Oversaturation of information. People are inundated with messages every day. It’s a struggle to process it all, yet the number of data points we are faced with is only going to increase. People will need to adapt by learning how to sort through the clutter and find the information that’s both true and useful. AI may help with that.

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 of interviewing Dr. Jean Latting.

Jean Latting is an organizational consultant and leadership coach. She has spent more than 20 years consulting and teaching training for private and public sector organizations — experience she used to found Leading Consciously, an organization dedicated to building inclusive leaders and making a difference. Likewise, her scholarship and consulting services are dedicated to helping people fulfill their goals and give meaning to their lives.

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?

In the 1950s, I was attending a highly integrated northern school. That was a stark contrast from where I grew up in the south, which was still practicing segregation. In my last few days of a visit back home, I was shopping downtown, and I had to go to the bathroom. The facilities for “colored” people were always in the basement, and they were notorious for being filthy because the store didn’t think we deserved better. It occurred to me that I’d never been in the bathroom upstairs for the White people.

So on the spur of the moment, I decided to go to the White bathroom. I was amazed by how beautiful it was — unlike anything I had ever seen. When I walked out, two White women looked at each other and said, “Aren’t the little people supposed to be downstairs?” I washed my hands in the sparkling clean sink, said nothing, and left, exhilarated at having broken an ironclad rule. By the time I returned home, I had resolved to never abide by Jim Crow laws anymore. I stopped riding in the segregated buses and avoided any place that required I demean myself; that was the start of my journey to mentally break free. And that determination to be true to my values has carried me all the way to now. I will go where people fear to go more easily than most. I’ve been in situations where my job and reputation, and even life, have been threatened, but I don’t back down when I believe there is a higher principle involved.

The second life experience illustrates the same theme. At one point in my career, I was the only Black assistant professor in my social work school at the University of Houston — and I was up for tenure. At a faculty meeting, I contradicted an influential White faculty member about a statistical fact. Afterward, another professor pulled me aside and said I should never contradict the higher-up faculty member who would likely serve on my tenure review committee. I said, “I’m not easily threatened. If I can’t express myself at an institution of higher learning, where can I express myself?” A year and a half later, I was tenured.

Yes, I often do endure consequences for being outspoken. I have setbacks and get symbolically slapped when I push boundaries that I should leave alone. Yet even so, I believe I have gained much more than I’ve lost by staying true to my values. A few months ago, someone told me, “you speak your truth.” That’s the reputation I prefer to have.

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?

As far ahead as I can imagine, people will still be people with aspirations for power, status and belonging, while getting their feelings hurt along the way. Whatever era we are in, people will have insufficient skills to master their far-off aspirations and will struggle and do the best they can. Sometimes a client will ask if they will ever get to a place where they are so comfortable, they know how to handle any situation that comes their way. I tell them no. When they are that comfortable, they will be bored. We as humans want to be challenged and we want to be comfortable, yet we can’t have both. That is not changing.

But what will be different are new developments such as artificial intelligence, which will change the work landscape.

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

Be okay with getting your feelings hurt. I regularly get my feelings hurt; but personally, I think there’s no better way to learn, as long as you’re willing to grow from these experiences instead of shutting down. To be clear, I am not endorsing meanness and cruelty. But I am endorsing telling disturbing truths for the sake of clearing the air and moving forward.

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?

I see a chronic tension between hierarchical control and empowerment. Many higher-ups want to be directly involved in every decision down the food chain. They feel responsible for outcomes and have a window into contexts those lower in the hierarchy cannot see. Yet many employees resent having decisions handed down without their input. They reason that if they are responsible for making it happen, they should at least be involved in shaping the decision, even if the leader makes the final call. These tensions have probably always existed, and they probably always will.

I think the key in managing this tension is to keep the lines of communication open, honest and free-flowing. The more we can talk with each other, the better we can all work together. And this brings us back to the willingness of the leaders to get their feelings hurt as they listen to things they might rather not hear.

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

The future is now. People are already turning down jobs that require them to go into an office in favor of opportunities that offer flexibility. That, unto itself, is a direct offshoot of the great resignation, which started because people decided they weren’t going to be forced into an office, even if they like seeing their coworkers from time to time. It all comes back to empowerment again. People are hard-wired to be self-determining. They want to build their lives in their vision of who they are. Working from home is a relatively new facet of that; in my opinion, it’s here to stay.

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?

Work environments must value people and not just profits. Employees know they are valued when companies do what they can to develop them. Training, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and environmental efforts — just to name a few, all demonstrate care and concern by organizational leaders. I see the shift happening now as people band together to change the way things are done. It’s already starting to happen, and I see it increasing.

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

My great-grandparents were slaves, and I am not. That’s clear evidence there is progress toward greater human rights and caring, despite the hardships and backsteps. And it gives me hope in thinking about what the lives of my great-grandchildren will be like.

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 employees’ mental health and wellbeing?

There are two things I advocate for: One is emotional language in the workplace. To promote mental health, we should encourage people to voice how they feel with phrases such as, “I feel sad,” “that makes me happy,” “I don’t like that,” etc. Let’s legitimize emotions so people may bring their whole self to the work.

The second thing I advocate for is legitimizing and learning how to deal with differences of opinion. People want to feel heard and to have ownership in their work. When we have differences of opinion within a team, how do we work it out? We could resort to the same-old hierarchy in the name of efficiency — and there is a time for that, such as during a fire. But there are plenty of times when the best decision comes when people look at a problem from their different lens. This requires that people learn how to talk together, listen deeply and bring forth the best ideas.

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?

Allow for more open communication. Teach people how to engage in collective decisions. Allow for diversity of opinion so you get the best ideas instead of a homogeneous group of people making all the decisions. In other words, don’t stay stuck in old habits. Be open to changing your way of doing things so you can grow and evolve with the evolution of work.

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

  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to eliminate jobs, create new ones and change how we work and live forever. Take ChatGPT, for example. It will enable anyone to write papers with AI, allowing people to save time and be more efficient.
  2. Oversaturation of information. People are inundated with messages every day. It’s a struggle to process it all, yet the number of data points we are faced with is only going to increase. People will need to adapt by learning how to sort through the clutter and find the information that’s both true and useful. AI may help with that.
  3. More flexibility in the workplace and more attention to people growth. Profits are an important part of business, but businesses are made of people. If profits are to grow, it only stands to reason that the people who drive the business must also grow. I see more companies gravitating to that line of thinking, and I believe it’s a trend that will continue to rise.
  4. Decentralization. On a global scale, most of the trends I see move away from centralization and hierarchy. The desire to make one’s own decisions is becoming stronger in our culture. And the technology we create — and how people use it — allows for both increased decentralization and coordination at the same time so that people can feel self-determining.
  5. Personalization. As an extension of the decentralization I just discussed, everything is becoming more individualized. Medicine, self-care options, educational options, shopping — the products that sell best are the ones tailored to each of us individually. One-size-fits-all is soon to be a concept from the past. The future is: the best fit for you and your life.

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?

“If they knew better, they would do better.” — Maya Angelou

People go into judgment mode when they see people act the way they want to act. But I firmly believe if they knew better, they would do better. The question is: How do we help them know better?

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.

Hands down: Oprah. She is a fascinating individual, and I’d love to learn more about how she became the maverick she is, inspiring people all over the world to be more open and caring.

I know she seeks and takes advice from others. For example, one of her mentors told her to syndicate herself, and she did. And I know she starts all new ventures with a clear intention — oftentimes inspired through prayer, intuition and meditation. But how does she distinguish between ego-driven and spiritually inspired intentions? Put another way, when faced with a decision and a strong gut feeling to go in a certain direction, how does she distinguish whether it is truly a divinely inspired direction or an ego-driven impetus? In any case, my curiosities aside, Oprah is a great woman who has elevated humankind overcoming obstacle after obstacle along the way, and I would consider it an absolute honor to talk with her one day.

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?

Check out Leading Consciously’s website and blog at www.leadingconsciously.com

Find Jean on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeanlattingconsultant

Find Leading Consciously on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/leading-consciously/

Follow Leading Consciously on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/_leadingconsciously/

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