EQ. You can’t write an article about the future of work without the reference of artificial intelligence and automation. These harbingers of the changing workplace mean a heightened interest in an employee’s emotional intelligence, soft skills and ability to navigate a changing environment with a diversity of perspectives. EQ should continue to be the most important criterion when hiring.

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 Elizabeth Candello.

Elizabeth Candello, Ph.D., is a scholarly assistant professor at The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She has nearly a decade of experience in the communication and technology industries in the Seattle, Portland, Austin and Phoenix media markets. Her research explores how organizations build relationships to increase literacy and well-being among populations and examines how knowledge is produced and co-created. She is the creator of the employee engagement tool Frankcalled.com, giving employees the power to speak.

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.

My relationship with the word “intensity” changed roughly 15 years ago.

When I experienced septic shock.

I share this neither to say that I saw the light nor did I have a revelation about how I needed to start living. I did, however, witness the immense intensity that each health care professional brought to work to help keep me alive. And countless others are alive today because of that intensity.

It is a luxury to bring mediocrity to work; a luxury those in the healthcare industry don’t have.

After that experience, I was committed to tackling each of my much-less-intense-work days at the university with the same degree of care and urgency. I still fall victim to mediocrity at work. But a quick mental date back to the ICU reminds me that intensity in the workplace matters, and some of us don’t have a choice.

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?

Generational characteristics are good indicators of workplace culture. Much of what we see with our millennials today is a good predictor of what’s to come as millennials, Gen Zs and Gen Alphas are similar, i.e., digital natives, information-seekers, sharers and conscious about purpose-driven brands, so generational disparities, specifically digital disparities, that we witness today — five different generations in the workforce — may not be as pronounced in the workplace in the future. Flexibility in work modalities, the use of time and how we approach worker anxiety will guide the future of work.

I’d add that turning to our Gen Z and Alpha cohorts — entering the workforce 10–15 years from now — can help us visualize a boundaryless workplace that caters to purpose-driven, personalized and targeted work experiences.

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

First, for those employers out there, the openness to welcome all stakeholders to engage and create value through interaction is a future-proof strategy. The concept of “co-creation” isn’t new but has taken on an interdisciplinary approach to influence value, including the process of innovation, customer experience and corporate social responsibility. However, employers must heed the increasing scarcity of our attention spans and understand how the Attention Economy will disrupt work life.

Second, understanding what work means to employees will be important — we have to spend our days doing something and for many of us, work isn’t fun. My colleague, Tom Hagley Sr., once said, “People are trying to make the best of their little part of life with limited control and resources.” Why not future-proof your organization with caring, empathetic and understanding people? We should seek opportunities to nurture compassionate managers and leaders, and not underestimate what it means to work with good 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?

The gaps between employers and employees will be contingent on generational differences, which I argue will be less pronounced compared to the differences between boomers and millennials.

However, COVID-19 has exacerbated the gender, racial and ethnic disparities in the workforce. As such, it will be an organization’s employee relations and human resources that will undergo the greatest transformation to ensure there are no gaps between employer offerings and employee’s needs, especially from those groups who were hardest hit by the pandemic.

The organizations that offer benefits from a la carte model vs. one-size-fits-all benefit program and that engage in “social listening” are already positioned to keep top talent and reconcile those gaps.

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

This is a privileged way of looking at work. Not everyone was or is able to work from home.

And in fact, “working from home” has created greater inequalities.

Not only an imbalance in money and benefits, but time inequality. We don’t pay enough attention to the uneven distribution of time among workers. For example, think about your own family units — the availability of time may widely differ. We have to find a way to provide the time-saving benefit of “working from home” for all of our workers, including hourly.

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?

If organizations or grassroots movements are looking for ways to help move the needle to support the future of work in the United States, focus on a greater investment in competitive pay packages for primary and secondary teachers, paid sick leave for our hourly workers, paid parental leave and affordable childcare. These are “people policies” that produce value in the long run. But it’s so hard for many of us to see the immediate return on investment to do something about it.

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

There’s great optimism around the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives, finally, now enforced across organizations throughout the U.S. Honestly, when there is a diversity in voice and thought, an organization is better suited to not only increase profits but meet the needs of its stakeholders. Welcome the contentious debate that may unfold at work. It could be an indicator of different perspectives.

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?

The fact that we can openly talk about our mental health demonstrates just how far we’ve come in valuing the employee. For good reason too. Our research on well-being has consistently shown that an organization’s resources and benefits are important predictors of employee work engagement and impact employee’s overall well-being.

My research co-author Mark Mohammadpour, founder and chief well-being officer of Chasing the Sun, says cultivating well-being means that employers must get ahead of workplace burnout by listening to employees; canceling redundancies; and encouraging “guilt-free” time away from work.

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?

The Great Resignation has revealed many shortcomings of the workplace, namely unhappy employees whose feedback goes unheard. And when employee surveys are conducted, employers often lack the time and resources to analyze the data and make a change.

Often, it’s the manager who lets employee feedback go unheard and could be the reason for high turnover. In fact, the Predictive Index reported that 63 percent of employees who have a “bad manager” are thinking of leaving their positions. In Gallup’s State of the American Workplace, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton has said: The single biggest decision you make in your job — bigger than all the rest — is who you name manager. When you name the wrong manager, nothing fixes that bad decision.”

What this means is that employee engagement and feedback are important and bad managers may be prohibiting employees from feeling empowered to share.

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

  1. Employee engagement. Organizations want to hear from its employees and employees want to share feedback. There’s a caveat, however. Fear of retribution and the basic human need to be liked prohibits us from being honest at work — this keeps us from fully collaborating and engaging. To be clear, the market of employee engagement tools is saturated, but filled with corporate tools that don’t meet the needs of all of our workers, especially entry-level workers. That’s why tools like Frankcalled.com make sharing feedback anonymously without the expense of surveys and questionnaires easy and will transform the way we share information directly with each other. Hedge fund manager Ray Dalio is a proponent of sharing, he calls this “radical transparency,” in other words, no closed-door conversations. However, I’ve learned through my work with young professionals entering the workforce that radical transparency can be terrifying.
  2. Well-being. We’re in the nascent stages of how employees talk about well-being. Right now, working on well-being for an employee might mean taking a “mental health day” while leaving peers and colleagues to pick up the work. This is a very me-centric approach to work. But this is how we approach anything new: we first think about how it affects us on an individual level. And then we’re able to see how things affect all of us holistically. Organizations and employees will need to strike the right balance of attaining and maintaining well-being while keeping everyone else healthy as well.
  3. A la carte options. Each employee comes to work with a unique set of circumstances, so benefits and resources are being tailored for that uniqueness. Organizations that still offer a one-size-fits-all approach may be wasting money and missing valuable opportunities to meet the needs of its employees.
  4. EQ. You can’t write an article about the future of work without the reference of artificial intelligence and automation. These harbingers of the changing workplace mean a heightened interest in an employee’s emotional intelligence, soft skills and ability to navigate a changing environment with a diversity of perspectives. EQ should continue to be the most important criterion when hiring.
  5. Outsourcing skills. What started at an accelerated pace during the Great Recession of 2018, hiring part-time employees to avoid health care benefits, will continue in the form of outsourcing organization’s key skills to freelance and consultant workers. Platforms like Upwork.com make outsourcing really easy and can save organizations money.

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?

I like to think that both of my parents are stoics; well, stoics with a penchant for life. And stoicism has been such a bedrock to my professional life. “Don’t make long-term decisions on short-term emotions,” my dad says. And he’s right. In fact, unfettered emotion or emotion that isn’t channeled in the right direction is trouble. I’ve learned that silence can be powerful. Though I’m a work in progress.

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.

Hmm, this is uncomfortable for me because I am certain that anyone I name — business, VC funding, sports, entertainment or otherwise — would look at their calendars and say, “Who the heck am I having breakfast or lunch with?” Limited time in everyone’s lives makes this an awkward engagement for the biggest names. However, I have much respect for Pat Mitchell, the first woman president and CEO of PBS. I’d like to get to know the women creating and distributing our media. And if only Saul Goodman was a real character, he would be someone to lunch with.

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?

Email is my choice of message: [email protected] Or connect with me on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabethcandello

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