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Behind Hakai: Lisa Pollock - Hakai Institute

Behind Hakai: Lisa Pollock

A blog series highlighting the people who play an integral role behind the scenes to ensure the data keeps flowing and the Hakai Institute keeps running.

The number of people employed by the Hakai Institute has doubled since Lisa Pollock first started in her human resources (HR) role in 2015. She’s one of the first people each new Hakai employee—whether scientist, software developer, housekeeper, or contractor—encounters as they transition into the Hakai team. Payroll may be a huge component of the job (and her favourite task), but there’s more to HR than most people assume. From providing paperwork for mortgages to facilitating immigration during a pandemic, Lisa takes the lead in all things HR.

Started at Hakai

July 2015


Human Resources (HR) manager

Home Base

Campbell River, BC

Lisa Pollock sits at her desk in Campbell River, British Columbia. “I love the feedback, where people say, ‘You’ve made this really easy and seamless,’ and ‘You got back to me quickly,’ because it’s not always that way in organizations,” she says. Photo by Bennett Whitnell

What do you do at the Hakai Institute?

I manage HR for each of the Tula Foundation’s Canadian programs—the Hakai Institute, Hakai Magazine, and the Quadra Centre for Coastal Dialogue. I put out job ads, field applications, and send them to whoever is hiring. I work on job offers and onboard all new employees and contractors—anyone doing science in the field as a contract worker comes through me. I put them into our HR and payroll software systems and get them signed up for benefits. I do payroll and track vacation and sick time, and I deal with the Workers’ Compensation Board and long term disability claims. From a payroll aspect, I also assist the accounting department with yearly budgets, head-counts and audits, and I handle end of year tasks like payroll reconciliations and T4s. I track the postdocs from universities and make sure they’re onboarded and everything is ready to go for their first day. Then when people leave, I handle any terminations according to employment standards, and I do all the employee offboarding.

I create policies—with the pandemic there are a lot of [COVID policy] memos to go out to employees—and I work with [Tula Foundation co-founders and directors] Eric [Peterson] and Christina [Munck] on those. I also deal with immigration. We have managed immigration for a few people for different positions—it’s time-consuming, and the pandemic made it very challenging to navigate that and get people across the border. If people need an employment verification letter because they’re getting a mortgage, I do those.

And I answer all the questions that come in! I’m a go-between between the employee and Eric and Christina—that middle point.

Lisa Pollock relaxes on vacation in Tofino, British Columbia. “At the end of the day, you can be in HR and you can be in pretty stressful situations—union environments, mergers and acquisitions, laying off half the organization because parts of it are shutting down,” she says. “I feel very fortunate to have the position I do in this organization. I like going to Quadra Island and seeing what they’re doing, and I’ve been up to Calvert Island a couple of times and it’s amazing.” Photo courtesy of Lisa Pollock

What got you into this kind of work?

If you want to go way back, after I was told I was too young to become a counsellor, I was going to be a teacher. But I did three years of schooling, and I found myself unfulfilled. I ended up being attracted to the business school at BCIT: it wasn’t just sitting in university classes, I liked that it was a program and everyone did it together. I started reading about HR and talking with my father-in-law, who was an accountant but also did HR, and that was his favorite—dealing with people. I’m a people person, so it does make sense and is a natural fit.

I took BCIT’s HR management advanced diploma program then moved back to Campbell River and ended up working for a private college for 10 years. I wasn’t in HR to start, but I ended up managing the college for north Vancouver Island.

What’s your favorite component of your job?

I like payroll. Payroll is a big puzzle that gets solved at the end with all these checks in place, and when it works out it’s the best feeling. It takes two days to do payroll each time, twice a month. It’s a lot, but when you input it into the system and run reports and all the numbers work, that’s totally my jam. There’s nothing I geek out on more than payroll. It’s satisfying. When you can actually produce a report and it matches and after two days of all that hard work just works out, it is satisfying.

What’s a unique challenge you’ve had to overcome that people outside your role might not think of?

Navigating people and issues. It’s challenging in a good way, because I’m a people person. We don’t have a lot of issues with people at this organization, but when we do they often come to me. It’s a challenge then having to really quickly tailor how I approach each person to their different personality type.

And the pandemic has been a challenge for lots of reasons. I work with Christina and Eric on developing the pandemic policies—[looking at] what are the universities doing, what is the government saying, but also being really sensitive to how people are feeling, and creating those policies that are being fair to everyone I can be fair to. That in itself is a challenge—those changing policies, trying to make people comfortable and anticipating every scenario and writing those policies.

*This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.