Prioritization of Employee Well-Being, mental, physical, and emotional health. When the emergencies created by the great resignation are over, it will be interesting to see if and how organizations will continue to implement programs that make employers healthier and happier and, therefore, more motivated, committed, and productive!
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Angela Santi, the Dolce Vita Leadership & Lifestyle Designer.
Angela is the one-of-a-kind Dolce Vita Leadership and Lifestyle Designer for elite entrepreneurs, business owners, and experts. Angela’s love for people initially led her to 20+ years in HR and Organizational Development. It was reaching the pinnacle in corporate that helped Angela realize surface-level success is not sustainable. That her life, relationships, family, and passions needed to be nurtured. Working privately with a select group of ultra-high performers and global leaders, her Mediterranean-infused methodology ascends today’s highflyers to unprecedented levels of success while living Le Dolce Vita (the signature Italian lifestyle.)
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.
Great question! Italian by birth and cosmopolitan by vocation, I define myself as the Dolce Vita Leadership and Lifestyle Designer empowering rebellious and ambitious business leaders worldwide to thrive by living and leading the Dolce Vita way. The Dolce Vita, “the sweet life,” is the Italians’ lifestyle and approach to everything. Business included. It’s about life quality, a competence that can be learned and is the foundation of my signature methodology.
Inside, I’m a disciplined rebel. This is how the Managing Director of my family business used to refer to me because I’m very disciplined and rigorous, but inside I’m a rebel who lives her own way.
If I were a movie, I would be the perfect blend between Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Easy Rider.
When I was young, it was challenging to live between those opposites, and I thought I had to choose which one to embody. Then I discovered that I could be both. This is what helps me navigate all situations, interact with all kinds of people, and live all kinds of experiences. I’m in my element everywhere.
Two crucial phases of my life shaped who I’m today.
One is my family upbringing; the other is the two decades working in my family business, one of the top 10 Italian companies distributing luxury and supercars like Ferrari, Maserati, and Mercedes-Benz.
I was very fortunate to be born into a family of multi-generation entrepreneurs who has always encouraged me to live authentically, follow my passions and dreams, and empower me to do whatever I wanted. While I had many opportunities, the best ones were traveling worldwide and studying abroad when very few Italians were doing so — especially young women. My all-time favorite place was Berkeley, where I had fabulous experiences. The unique experiences I had internationally shaped my personality, clarified my priorities and made me believe I could conquer the world.
The second crucial experience was when I worked in corporate. Being a family member, early on, I was thrown into management positions: I was a member of the board of directors and was in charge of HR, organizational development, and change management. In Italy, we don’t have mentors, and there is a common belief that the best way to learn something is to do it and figure out the how by yourself (something that I consider very inefficient and ineffective). I felt totally unprepared!
At that time, the only role models in leadership positions were men or women mimicking men. I adopted those models too. But it didn’t work for me. I am an A-type personality, used to being the best-in-class, very passionate about what I was doing, and a perfectionist, so I was always in push-push-push mode. The automotive industry was a lot of fun and very challenging. However, I was so committed that I didn’t fully realize that I was betraying myself and neglecting what was important to me. I was successful, yet I felt frustrated. Something was missing, but in a way, I didn’t want to see it. I identified myself with my role and was addicted to all it entailed. Then life hit. I developed a thyroid condition, and the 2008 world crisis forced us to shut down our business. It was shocking. Suddenly, I found myself jobless, with no identity, and with a health issue.
However, I did not lose my heart. I realized that tragedy was the most incredible opportunity life offered me to return to myself and recreate my life and business according to my priorities and values. So, I restarted from scratch, leveraging my passions and skills, and here I am! And by the way, I healed my thyroid simply by changing my life. This is why one of my methodology’s four crucial pillars is leading a healthy lifestyle.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
The seeds of work of the future are already here. Some things will be more prominent, others less so. Excluding another disruptive event like the pandemic, I don’t see discontinuity in the trends that are already in place.
So, 10–15 years from now, work will continue to be in person, remote or hybrid, depending on many factors, such as the nature of the business, its markets (local v.s. global), and the employers’ vision and mentality. Gig jobs will outnumber traditional nine-to-five, office-based jobs.
Crowdsourcing and the impact of the ExO — exponential organizations — will probably grow, especially for some industries, like tech, that are already more inclined to dematerialize what was once physical and make it digital. Crowdsourcing speeds up scalability, increases quality, streamlines processes, and reduces costs. Outsourcing is a great resource if applied to roles that do not hold business-critical know-how.
Artificial intelligence and robots will be more pervasive and require the workforce to have even more refined skills. Hopefully, subjects such as history, philosophy, arts, music, and literature, nowadays shadowed by STEM will be dusted off because they are phenomenal at teaching an understanding of the world and fostering a critical sense.
The workforce is much more diverse than ten years ago in many ways: gender, generations, and ethnicity, just a few examples. This means different worldviews, different values, and different personal and professional goals and needs. We don’t want to forget that the great resignation, or whatever we call it today, is people’s response to unsatisfactory working conditions and an attempt to regain a sustainable work-life balance.
Organizations must become appealing to these groups if they want to attract and retain talents. Management must be able to make diversity an asset, as knowing how to manage diversity successfully can foster innovation.
Leadership and management must learn new qualities and soft skills that help them navigate their internal ecosystem easily. And above all is communication intelligence. Organizations will need to become more human-centric. Those who embrace this challenge will be there in the future.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
This topic is very broad, and I will focus only on two critical elements.
One is to acknowledge the HR function as a fundamental pillar of the organization and give them more power and freedom of movement.
The second is that leaders learn to look inside themselves.
Let me explain what I mean.
We all know that HRs are guardians of organizational culture, the warrants of the corporate know-how, and the employee’s cheerleaders, mentors, and confidants. However, they are often unseen and undervalued.
Leadership calls for quick hires to develop or recover business lost during the pandemic. However, it is increasingly difficult to find qualified personnel willing to stand by the pre-pandemic organizational policies. Most leaders frown on remote work and insist that the workforce be on-site, failing to acknowledge that flexibility is an acquired right and an unstoppable trend.
In some countries, especially in Europe, unions are powerful and pressure wages to keep adjusted for inflation, making HR’s job even more challenging. In this context, the HR team is increasingly between the anvil and the hammer, spinning their wheels all day and feeling frustrated because they only see the negative side of the coin. Leadership needs to listen more to HR and support them much more, not only from the perspective of their work but also psychologically, making them feel heard, seen, understood, and valued.
I genuinely believe that the HR team is not a support figure but has strategic importance in the business, just like (or perhaps even more critical of) the sales and marketing teams. They must be considered business partners (and not only part of the operations) and be involved in meetings and strategic business decisions; they must be empowered with a broader delegation in strategic decisions suitable for staff retention and organizational well-being.
And now, let’s talk about leadership. First, I don’t believe in consultants that come and quickly fix the teams without involving all leadership levels. A top-down alignment has to happen, which I’ve rarely seen in my 30+ years in business. I always require working with the leader when working with a client because if the leader does not do the work and set an example, they are in fact, divesting the consultant at the meta-communication level.
And this leads me to the second piece of advice: leaders must learn to regularly self-reflect to tap into skills and qualities that are less connected to know-how and control and more to inner wisdom. They also have to look inside themselves to understand how they affect the organization on cultural and emotional levels.
For example, if in your organization one employee quits, it’s probably about them. But if your company has a high turnover, something is not working in the organization. Perhaps the top-down pressure is unbearable, and people are quitting a toxic environment or naughty bosses. I always encourage leaders to start questioning their leadership style, how they show up with their teams, and what kind of culture they create.
The first time I heard about the expression quiet quitting I was intrigued because, after all, it’s a healthy way to set boundaries. Maybe it is the only way for employees to be heard and seen and to assert their needs in organizations that most likely don’t listen or don’t care about their people.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
Today’s employees want more than they did in the past. They ask for career advancement, compensation, benefits, recognition, motivation, and learning opportunities. Most of all, they ask for flexibility, a healthy, supportive work environment, transparency, and inclusivity for work-life balance. I would call it self-actualization.
As for the employers, we shouldn’t generalize. Some companies have been highly responsive to change, seeing an opportunity or a need. Others are firmer on their organizational models for a variety of reasons. Every organization is different, and matter-of-fact constraints may make it non-strategic to come to their employees on some of these demands.
And here are some strategies. For new hires, employers and employees should consider during the interview whether that person or that organization matches their values, culture, expectations, needs, and vision. Vision and values are crucial. In my experience, I have seen many times that misalignment of these elements leads to burnout or quitting.
Secondly, I have noticed that employers often create policies and programs for employees by guessing and following trends. In almost all these cases, the programs don’t work because they don’t meet people’s needs. So the key is to ask and listen.
It is not always possible to meet requests, and then you must involve and explain why they are making such choices.
As I said, the key figure is HR, but function managers must also connect with their corresponding teams. They need to get out of the offices, and make themselves available, whether in person or virtually.
But most important is that people are seen and treated as human beings, not machines. Leadership and management need to develop two-way communication, ask questions with genuine interest, engage, make people realize that they matter, reiterate the company’s vision as much as possible and make employees understand the impact of their work toward achieving the company’s vision.
Recognition and motivation cannot be delegated to consultants, engagement programs, or to some corporate events. This brings a very low ROI. It must be part of the routine. It’s an ongoing and consistent process, as each inaction builds upon the others. This is the most effective way to build trust and attract, motivate and retain talents.
However, it makes the leadership and management job more challenging and exposes them to burnout unless they are supported.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Working from home is now the new normal and has opened new possibilities both for workers and organizations.
Remote is an acquired benefit for the employees. I am a big proponent of remote working. At the same time, I’m aware that it’s not suitable for everyone, every organization, every role, and not all stages of corporate evolution. So, it should be a strategic choice, implemented with a goal in mind.
Those companies that stick to the old work paradigm will be less attractive to talents and lose competitiveness.
Remote or hybrid cannot be improvised. It’s not only a tech or process issue. It’s a matter of changing the organization’s culture, which affects processes. And all starts with how leadership shows up and if they endorse or fight this model.
It requires applying and strengthening key values: collaboration, knowledge sharing, and transparent communication. This is not easy, but not impossible either, the challenge is to break the old habits and the old belief systems.
Many companies are still organized in silos, and communication and management happen by proximity. This makes it difficult to share knowledge and collaborate. Even the KPI supports this obsolete organization and should be adapted to the new one, encouraging sharing of knowledge and collaboration.
Let me highlight a couple of critical aspects of working from home.
Employers and employees must define the ways, schedules, and boundaries of collaboration and respect people’s private lives, accepting that they are unavailable 24/7.
On the other hand, employees will have to do their part, strengthen their self-leadership, and work with discipline and commitment without wasting time (which in-person work does not avoid).
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
This is a challenging question! No one knows for sure what the long-term consequences will be, so it is impossible to have a definitive answer.
However, the education system is a foundational topic across the board.
Undoubtedly, the challenge must be tackled from the beginning, and reforming the education system will help prepare the young generations to navigate the world we are in and thrive. This world is ever-changing and uncertain. You may have heard the expression VUCA, which describes our times characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.
We all need to be equipped with strong personal skills and qualities. For example, analytical and critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, leadership, self-leadership, communication, emotional intelligence, change competency, and trusting one’s guts.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
It’s history. We can learn a lot from what happened in the past.
It is easy to see a parallel between the pandemic year and the Middle Ages. In Italy (and Europe), the Black Death, the plague, was killing thousands of people everywhere; everybody was expecting four horsemen of the apocalypse to come (Pestilence, Death, War, and Famine) and the world’s end Uncertainty was at the order of the day. Most people were becoming increasingly poor, while a minority was becoming more prosperous.
However, during this very dark time, the seeds of something new started to spring: Renaissance. Literally “re-birth”. During this time, trade flourished. Merchants became the new affluent social class and patrons of arts and sciences, which led to important discoveries and inventions, such as printing, that changed the world, or chef-d’oeuvre as the Sistine Chapel, and sponsored explorers who discovered new territories. The world became bigger.
Fast Forward, Europe experienced two wars and then an economic boom. Similarly, the USA had the New Deal after the Great Depression.
These are just a few examples to say that history is cyclical.
Now we are living the early stages of the new Renaissance and have the opportunity to recreate a new and better world. We are all called to play our part in creating a new world, and leaders must acquire new qualities and skills to lead the change.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
Our collective mental health and well-being have always been a crucial theme in the workplace, but it was often overlooked, and the solution was delegated to the individual. The truth is nobody can yoga burnout away if working in a toxic environment. The issue must be solved at the organizational level, and the pandemic has spotlighted it very clearly.
The strategy I implement is the Dolce VITA way. Let me explain. We all refer to la dolce vita as the Italian’s signature way of life. But it’s more than a lifestyle; even the literal translation, the sweet life, doesn’t do justice to this term and what it evokes.
La dolce vita is an attitude, and a feeling is a unique way to approach all aspects of life, it is the ability to live in the moment and enjoy small pleasures. For us, every day is the right day to take it easy and live blissfully, unhurried, to the fullest, be it connect with friends and family, enjoy a great meal, an espresso, or aperitif in the middle of the week. It is an approach that makes everything appear effortless and almost without thought because you are in the flow when you live la dolce vita.
Balance is the key, not too much work or idleness (the dolce far niente). We have an innate ability to alternate the two graciously. Italians work to live; they don’t live to work. They also know how to enjoy themselves! They are successful because they enjoy life and what they do.
As for the Dolce VITA methodology, VITA is an acronym for Vitality, Illumination, Techniques, and Assets. These are four dimensions that have to be in service of our vision for life, lifestyle, and business (and by the way, these three have to be consistent with each other, which is very rarely the case) and have to be aligned and balanced, like the wheels of a car.
Vitality is the habits and routine that ensure energy, brainpower, and focus.
Illumination is all that brings joy. It is in the flow, the zone of genius, and the spiritual part.
Techniques are the strategies and systems for working smarter and possibly fewer hours.
Assets are your skills, your belief system, and yourself (you are your most important asset that has to maintain like a treasure)
When I work with clients, I always start working with the leader as a person and see to what extent they embody the Dolce VITA in their personal and professional lives, because how leaders show up in the workplace determines the organizational culture and the workforce’s behaviors. It all starts with them.
Only once a leader has embraced the Dolce VITA in their personal lifestyle can they implement it into the organization.
The Dolce Vita leader is a human-centric leader who understands that there are no quick fixes when impacting the corporate culture and attracting and retaining talents. It’s a day-by-day job based on the four Dolce VITA dimensions applied to the company.
Vitality is all that ensures organizational well-being
Illumination is corporate culture and values, and having the right person in the right place allows them to be in the zone
Techniques are systems, processes, tech support, and so on.
Assets are the human capital and skills that are to be developed constantly.
Being a Dolce VITA leader entails staying out of the office and among the people. They connect human beings to human beings. They respect, value, and recognize their people daily. They let go of the need to control, delegate, appreciate the power of learning from mistakes, value feedback, and empower their people to know the impact they can make in achieving the company’s vision. They find the sweet spot between their people’s needs and the company’s goals.
Dolce VITA leaders think out of the box because they spend quality time out of the box (their office), giving them perspective for decision-making.
The Dolce VITA is game-changing for organizations!
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
It was a huge wake-up call. As a strong advocate of happiness at work and sustainable success, I see this as one of the positive byproducts of the pandemic. Employees are resigning because they are reevaluating their priorities, and this is a pretty strong signal to employers that the workplace environment needs a great reconfiguration.
Employees want their lives back and want to work in nourishing environments where they can thrive with the company. There is no going back.
I’ve spoken extensively that organizations and leaders should become human-centric and promote connection, collaboration, and trust. And about the importance of understanding the employees’ needs and meeting them in a way that is respectful of the company goals. The key is moderation. The ancient Latins had the expression “in medio stat virtus”, literally “virtue is in the center.” It invites the pursuit of balance, which is always between two extremes, as every exaggeration is always counterproductive.
Organizations should massively promote employees’ mental and physical health, for example, by increasing the number of paid holidays and encouraging employees to enjoy them. Europeans in general, take longer holidays and are still very productive. I would venture to say that we are very productive thanks to the opportunity to recharge our minds and bodies.
When I work with my clients, the first thing that I empower them to do is to leverage the power of idleness. I know this is huge for those cultures that give the word a negative meaning. For Italians and Latin people, it’s positive! Don’t get me wrong. When I talk about idleness, I don’t mean sitting in front of the TV, zapping from one series to the other while eating buttered popcorn. I mean not doing and — instead — being. This can go from sheer contemplation to engaging in the soul’s enriching activities. Leadership should embrace idleness and lead by this example.
And if you don’t believe it works, let me tell you that leveraging the power of idleness is a practice that comes from the ancient Romans, who built the largest Empire in the western world by alternating action “negotium” and inaction “otium”. And here comes the power of it; etymologically, “negotium” means “without otium”, suggesting that action is something you do between inaction. So why not follow their example?
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- The evolution of leadership and management styles. I’m eager to see how leaders and managers can lead more by being and less by doing and how this will positively affect the workforce and the working environment. One of the crucial qualities for leaders to develop is emotional intelligence, which requires leaders to be less in the “push-push” mode, and more in connection with themselves, listening to their inner wisdom so that they can connect with their employees on a deeper level. This creates human-centered leadership and organizational cultures that foster self-actualization at all levels.
- Prioritization of Employee Well-Being, mental, physical, and emotional health. When the emergencies created by the great resignation are over, it will be interesting to see if and how organizations will continue to implement programs that make employers healthier and happier and, therefore, more motivated, committed, and productive!
- How leadership will navigate the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world. Doing business during uncertain times is like driving in the fog. The destination is clear, but the road to get there is not linear or easily seen. When it comes to decision-making, leaders can’t rely on know-how or experience. So, they will need to trust their gut more, tap into their inner wisdom, and be empowered to do so. Will they take on this challenge?
- How organizations will integrate robots and human beings is another intriguing trend. Robots are taking on low-skilled jobs, and workers need to unlearn and learn something else. Upskilling and reskilling are a small part of the game. And it will be interesting to see if and how the metaverse and gamification will continue to play a role in HR training.
- Lastly, I’m curious to see how the experiment of the 4-day week will go. Some northern European countries, Australia and New Zealand have embraced it, and it’s going very well: companies where employees work less for the same salary as when they worked five days have seen no loss of productivity or even a significant improvement because employees feel that they are cared for, and this makes them committed and self-motivated.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
“Discipline is freedom” is one of my mantras. You have to be very disciplined to create your freedom. It entails working in a focused and intentional way, without distractions, setting and respecting your boundaries, and enjoying your daily dolce vita times, for example. Discipline is what sets you free. It’s always about integrating the opposites, bringing together all the oxymorons of life, and making it your way.
My other and most loved mantra I’ve created is “Take it easy, and live blissfully, hurried and to the fullest.” This is the essence of the dolce vita and is a crucial ingredient for success.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Richard Branson.
He is not only a great, impact-driven entrepreneur committed to the good of the world. He is a disciplined rebel and a great role model for what I call the Dolce VITA Leader.
He lives aligned with his values, and his lifestyle serves his success.
His business and leadership models allow for his desired life and lifestyle.
I love his taste for challenge and risk and how he takes it easy, living blissfully and to the fullest. As a person and entrepreneur, he welcomes challenges and loves trying things, not fearing failure. A leader empowers his people and his teams to try and fail because failure is the best way we learn.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
They can reach me at my website, angelasanti.it, or look for me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/angelasanti/. I’m very active on LinkedIn and like to connect, so I encourage people to go and discover me on LinkedIn. And on my website, they will find a quiz that I encourage them to take and check how much Dolce Vita they are bringing into their lives. Embodying the Dolce Vita can transform their lives and leadership style.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.