporting different businesses with their ability to thrive, while also building and supporting strong HR teams who are as passionate about people as I am.

HRHQ: What is the best part of your job?

AW: For me, the best part of my job is that no two days are alike. There is always something new on the horizon when it comes to workplace evolution, ways of working, and the demands and challenges associated with various generations within the workplace – Gen Y and now Gen Z.

Together with the site leadership team in Ipsen we work hard to ensure that we stay on top of the ever-changing environment, trends and market demands. We need to stay agile in order to progress.

HRHQ: What do you think the Future of Work is?

AW: With the way that things are developing I definitely think that the Future of Work will be employee led, with more emphasis for employees on career satisfaction and the right learning and development opportunities. Key to this will be ensuring that employees have the right work-life balance, including time for hobbies and personal growth.

Addtionally, the evolution of technology, Artificial Inteligence and scientific innovations will bring their own opportunities and challenges which will heavily impact the Future of Work.

HRHQ: Many thanks Anna for taking part and we wish you and Ipsen Ireland the very best for the future.