Keep up with your employees and take the time to understand your workforce by simply listening to what they are saying. Employees want to come in and do work that fulfills them, but they also have lives outside of the work environment.
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 Bina Patel.
Bina Patel, Ph.D. is an Ombuds, Arbiter, and Organizational Health Strategist. She is the founder of Transformational Paradigms, providing conflict resolution and ombuds services to organizations in all sectors. Dr. Patel provides leadership and career coaching to leaders at all levels. Her area of expertise includes establishing ombuds & alternative dispute resolution programs and providing conflict resolution consultative services. She is an author, public speaker, professor, trainer, and consultant. She has published several case studies related to workplace diversity, multiculturalism, and racism in the workplace, as well as female suicide terrorism. Dr. Patel’s book Female Suicide Terrorism: Understanding the Radicalization Process focuses on human behavior.
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.
Karen, thank you so much for this opportunity! I will share a personal life experience that shaped how I do my work today professionally. I began my career in corporate America’s international trade and supply chain sector. I was hired during a time when massive layoffs were on the horizon for the company. I did not know what layoffs were or what they meant until the VP of the organization shared that he may be one of the individuals being laid off. Well, the day came, and over 5,000 employees were laid off in a cold fashion. But looking back, what is the best possible way to lay off an employee? I was on this job for less than six months when the company announced that jobs would be slashed. During the process, I was daily reminded by my colleagues that I would be one of the employees most likely to be given a layoff notice, specifically stating, “last one in, first one out.” As a new employee, I was still processing what was happening around me and realized their words were just words. Through that period, I still came to work and performed tasks assigned to me by my supervisor. During one of those days, I remember that operations had stopped, and I was outside speaking to the warehouse team, and everyone was concerned about being laid off. I listened to many coworkers who were close to retirement and were worried about being laid off. But, these same individuals also encouraged hope by telling me that I would not be laid off because I was always willing to go above and beyond. They reminded me that my work ethic portrayed that no task was beneath me. I had not realized this was true of me because I never stopped to think that my hard work ethic was seen. I just came in and did my work every single day, eager to learn and curiously asking questions!
How did this experience shape me? I recognized that employees who worked for over twenty years in positions of retirement were laid off. Where was the company’s loyalty to the people who were loyal to them? I learned to be loyal to my work!
And here we are again, with the tech industry laying off employees. Initially, my hope for employees would be that they received decent comp packages, enough to sustain them for six months minimum. But I am seeing stories on social media that women, for example, who have requested maternity leave or may be on leave, are getting laid off. We have federal labor laws that protect certain classes. What are corporations thinking? Or are they willing to take the hit for lawsuits that are coming their way? The stories are remorseful, especially during a heavy time of inflation. This morning, I read another account that an individual was on bereavement leave for his father’s death and was laid off before his return to work. I believe employers are sending a strong message: employees are fungible. Why are C-suite execs not decreasing their bonuses or pay? If they earned just a million less, perhaps that can save a few jobs.
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?
I believe that with if workplaces do not adjust to the new generations coming into the workplace, they will see a negative impact on their mission. A mission cannot be executed without manpower unless it is replaced with robots and AI. And this is perfectly doable. As we see, the wheels are in motion. But that is a stretch for certain types of roles, such as intelligence advisors, financial advisors, ombuds, and/or doctors. Now on a side note, I have heard that a robot could replace my profession.
Robots can be programmed to show empathy via pre-programmed cortisol levels. This morning, I heard about the new ‘ChatGPT’ short for, “Chat Generative Pre-training Transformer,” a chat AI tool that can generate human-like texts. This is a language model tool built by Microsoft and designed to respond to questions and prompts, including passing exams. Recent research has further stated that AI in robots are being designed with capability to display empathy and other emotions, which could impact jobs for all of us down the road. Imagine an Ombuds robot?! The thought is scary and yet it is real because it is coming.
With robots filling leadership and/or manager positions, imagine how quickly conflict may decrease in the workplace over time. Is this what C-suite executives would prefer? If so, we will all be replaced! Studies are showing that AI may replace us in the next 75 years. At the rate we are going, I say less than ten years!
Returning to the realities of today’s workplace, Gen Z’s are showing us that money does not bring happiness. They can become influencers via social media and make money and live a happy life on very little income. What will organizations do? They need leaders from the very top who are transparent and value employees by listening to them, making changes, and appreciating employees through intangible means.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Employers must see their workforce as humans as opposed to production line workers. No one should be perceived in such light, despite their role. Invest in your workforce by listening to them and making real changes to build and sustain healthier cultures. A starting point would be to hire managers who are leaders. These leaders can manage and build future leaders. Perhaps instead of laying off employees, we can streamline our workforce by first hiring leaders who hire and retain good talent. Just a thought!
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, I see workforce environments returning to the same structure as pre-covid. Forcing employees to come in without giving them the option to want to come into work is unfair. This is a major contributing element to the great resignation and quiet quitting. Both are not new concepts. Quiet quitting has been in existence for a very long time. The pandemic just showed us that employees are more effective and impactful in working remotely. Yet we are seeing organizations unwilling to make change happen.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Yes! It showed us that with technology, we could work from home and any other location outside of the workplace. Technically, we can work from any location with the internet. The question is, do we really want to return to work, and why? We can do everything we do outside of the workplace, which has worked for the last three years. So what is the point in going back in? Working from home is 100% doable and employees are far more productive. The real issue is that managers are less likely to trust employees, despite the increase in productivity. Forbes reported, “Workers with full schedule flexibility report 29% higher productivity and 53% greater ability to focus than workers with no ability to shift their schedule” (Forbes.com, 2022). I fear the future of work will be to buckle down and conform to the traditional leadership mindset, forcing employees to return to work.
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?
The pandemic was a blessing in disguise. While the virus and its outcomes were pretty bad, dormitive societal norms were awakened. For example, self-reflection has been taught by eastern cultures for thousands of years. This concept is not new. The pandemic created space because it forced us to stop living a fast-paced life that resulted in looking inwards, specifically regarding mental health and agility. The pandemic further shone a light on the importance of mental health. What was once a stigma and, to a degree, is still a stigma is now being normalized by just acknowledging and talking about it. I have to say workplaces offer time, paid time to get the help an individual may need to seek mental health services. This is a huge milestone!
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Imagine losing thirty pounds and attempting to wear your old pants, which are a couple of sizes too big. You cannot fit into it. Instead, you purchase a new, smaller-sized pair of pants. At this point, you have excitedly socialized this new size as the norm in your mind. It’s no different in the workplace, post-pandemic. Right now, employers who offered hybrid work schedules before the pandemic as an incentive are forced to have flexible hours. With this comes doing away with work operating hours. Employers are reconsidering offering flexible hours, 24 hours if doable. And with this new norm, we have yet another hurdle to tackle: the controlling micromanager. I am optimistic that the average micromanager will also have to ease up on their desire to control and manage to the extent they have gotten away with, as employees are demanding flexibility without micromanagement. The truth is where there is a controlling boss and micromanagement; then there is a toxic environment. And it is a well-known fact that micromanagers who enjoy checking in on employees daily and/or holding meetings three times a week to check in clearly have too much time on their hands. Perhaps they should spend their time learning to be leaders via self-reflection and leadership classes. The bottom line is don’t let the layoffs fool you, employees have options, and they will use them!
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do employers offer to help improve and optimize their employees’ mental health and wellbeing?
That’s an interesting way to see it. ☺ From what I see daily, it would be ideal to offer flexibility with autonomy. Remote work has created a vacuum for micromanagers to thrive. Think of a petri dish filled with good bacteria and bad bacteria. It just takes one or two bacteria to toxify the entire petri dish, and now the good bacteria are overtaken. The outcome of the good bacteria says it all. The good bacteria are suffocating, grasping to survive. The petri dish is a workplace environment. Employees who are scrutinized by micromanagers who rely on the unreliable MS Teams status button, well, what do you think happens? It creates psychological terror, high anxiety, and low morale. It leads to a toxic culture, resulting in turnover and formal complaints.
Therefore, employees begin looking for alternatives, including moving to Italy, purchasing a home for one euro, and starting their own B&Bs. Again, options are available, and what was once very important to us(still is for many of us), job stability, retirement, health benefits, etc., this new generation does not care as much. Their emphasis is on today, now and not tomorrow. Imagine having to retrain a new employee every few months. The cost would be well over the seven-digit mark, and the mission would barely progress. The boss will make less of a bonus if the mission doesn’t progress! It’s a domino effect. And the wave is here! My best advice, embrace Gen Z’s. They are born with talent. They are your nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and/or children. They are our future.
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?
Keep up with your employees and take the time to understand your workforce by simply listening to what they are saying. Employees want to come in and do work that fulfills them, but they also have lives outside of the work environment. When we see employees as humans, we will not judge them from the onset. It is never about managers vs. employees. This mentality should be long gone. It is about “us.” Think of leadership and management as a privilege. When a manager steps into the daily grind to help his/her team out, the “us” is reflected, but when a manager delegates and watches his/her team do the work, then it’s about managers vs. employees, and remember, employees have choices.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.