Technology — The continuation of automation and the move towards more utilization of AI technologies will have a substantial impact on many aspects of work as we’ve known it.
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 Carolyn Ross, J.D.
Carolyn Ross, a Certified HR Consultant, Mediator, Coach and the founder of Ross Insight Solutions, is passionate about helping organizations and their people achieve the next level of success. Carolyn practiced law in a general practice and owned one of the first mediation businesses in the Northeast before a career change to HR management, where she held leadership roles for nearly 25 years. Carolyn founded Ross Insight Solutions to help companies transform their businesses and improve their bottom line through their people, by helping them establish outstanding HR, management and employee engagement practices.
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.
There are several things that shaped who I am. From a professional standpoint, my education in psychology, business and law, along with my mediation training and experience, had a significant impact on the work path I followed and my approach to that work.
During my 25 years in human resources work, I have had experiences in companies in which management was inspiring and empowering, where employees loved to work, and as a result, the business enjoyed increased customer numbers and loyalty, and reaped the resulting financial rewards of that culture. I have also had experiences where the culture failed to create an environment in which employees could excel. Unfortunately, the latter is all too common. In those instances, the business succeeded in spite of the culture, but never would reach its full potential without the culture being better. As an HR leader, I always sought to improve those environments, enable the employees to thrive, and thus the business to thrive.
In this time of employees’ reevaluation of their values and the personal ROI of their workplace, it has never been more important for businesses (management) to intentionally “shape” their culture and ensure it is one that their employees embrace and want to be a part of. From the initial interview to the onboarding process, and all throughout someone’s employment, there are numerous opportunities to do this. This is what has shaped me and inspires the work that I do.
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?
In terms of what will be the same about work, I look first and foremost at people. At their core, employees want to do a great job for their employers and be valued for doing so. They arrive to each new role eager to contribute. In return, they increasingly want rewards that go beyond basic compensation and benefits. Over the last several years, they have come to expect greater flexibility and autonomy than ever before. They seek opportunities to learn and develop in their careers and to be recognized and rewarded for their contributions. They will readily leave their employer to find these things elsewhere. I do not see that changing in the coming decade or more.
As for what will be different, let’s be honest — it’s not entirely predictable. If we went back to January of 2020, none of us would have predicted what would happen over the next few months and continue into the next few years. We could not have foreseen the impact that would have on work, the workforce and the workplace. The pandemic nearly instantly created a seismic shift in the structure of work — to remote and hybrid work models, greater flexibility in schedules, etc. While employees are demanding more from their employers, there are also large-scale layoffs happening at high profile companies. When you couple that with the declining economy, this is undoubtedly making many employees uncomfortable, even those whose jobs are relatively “secure.” Employers have complained for a decade or more about the lack of loyalty from employees, many of whom are willing to change jobs frequently and seek new opportunities to find what satisfies them, rather than putting company needs first. I predict that employees’ feeling that a particular job is “dispensable” will only increase in the coming years as more companies demonstrate their lack of loyalty to their employees, through layoffs.
Lastly, we have started to see the shift towards automating aspects of nearly every job and now artificial intelligence (AI) is substantially impacting that movement. I predict that shift will accelerate substantially over the next 10 to 15 years. Are computers going to replace us all, as doomsayers have warned for decades? No, I do not believe that will happen. But there will be portions of many jobs, and in some cases entire jobs, in which people will no longer directly perform.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Put (even more) focus on people and culture. Whatever product or service you are offering your customers or clients, you cannot do it well without a workforce that is highly engaged and productive. I know I am not saying anything you haven’t already heard and likely already believe. However, many employers do not prioritize this or do it well. In the busyness of the day-to-day, this often gets forgotten.
For the younger generations in the workforce, particularly, this means letting go of the one-size-fits all notion that just offering fair compensation and competitive benefits is enough. Employers should be looking at how they welcome new employees into their workplace; what and how they communicate across their organization; the employee and management development opportunities that are offered and how those are delivered to employees; and whether or not these efforts are truly resulting in employee retention and engagement. Effective programs should be infused into the culture and tailored to individual employees, to the extent possible.
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?
Many employees, particularly those who are newer to the workforce, truly believe that their employer should be meeting their specific needs and desires. It’s a very self-oriented (some might say self-centered) mindset. The realities of most businesses prevent them from truly meeting those employees where each of them is, individually. Businesses are not able to offer customized benefits, schedules and job duties, as some employees desire. Additionally, employment laws and concerns about fairness, equity and inclusion dictate that there be less customization to ensure that employees are treated in a commensurate way.
I recommend that employers seek to create a culture in which there are effective communication channels in all directions, offering employees the opportunity to make their needs and desires known and for management to make clear what they can and cannot offer. Employers who routinely “take the temperature” of their employees and seek to offer what the majority desire will be most successful in attracting and retaining employees, as well as maximizing those employees’ productivity and effectiveness.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
In those industries that were able to make the shift to working from home, that will continue to influence work and the workforce for a long time to come. On the one hand, the world has now seen that many jobs which historically had to be carried out in the office do not necessarily have to be performed there, or at any particular location. Employees are enjoying this flexibility of work location, with some even traveling the world while completing their work from many places, not just doing so from “home.” In fact, I know one woman who has been able to complete her full-time job duties from Indiana, Seattle, Peru, and her home in Boston, just over the last several months. (None of that travel was for job-specific reasons.) She reports that she has much greater job satisfaction and increased focus on the tasks to be completed and her employer has reported that her productivity and the quality of her work has been outstanding. As a member of Gen Z and a relative newcomer to the workforce, this is her normal. Employers will be hard-pressed to unwind these changes in the coming years.
With that being said, employers are pushing for employees to return to the office. As the labor market swings in the favor of companies, and large employers are laying people off, employees will have less leverage to insist on the flexibility they have now become accustomed to. This “tug of war” will create some interesting dynamics in the workplace. Employees who do not want in-house roles will have less ability to find (or negotiate for) remote work. Employers who insist that their current employees return to the office will face challenges from some of their employees, especially if those employees have rearranged their personal lives (such as childcare or eldercare) or have even relocated based on lenient remote work policies. Employers who insist on employees being on-site will return to experiencing more limited candidate pools, shaped by those who are within their general geography and are willing to commute.
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?
As is true during any period of time, there are many societal changes impacting the workplace, including:
- There is greater focus on DEI&B (diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging). More companies are hiring experts to create more effective DEI&B initiatives and infuse them throughout the organization.
- Employees expect that there is more attention paid by their employers to a variety of social justice issues, including allowing them the opportunity to be heard on these issues and to take time away from work to have an impact on them. The younger generations in the workforce increasingly want to work for employers who are openly aware of these issues and are “giving back” in whatever ways possible.
- Rapidly evolving technologies, including communication mechanisms and social media, are having a significant impact on both society as a whole and the work and workforce in particular.
- In an economy that is declining, there are significant societal and workplace impacts that unfold and there are undoubtedly more we have yet to see. For younger workers, they’ve never experienced this before.
- As baby boomers are retiring in increasing numbers, or in some cases choosing not to retire but to move into different roles, there are substantial impacts on the workplace in terms of staffing, generational differences, discrimination against older workers, and a variety of other issues.
Each of these could be the subject of another entire article, unto itself.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
I am eternally optimistic about people and their ability to adapt, succeed and overcome obstacles and challenges. When I changed careers and determined my path would be to work in human resources, some “seasoned” HR leaders actually said to me, “Don’t tell me you want to work in HR because you like people… because you won’t for very long.” Well, they were wrong (thankfully). I am still fascinated by people — their similarities and their differences, their adaptability and resilience, the way their minds and their hearts work, and their ability to problem solve and innovate to meet the changing needs of work and the world at large. That continues to provide me with great optimism and the drive to be a part of working with companies to maximize those human capabilities.
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?
Mental health and physical and emotional wellbeing took a toll for numerous people during the pandemic. Many employers historically had taken the approach that those were matters best “left at the door” when people reported to work. Over the last few years, employers have been forced to confront those needs of their employees in a more significant way. Those employers who have risen to the occasion are offering truly holistic wellness programs that look at the whole person and provide a variety of offerings to address the varied needs of their workforce. Those programs go beyond the basic EAP (employee assistance programs) and health improvement initiatives such as walking challenges or helping employees to quit smoking. Today’s programs offer support around a variety of needs, such as:
- stress management and mental health resources.
- physical health, nutrition and weight management programs.
- resources and support for employees who are parents and for those who are assisting aging family members.
- financial information, education, and tools.
- and, of course, workplace flexibility.
The best of these programs also offer employees the opportunity to give back to their communities, during paid work hours, as they recognize the positive impact these activities have on employee wellbeing.
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?
Put your people first. Employees are expecting and requiring different things, as stated in my responses above. For businesses to not only survive but thrive, they need to create a culture that listens and responds to those expectations. This can no longer be a one-size-fits-all approach. While there are financial, legal, and practical limits to the variety of solutions businesses can offer, they will need to find the right balance for their particular business and their particular workforce. Every business (and sometimes even every department or unit within a business) has its own unique culture. Tapping into that and maximizing the positive aspects of each culture will reap the rewards of the investment made to do so.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Flexibility — Employees will expect all manner of flexibility, including diverse schedules and work locations. This will result in more geographically dispersed employee populations and even to globalization of particular employers’ workforces which had been largely local prior to the pandemic. As an example, in the healthcare industry, many of the employees must be onsite to provide the care needed to patients. However, healthcare employers have found it necessary to offer greater flexibility in scheduling and job duties. Additionally, for support functions, such as HR and IT, many of those roles are being done from home, by people across the country, or even outsourced overseas.
- Culture and engagement — In the battle for talent, employers are going to need to be more focused on creating a positive work culture and maximizing the many ways that they can better engage their workforce. Employees are no longer willing to put up with toxic workplaces and bad managers. Employers who get this right will realize the greatest success in the future.
- Technology — The continuation of automation and the move towards more utilization of AI technologies will have a substantial impact on many aspects of work as we’ve known it.
- Learning & Development — “Upskilling” and “reskilling” are among the newest buzzwords in workplace jargon. In order for businesses to stay competitive with the workforce they have, they are retraining their employees to take on new responsibilities within their current jobs or to learn the skills to move into different jobs within that company. In addition, employees have greater expectations of professional and career development. This is a key part of answering the “what’s in it for me?” question that many younger employees are asking.
- Generational influences — Speaking of younger employees, they are having a significant impact on the workplace and what is expected of their employers. In addition, as more and more older workers seek to retire or semi-retire, companies will need to find ways to replace them or find ways to accommodate their gradual transitions out of the workplace, where possible.
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?
From a professional perspective, I read a quote many years ago by Laszlo Bock, former SVP of People Operations at Google. He said, about HR, “It’s about meeting their needs and solving their problems.” To me, this truly defined the role of human resources vis-à-vis whatever business in which it operated. I still, as an HR consultant, strive to partner with my clients to help them meet both the business needs and the employees’ needs and to solve the challenges that are impacted by their people.
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.
This is a tough one… there are so many. At the top of my list would be Brené Brown because of her blending of professional, personal, and workplace perspectives, with a true humanistic and whole person approach. She recognizes that we bring our whole selves to work, including all of our life experiences, and that this can have a significant impact on our work and the workplace as a whole.
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?
You can connect with me on LinkedIn and stay current by visiting our website, rossinsightsolutions.com
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.