Financial Wellness — Twenty years ago employers prioritized physical wellness providing discounted gym memberships and onsite services as employee perks, now mental health has become a new priority for employers. The next topic for employers to tackle is financial wellness and we are already seeing employers offering programs, resources, and tools to help employees with the challenges and complexities of managing their finances and planning for retirement. When employees get focused on promotions it is often because of financial security. Shifting the conversation will create an environment that meets employees’ true needs.
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 Sandler.
Elizabeth Sandler spent 25 years as an executive in Financial Services before becoming a Workplace Investor advising companies on meeting the needs of the next generation. As a consultant, coach, and corporate masterclass teacher she provides employers with solutions that transform their workplaces. Through Juliette Works Elizabeth helps companies close their gender leadership gap by providing a modern approach to engaging women in the workplace.
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.
As a child I was severely shy, to the point where I couldn’t order my own food from the wait staff at a restaurant. It meant that I spent a lot of time silently watching, listening to, and learning from other people. In university this predilection grew into a major in Sociology, the study of human social behavior and relationships. That meant that throughout my 25 years in finance I was not only an executive but also a student of people. This lifelong approach to business is why I am effective at helping companies transform their workplaces and helping other women transform their careers.
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 10 years, we will have 5 generations in the workforce and ¾ of the global workforce will be Millennials. Work will have no choice but to shift to meet the expectations of generations Y, Z and Alpha.
The core truth behind work will not change in the future — people are wired to survive and thrive — and that will continue to manifest itself in a need to produce, innovate and improve. But over the last two decades people at work have not been thriving; they have been burning out, disengaging and generally sleep-walking through life.
Companies right now are focused on providing work environments with psychological safety including eliminating toxic behavior and being equitable and inclusive, but even that admirable effort is not going to be enough in the future.
I believe the future of work will be driven by a generation of employees who prioritize intellectual challenge, the need to create, their personal fulfillment, and the desire to impact beyond oneself. This will fundamentally change the workplace.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
I think the most successful companies in the future will become human-centric. And this requires staying ahead of where human needs and preferences are going to be in 15 years.
This means selling products and services that benefit humanity, without depleting the environment of precious resources, degrading human health, or disengaging from employees’ needs to connect with and contribute to the world.
This is going to be hard for a lot of employers to grasp but they will be competing for talent and resources with companies who are more conscious of their impact on people and the planet. Employers who don’t adapt will start losing both the war for talent and for clients.
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?
Employers aren’t thinking bold enough yet. They are looking to tweak their existing processes, policies, and procedures when they need to be thinking about completing reinventing work.
Constructs such as 9 to 5, 5-day work weeks, 40-hour work weeks, business attire, organizational hierarchies, vacation days, parental leave, resumes, education, etc. require an overhaul from the perspective of a generation who grew up in a completely different world than the people who created those paradigms.
The single best strategy for companies who want to adapt is to talk to people, openly and honestly, about what they need and want from work and how they can deliver results in a format that better suits them as human beings.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
The global pandemic opened people’s eyes to what was possible.
Working from home (even working from the middle of nowhere so long as there was an internet connect) did not unravel corporate productivity the way we feared.
Working 9am-2pm then doing school pick-up, supervising homework, and then reading email from 8pm-9pm and working a few hours on the weekend became the new definition of flexible work hours.
Wearing comfortable clothes shockingly did not impact our professionalism and eliminating commutes did not mean we were less well traveled (figuratively speaking of course.)
Employers have no choice but to acknowledge these truths and adjust their models accordingly.
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?
There has been a lot of data showing that women at work were hit hardest by the pandemic and the root cause of that is the disparity in terms of the percentage of household responsibilities traditionally covered by women versus men.
In classic chicken-or-egg format one of the reasons it has made more sense for women to leave the workforce than men is because the men earn more. One of the best ways to shift the social norms, with respect to equality at home, is to have meaningful pay transparency.
The other big issues, particularly in the US, are the lack of paid parental leave and affordable childcare. When employers have taken initiative in these areas it has reduced attrition and increased employee engagement. These may be competitive advantages for now, but they will soon become competitive necessities.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
We are entering a phase of technological development where everything we want to happen can be produced quickly and affordably. We had FinTech, PropTech, HealthTech, EdTech and I believe HumanTech is the next frontier.
AI, VR, the Metaverse and block chain are all developments that can make it easier and more effective for humans to be human. I am optimistic that we will use those technologies to improve human life and the workforce will benefit immensely.
All employers should have a Future of Work person, or consultant supporting their business, to look at how these technologies can benefit their customers, employees, and broader community.
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?
When an employee has a fever, stomach flu or breaks a bone we don’t think twice about them missing work. But when the illness isn’t physical, we are historically less trusting and supportive. Although this has shifted some, it’s only for knowledge workers at established companies or smart start-ups, most workers don’t have robust mental health structures.
The best employers are changing their policies and procedures to support employee’s mental health, but it is inconsistent. I will hear of an employer with innovative mindfulness programs and then about a manager at that same company that is horrible to their employees.
The most effective technique for improving employee well-being is education and facilitated practice combined with a culture that institutionalizes desired behaviors with positive reinforcement. It is a simple formula, but a lot of companies find it difficult to implement during everyday business.
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 think that the business world has been heading towards this re-awakening of our humanity for some time. Gallup reports 80% of workers globally are disengaged in their work. I’m sorry, I need to pause there for a moment, because the magnitude of this is truly heart-breaking. Think about it — the vast majority of people spend more than half their lives doing something that creates no joy or fulfillment; and these are the most financially secure people in the world, it’s tragic.
The pandemic was certainly a broad, global wakeup call but if it hadn’t been COVID then each person would have eventually had their own moment of waking up to the reality of their work situation. You pick — could be the loss of a loved one, a health scare, a YOLO, FOMO or LITS (Life is Too Short) event. Instead, we all had that wake-up call at the same time and BOOM, the Great Reawakening, just to create yet another headline.
It is very difficult to measure the cost of employee disengagement and lack of mental wellbeing. Companies need to assume it is there and change their cultures accordingly.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Burnout — There are a lot of misconceptions about what burnout is. People often refer to overwork, exhaustion, and mental fatigue as burnout, but those are symptoms of the broader syndrome. Burnout starts with a compulsion to prove oneself and if that need is not satiated then it can proceed through 12 phases that lead to full burnout. Classes that educate employees and employers on exactly what burnout is and how to prevent it (hint: working less hours is not the answer) can make a meaningful impact.
- Financial Wellness — Twenty years ago employers prioritized physical wellness providing discounted gym memberships and onsite services as employee perks, now mental health has become a new priority for employers. The next topic for employers to tackle is financial wellness and we are already seeing employers offering programs, resources, and tools to help employees with the challenges and complexities of managing their finances and planning for retirement. When employees get focused on promotions it is often because of financial security. Shifting the conversation will create an environment that meets employees’ true needs.
- 30-Hour Work Week — There are financial costs to employers becoming more employee-centric and although these will pay-off in higher retention, increased productivity, and overall employee wellness those benefits take time. Employers have been redefining flexible work hours over the last two years but now employers are looking at opportunities to reduce the work week as an alternative to increasing pay. To make this work employers need to invest in solutions that will enable a shorter work week without sacrificing profitability, growth, and innovation.
- Self-management — As technology and social change encourage a shift away from the command-and-control of traditional management structures we will see more self-management. This will impact daily work tasks, career development, and performance management. There are already Fortune 500 companies that have moved away from individual performance reviews with annual bonus awards towards technology-enabled rewards given throughout the year among colleagues. Companies can start by rethinking the role of their managers.
- Purpose — Although companies are still struggling with getting psychological safety right, including DEI, employees now consider this a non-negotiable must-have. The new competitive advantage will come in the form of purpose and meaning. The next generation of employees will want to feel that they are positively contributing to the world, not robbing from it. For example, my firm runs a corporate Ikigai program that aligns the individual’s reason for being with the firm’s goals and objectives to maximize win-win opportunities.
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?
Like millions of others, I’ve got an Oprah quote by my desk.
“Unless you choose to do great things with it, it makes no difference how much you are rewarded, or how much power you have.”
I find it can be challenging for ambitious, high-achieving, talented people to not get caught up in striving for power and rewards so I often find myself gently asking them, “what are you doing with all those achievements?”
It’s an invitation to be introspective but also permission to be honest with themselves that they are achievement-oriented. They should be both proud of what they have accomplished and aware of how much potential they have to positively impact others. It’s what I remind myself daily.
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.
Arianna Huffington without a doubt. In 2006 she came to speak to the senior women at my employer. She had just released “On Becoming Fearless” and our discussion was about leadership, the gender gap and taking control of our careers and lives. It suited a group of high-power women quite well, but times have changed a lot since then.
A year later she experienced her life-changing accident (collapsing from exhaustion) and she founded Thrive Global right around the same time I started searching for more out of my own career and life. When I read the press release about Thrive, I remember saying, “yes, this is what the world needs!”
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?
Thank you for asking Karen. Whether you’re an employer or a career woman I’m glad to share with you whatever resources I have that may be valuable. You can best connect with me on LinkedIn at https://linkedin.com/in/elizabethjsandler
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.