Being supported is another critical aspect for a sense of belonging and it occurs when employees experience action in response to the feedback they provide, when they experience recognition that makes them feel seen and truly appreciated.

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 David Bator.

David Bator thinks and writes about how work should work. David leads Achievers Workforce Institute, a strategic practice whose focus on Research, Community and Advisory empowers global executives with tactical, practical approaches to changing how the world works.

David is passionate about people, and has spent the last 20 years working closely and consultatively with HR, IT and Communications leaders to build programs that position individuals, teams and companies grow.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. 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?

A great question. I’m from Canada and we have an expression — plus ca change, plus c’est la même chose — the more things change, the more they stay the same.

As much change as we’ve experienced over the last couple years, our responsibility to individuals and teams hasn’t changed. And the future view is the same. Employees needs will be much the same:

  • We all need it to be easy to access the people and skills we need to be productive.
  • We all need to find meaning in our work.
  • We all need opportunities to declare our opinions and get ideas heard by the right people.
  • We all need safe, respectful and inclusive environments where we can do interesting work with interesting people and feel we belong.

I think what will be different is how we attend to those needs. Spoiler alert, technology will have a huge role to play in creating the conditions so employees can do the best work of their lives. Technology that allows employees to feel Welcomed, Known, Included, Supported and Connected will be critical as attending to those elements leads to an overall sense of belonging.

What will be fascinating to see is WHERE work takes place, the role offices assume and what the work day and work week look like. One thing I do know for sure is that the winning strategies will have been informed by the voice of the employee.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

As individuals, we tend to rally around the things we co-create. I’m sure there is better potato salad out there in the world but the one I make with my mom is my absolute favourite. I learned how to make that potato salad because she asked me to help get ready for a family barbecue years ago. It became a tradition. I was on salads. Over time, I started to add my own elements to it. All of that was possible because she created a condition for me to be involved.

It’s the same at work. At home, our employees are sought after for their opinions and their range of experience is valued in their stead as parents, partners, coaches and caregivers. At work, more often than not, they are limited to a function. Organizations that want to future proof recognize that the best ideas don’t always come from the boardroom, that it pays to tap into what their employees know, and that involvement is a secret ingredient in the employee experience.

Research proves this as well. Research from Achievers Workforce Institute found that organizations that asked for feedback from employees more than 4 times a year had 50% higher engagement and that those employees were 88% more likely to feel valued.

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?

It’s true that pay raises and promotions are attractive to just about everyone. Heck, I’d take one. But those are rarely the things that lead people out the door.

Interestingly, a global study of HR executives and their employees found that employees half (52%) of employees say feeling recognized for their efforts would reduce the negative impact of a salary freeze and two-thirds say feeling recognized would reduce their desire to job hunt. So ensuring employees are recognized remains a future-proof approach.

Our latest body of primary research found that 85% of employees demand flexibility and it’s the number one reason someone will change jobs. That same body of research found 56% of HR leaders saying their c-suite had failed to acknowledge that the world of work has changed. As we face inflation, labor shortages, historic resignation and a coming recession that chasm is a major cause for concern.

To me, the employee’s desire for flexibility leads to a question — what does flexibility mean? I’d bet you all the money in my pockets that if I asked 100 employees I’d get 100 different answers. For organizations working to create the conditions so employees can be engaged and productive, that’s tough. You can’t scale it. What you can do, however, is ask the question — what should work look like so that it works for you.

My partner Steve Garcia, Managing Partner of Contemporary Leadership Advisors draws the distinction between policies and principles. If you take return to office policies as an example of what “flexibility” might entail, few employees are going to relinquish the control over their work day they now enjoy even if you have a policy. If instead, as he suggests, establish a principle that employees are to spend, for example, 50% of their time in an office and you allow the individuals and teams to decide what that looks like for them, you’re more likely to get the results you’re after.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

As I shared, many employees have come to love the autonomy they have working from home. Some miss the crush of colleagues and the connection that happens when you’re in an office.

I think it is true that we lose something when we are not close to our colleagues. There’s an impact on knowledge transfer, observed behaviours and the spontaneity that is so crucial to innovation that occurs when we bump into someone in the hall.

And yet the research proves that productivity soared Working From Home.

I think there will be a reimagining of what function offices play in the future of work. Beautiful spaces and free food alone will not lure folks back en masse. It will always be experiences. It’s the experiences and a fear of missing out that employees miss working from home.

What should remain up front in the thinking of those tasked with designing these experience is the importance of connection. An organization is responsible for creating conditions so employees can build relationships across a diverse network inside the organization. They must also be attuned to making it easy for employees to access the people and the skills they need to be productive — from anywhere — so they remain productive and positive.

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?

I think it’s interesting that the pendulum has swung from a belief that the only way to win is to work hard and play hard to the knowledge that work life balance is a crucial element in both performance and self-preservation.

It’s positive that principles of mindfulness, mental health and the whole person are no longer perceived, by most, as “warm fuzzies” and have entered the business lexicon as important elements of the employee experience.

The recognition that we are unique and far more than our work is so important. I foresee a greater focus on empathy informing the experiences that we design for our employees.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

The best part of my job is the opportunity to work closely and consultatively with business leaders and the teams they lead. As I said earlier, as organizations search for the secret ingredient to engage employees, time and again they realize that ingredient is involvement. The extent to which you involve your employees in designing the future of work is the extent to which you will all be successful.

I have optimism because the organizations I work with know this to be true and so if employees have opportunities to share their feedback, I’m excited about what the future holds.

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?

Just a decade ago it was rare for conversations to be had about mental health and wellbeing. Enterprise organizations especially had a concerted focus on corporate social responsibility, enriching the lives of people in the communities where they worked, but not so much for their own employees. Today, conversations about mental health, mindfulness, wellbeing, even financial literacy are the norm.

Among the more impactful developments is the emergence of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to help embrace these issues head on. By their very nature, ERGs design programs for employees by employees and are extremely effective shaping behaviours that can scale and lead to lasting change.

Speaking of behaviour change, recognition has a role to play here to. There are fewer tools more effective in amplifying desired behaviours than a social recognition program. They not only serve as a way to broadcast what great looks like in the moment related to approaches to wellbeing, for example, but they also curate those moments so they’re always easy to find, use and share.

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?

I return here to the distinction I made between policies and principles. Many organizations react — quickly — with policy in the face of change or pressure.

Organizations should instead respond with principles that are more elastic and evergreen.

In my view, the tie that binds the employee experience together is belonging. Organizations that invest in ensuring their employees feel Welcomed, Known, Included, Supported and Connected, regardless of tenure, title, location or language are investing in the conditions that float all boats where the sailing is smooth or there are stormy seas. Our research finds that belonging is a 3x driver of trust, engagement, productivity, commitment, advocacy and a host of other outcomes that confront resignation, reconfiguration, reevaluation or whatever’s next on the horizon.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

I’m going to take your question in a different direction by sharing 5 areas that I think organizations should be investing in because they have a positive and material impact on individual and organizational performance. They all fall under the banner of belonging.

And so, as we think about what the employee experience should look like — as a way of recruiting the employees we already have — it should include these elements.

WELCOME — Am I Introduced to, and incorporated within, the organizational culture and community.

This means when I join a new organization or team that I receive a welcome card from my colleagues, recognition from my manager within my first week, that I can do an onboarding survey to ensure I have the resources and support I need to start the right way.

Research shows that People who are warmly welcomed and invited to be part of their organizational community are 2x more likely to feel a sense of belonging.

But the truth is that feeling welcomed is not about first days, weeks, months or years. It’s about every single day. It’s about ensuring that your employees feel good about the start and the end of each day and that they were made a part of it.

And this is why you want to be continuously listening to how your teams feel so you can make every day feel like day 1.

KNOWN — Am I Understood, motivated, and celebrated as an individual.

When I think about being known, I think about being a whole person.

So this means, are employees being given that opportunity to bring their whole selves to work?

  • Are they recognized for milestones that are professional and personal?
  • Do they have chances to share their institutional knowledge?
  • Is it clear how to pronounce their names?

People who feel known as an individual are 2x more likely to feel a sense of belonging.

INCLUDED — Am I valued and accepted without reservation.

I’m not supposed to have a favorite pillar, but amongst friends, it might be this one. In some ways, being included is the whole deal. Are you giving your employees a shot to begin with?

The narrow view, ironically, is to ensure you’re providing opportunities and programs to ensure your workplace and teams and diverse, equitable and inclusive.

The wider view is to provide the opportunity to share your thoughts, be heard and truly valued. Involving you in co-creating the employee experience.

Research shows that “voice of employee programs” make employees 88% more likely to feel included.

SUPPORTED — Am I consistently and meaningfully nurtured and developed.

Being supported is another critical aspect for a sense of belonging and it occurs when employees experience action in response to the feedback they provide, when they experience recognition that makes them feel seen and truly appreciated.

In fact, People with a supportive manager are 2.2x more likely to feel a sense of belonging.

This can mean initiatives around wellbeing including mental health, physical, financial. This can mean employee resource groups.

This can mean involving employees in solving the problems they raised in your voice of employee programs.

CONNECTION — Am I Developing and maintaining relationships across a diverse population.

Last, but certainly not least, we have connection. Can I develop and maintain relationships across a diverse network inside the organization.

Again, the idea that I can connect with and learn from the people that help me grow.

Our job — at Achievers — and the job we help our customers do is to remove the obstacles so employees, teams, managers and leaders can show up each day to do what they intend to do. The best work of their lives.

Our most recent primary research study found that connection tools are the #1 driver of trust, engagement, belonging, advocacy, commitment, enthusiasm and productivity.

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?

Here I invoke my late grandmother Anne and the writer Aaron Sorkin.

I was the first grandchild born in my family and so for years I was feted like a boy king. I remember being 7 years old, celebrating my first communion and my grandmother taking me into her arms and telling me the greatest gift I could ever give or receive was presence. “CE,” she would emphasize. It’s a design for life.

With Sorkin, I actually keep a cue card on my desk with the words “Intention” and “Obstacle” written on it. Sorkin has pointed to these two factors as essential in dramatic writing. Someone needs to want something and there needs to be something big standing in their way of getting it. It’s the same at work, I think. Our employees come to work for pay cheques, to be sure, but there’s something else they’re after. As employers, our job is to understand that something and work to remove the obstacles so our employees can get where they’re trying to go.

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.

Oh, I like this question! I think that Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant and Michael Lewis do a great job of taking you inside spaces and systems you think you know and using research and storytelling to illuminate the things you’ve never seen before. Sorkin, I’ve mentioned already.

As a lifelong reader of The New Yorker, I’ve loved Adam Gopnik, a big thinker who is rare in his ability to write as he speaks, in big, gorgeous paragraphs.

The others, I’m afraid, have passed, but that list would include Roger Angell, Christopher Hitchens and A. Bartlett Giamatti.

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?

Monday to Friday I write an article about how work could work. Folks can follow me here —

Each quarter, Achievers Workforce Institute, the intrepid team of workforce and data scientists that underpin the product we develop and counsel we share with customers, complete primary research studies that explore the conditions that need to exist so employees and managers can do the best work of their lives. You can access all the good stuff here —

If there’s anything you’re missing, connect with me and I would love to share!

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.