By Faizah Idris 27 Sep 2021 6 min read

HR professional day: a day in the life of an operations manager


Introducing Elena

Elena Phillips, is an Operations Manager for Rishworth Aviation, based in New Zealand. We recently caught up with Elena who kindly shared what she does on an average day, her hopes for the future of the aviation industry and advice for those who would like to work in the industry.


Why did you choose to pursue a HR career in aviation?

I started my career in Aviation before I started my career in HR. After I left college, my goal was to explore the world, aviation gave me the ability to do that. I had set a goal to give that part of my life 5 years. HR at that point was something that found me really.

I am a people’s person by nature and am passionate about seeing people reach their true potential, helping them position themselves for success. So, moving into HR was a natural progression for me. I saw the ability to support and nurture people in the same way that made me fall in love with the industry and I haven’t looked back since.


What has been a highlight of your career so far?

A few years ago, I was promoted 3 times within 1 year. This was a significant time of stretching in my career. One that I don’t believe I was quite ready for, but it built resilience and strength that has really stood me in steadfastness to overcome some serious obstacles in the years to follow. Being stretched and trusted with a very large responsibility, increased my capacity significantly over that year and was a real milestone for me.

I went from managing a small locally based team, to a large global team. This opportunity gave me such significant growth as a person, but also as a people and process manager. I built strong relationships with my team and clients. I increased my influence within the industry and was able to impact the business in such a way that till today, I still reap the rewards from.


Have you faced any challenges throughout your career?

Many!! Challenges are part of growing. If you are going to play it safe and blend into the background, I believe you will stifle opportunities. Taking risks and the opportunity to stretch and develop yourself or spearhead strategy and direction is never easy. I once applied for a job that I was the least qualified for. It was a very technical role and there were other very strong candidates, that all worked in that technical space for years.

I rose to the challenge and fully applied myself to the process. I ended up passing the technical exam with one of the highest marks in the interview process. I got the job! The next number of years, the challenges within that department only rose, but I saw each one as a learning opportunity and leveraged each obstacle to ‘take into my future’ – There are still some life skills and management skills I lean on till today from this job!


Give us an overview of what you do on an average day in your role?

  • 8:00 My workday normally starts at home. I have a coffee whilst I scroll through my inbox. This allows me to get on top of my day and walk into the office with no real surprises. This also allows me to answer any critical messages from my team before the day gets too busy. I tend to do a quick jump onto LinkedIn and update myself with what is happening in the market.
  • 9:20 am I usually arrive at the office. My office day starts pretty late compared to most. I have the privilege of working for a company that allows for me to be a mum and a manager. So, I take this time to drop my kids off at school on my way to work. 
  • 9:30 am Whilst my computer is running, I take a moment to go say hi to my team and set a tone of ‘engagement’ for the day. I then make myself a quick coffee and use that time to walk through the office and say a quick hi on my way, to the wider team.
  • 10:00 By this time my full team is in the office, so I take a moment to have a quick catch up on tasks for the day. I like to make sure my team has enough information to manage themselves, but also have direction for what is needing to be prioritised. Being in recruitment, this can change significantly daily, so a catch up first thing in the morning, is always key and high on my agenda. 
  • 10:30 I get into our ATS, and have a look at activity. What needs my focus and how we are tracking from a recruitment perspective. I double check how jobs are looking on our website and if anything around these items, need attention. I work very closely to our Marketing and IT Manager. We generally start chatting through any issues and navigating these or prepare for further items required for the day. 
  • 11:40 This is generally the time I turn my focus on my clients. Being based in New Zealand is great in some ways as we are generally the first awake across our client base, so by this time, I can give full focus to getting critical updates from clients and get those to my team so that we can focus attention on what is important for the rest of the day.
  • 12:00pm. This is generally when the office starts to take lunch and I use this time to catch up on some reporting. I find the quiet environment during this time great for focussing on stats and data without much interruption. I tend to try and dedicate a good level of time to this daily so that when monthly reports and bi-monthly meetings take place, I am well prepared and not rushing to try and understand data or figure our how we are tracking towards our goals or targets.
  • 1:30pm This is generally when I take a lunch break. I try get out for a brisk walk or run. I then leave enough time to have a bite to eat before returning to my desk. 
  • 2:30pm I spend more time looking into our ATS. Completing approvals, doing some compliance checks and managing tasks required to move things forward with recruitment. This usually sets off a further activity of then reconnecting with my team to gather updates of recruitment pipelines and processes.
  • 3:15pm Afternoon updates. Checking in with individuals to see where they need support, getting updates on recruitment activities, candidate applications and client communications etc. I also spend this time of the day often working on updating processes. My team in India usually log on at this time and I try have a quick catch up if necessary and set the tasks for the day if needed. 
  • 4:00pm Dedicate my attention to projects I am running which at the moment is mostly around new software that we have introduced slowly through this year. I check in with our project team if needed and we generally set the next steps of what the focus needs to be and accountability for each task. I then summarize how things are tracking and get key updates around projects for our CEO.
  • 4:30pm I usually keep these 30 minutes for my team to come into my office and have impromptu 1:1 time with me if needed. Although I schedule 1:1’s monthly, I like to keep this window open daily before the team leave for the day, to chat to me about anything that they might not have had the time to earlier in the day. I am a big believer in connecting with my team individually as I feel that shows them that they are valued. 
  • 5:00pm Update reports and task sheets as well as communicate updates to the business on these projects. I like to spend the final part of the day just quietening myself and turning my attention to those tasks that require a lot of attention. So, I usually make myself a coffee at this time of day and close my office door till 6pm. That allows me to catch up on the final emails and system request, return information to my clients and set up any communication required for our other offices. I have colleagues in Sweden, so I like to make sure that I am following up on any queries or tasks so that they arrive in to work with those items resolved if possible. 
  • 6:00pm I usually end my day off preparing for the next day. Ticking of the to do lists and jotting down critical items for the next day. I update calendar items etc. I like to walk out the office with a clear desk. This is something that has really helped me in my career. I am a mum of young kids, so often my mornings are a bit chaotic. Setting this time aside at the end of each day, prepares me for what I know I need to prioritise the next morning. This leaves me feeling in control of my day. My office day generally ends before 6:30. I try get home to have dinner with my family and if any outstanding items, I pick them up from home. As part of a global business, I often need to take calls at night from home, so this fits in around my family. If I know I am going to have several calls, I generally try leave the office a little earlier. 


What are your goals and plans for the future?

Covid as you know has really shaken the aviation industry, so looking at future plans can be challenging. For now, my goal is to stay up to date with every part of the industry, keeping at the ready for when things start to show further recovery. We recently got a new CEO that is setting some great new strategy and direction.

Being part of that, has been a great privilege. Alongside his vision, my further goals are to position our team and operations successfully and prepare to increase our business footprint as the industry recovers. Working smarter with better technology is key, so focussing on those in the near term and positioning my team for success to take on new challenges along the way is also a very much a focus for me at the moment.


What are your hopes for the future of the aviation industry?

What are your hopes for the future of the aviation industry? Of course my great hope is for aviation to recover in greater strengths than ever before and for all those displaced to have some pathway to return to the industry. To see international travel resume and for the wonderful world of travel to become accessible again. Personally my hope is also that we see a post Covid world of companies that appreciate and recognise that talent and their approach to retaining their staff is key.

Part of that is how they react to the current market, what packages are presented and how they work to ensure they fill key positions. The challenge in the current market with a surplus of talent, would be for companies to compensate their staff appropriately with the future in mind. I believe this will not only protect those that have laboured to get to the levels they have within aviation, but also position companies successfully for the future when the market tightens again.

I strongly believe this approach, will position those companies to reap loyalty from their staff during that time. My hope is also to see a more flexible workforce. Covid has taught many that relationships and family are so important. To see companies retain some of that flexibility as they approach their manpower requirements, would be such a great addition to the industry.  



What is one thing you would like to have known before starting your career?

Having the confidence to make the unpopular decision! I believe this is something you learn in management, that making decisions are not always easy, but staying the path is key. In my earlier years of management, I allowed certain personalities to influence my decisions which ultimately were not helpful towards those I was leading.

Making those tough decisions and staying the path often results in a win for everyone. People then often know the expectations set on them, which ultimately gives them the power to deliver. Had I known this earlier, I believe there are some relationships I could have salvaged along the way.


What skills/characteristics do you feel you need to have in order to work in HR?

People skills would be my top choice! HR is all about people. I have a ‘go to’ that I stick to in every big decision I am faced with. People vs Business vs Cost and visa versa. I like to make sure that all 3 are winning where possible.

I worked for a large organisation once, that had a saying. ‘Skill gets you through the door, but culture is what makes you successful here’. If you are in HR and do not know how to build a strong inclusive culture and community within your organisation, your company suffers. And that, I believe, directly affects your business and bottom line!

Cover Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels


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