Results versus Presenteeism. In work there is a contract where the employer wants a specific job doing and engages an employee with the relevant skills to achieve the job.

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 creating 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 Fran Dunning.

Fran has worked for public, private and third sector organisations as a Human Resources Manager and has volunteered for a local hospice for nearly 30 years. With her experience in developing people, she has taken her experience working in senior management along with her skills in mindfulness, neuro-linguistic programming and hypnotherapy to help organisations and individuals in the post-pandemic world. As Fran sees it, the priority is to assist line managers in supporting their teams and people’s wellbeing along with their social and business interaction to create a healthy and productive environment.

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.

At the age of 25, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, resulting in me having major surgery, six months of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and a bone marrow transplant.

Naturally, this was a worrying time, but I decided then and there that I wasn’t going to give in, and I determined I would beat cancer and get on with my life.

That was the first time I discovered the power of the mind and what we can achieve with positive thinking and self-belief. That experience led me to find out more and eventually led me to study hypnotherapy, NLP, and all the other mind/body techniques such as mindfulness, which I continue to practice today.

The other major change in my life came after 25 years working in corporate life that I decided to become self-employed. This required a significant readjustment, as suddenly you do not have the trappings of a large office or a sales, marketing or IT department to rely on. It is all down to you. You have to be a master in your main skillset and be able to do everything else that is entailed with running a business.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now?

Managing people’s physical and mental wellbeing will remain the single most important thing in the workplace. I can see us putting more focus on this as the years go by. I am sure, as technology evolves, we will be working less informal office spaces and the nature of individual job roles will change. However, people are still social beings and need personal interaction.

What do you predict will be different?

I think we will see more blended working arrangements. I also think employees will have the ability to fulfil their contracts in different ways such as working for three days rather than five.

Artificial Intelligence will be more prevalent in the workplace and we will all have to adapt to new ways of working.

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

Managers need to develop teams with the appropriate skills, including softer skills and the flexibility to adapt to change. The future will be dynamic and exciting for those with the right frame of mind. As in any relationship in life, open and honest communication is key.

Employers need to facilitate the kind of interaction that employees had when they worked together in an office by, for example, organising wellbeing days once a month when everyone gets together.

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 biggest gap will be in our understanding of what constitutes an employee benefit. We used to consider flexible working, for example, as a perk. Now, working from home and flexible working is a necessity. This means that employers will have to come up with additional benefits for employees and employees will have to look at the total benefits package on offer.

Employers will need to be more creative in the way in which they describe their benefits package, and will need to include things like wellbeing days, staff development etc., as well as the more traditional benefits such as pension.

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

Working from home has meant that employees miss out on the general banter that happens in an office. They can no longer run something past a colleague without making a specific point of phoning them. There are no unplanned water cooler conversations. People are missing out on that all-important social interaction. I think we need to be careful that we don’t lose that interaction. People are social creatures, we don’t thrive if we are isolated.

Employers must create times where employees can come together, virtually and in-person to be creative, share ideas, swap stories and hang out together.

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 a society, we are going to have to review our performance management policies and the way we reward and motivate employees, many of whom could be struggling with new working environments. At the height of the pandemic when workers in the UK were being furloughed, they were being paid to stay at home and not work. Now they are being paid similar money and are expected to perform to the best of their ability.

We need to take into account that more than one person in the household could be working from home at any time, and the impact that has on people, their physical environment and their family lives.

The working day and week will need to change as well as what we class as flexitime.

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

My greatest source of optimism is the positive impact that our changing work patterns can have on the environment. Less commuting, fewer offices and much less business travel. I am hopeful that we can change the way that we perceive these things and put greater value on things that bring us greater mental health benefits such as spending more time with our families or in nature.

I hope that we leave behind a society that thinks travelling the globe for business is something to be proud of and seen as desirable. Instead, I am optimistic that enlightened employers will position things very differently and reward employees with wellbeing days and time to indulge their hobbies and passions.

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 optimise their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

I am working with a number of employers who have already introduced mindfulness techniques into the working day as a way of helping employees cope. For example, starting each meeting with a simple three minute breathing exercise can create a sense of calm and allow people to focus their minds before conducting the business of the meeting.

Employers will need to consider the employees Total Benefits Package and make sure it includes physical and mental health initiatives, whether that is discounted bike rental, gym membership or wellbeing days.

Managers will need to be trained on the softer skills to make sure they are able to regularly check-in with staff who are working remotely. They need to have the skills to manage their performance, motivate them and notice when things are not going well.

Employers also need to partner with external organisations to support them with making some of these changes; this could be mental health charities or counselling organisations who can complement in-house skills and offer confidentiality.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Re-evaluation’.

What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

We know that climate change is the most pressing issue facing society and it is vital that employers are seen to care about their role and demonstrate this clearly to their employees.

It is important for employees’ wellbeing that they work for a company that cares and is taking steps to mitigate their impact on the environment. We are global citizens and can no longer behave as if our actions are not important.

Employees want to see their employer doing more than paying lip service to the big issues like climate change.

For years, organisations have often made the claim that ‘their employees are their biggest asset.’ Yet, company policies have done little to substantiate this claim. In the future, it is going to be even more important that companies demonstrate that they value their employees. It is time to stop putting the customer first, and to put the employee first. Enlightened organisations know that is the way to improve customer satisfaction.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Work hard, play hard was the 1980’s mantra. Practically, this was portrayed in films and the media as “success” at all costs and if you’re going to be a “player” you’ve got to never switch off completely from the day job and the reward for this is to “play hard” in the wine bars and clubs of the time. In my last job as an HR manager, I saw the “work hard, play hard” ideal have a very different meaning. At the request of staff, we brought in lunchtime meditation sessions on some days and yoga breaks on others. We had a gym in the office but the option of doing something less time-constrained, without the need to change into gym gear but simply move to another room and do some mindful movement or yoga stretches, really helped with refreshing the mind and making employees more effective at their work in the afternoon.

The added benefits were that from an HR perspective, I knew people with challenges such as repetitive strain injury and lower back problems could do their exercises during the working day and were being actively encouraged to take a break from their desks. The move to the blended home/office working makes it even more relevant to encourage staff to take regular breaks.

The founder mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, said “meditate as if your life depends on it … because it does” and the science to back up, this statement acknowledges the reduction in stress and anxiety and physical benefits such as better sleep, strengthened immune system and a boost to energy, learning, creativity and the ability to succeed.

2. Results versus Presenteeism. In work there is a contract where the employer wants a specific job doing and engages an employee with the relevant skills to achieve the job.

Does it really matter whether this is achieved at 3.00 am in the morning or between 9am and 5pm if the job gets done?

I believe success in organisations will be achieved by recognising that employees can take responsibility for achieving their set objectives within certain time frames and then be free to choose how much free time they have. Some roles will require joint working and collaboration but if the job gets done, it would be great to see organisations allowing more freedom for the employee to achieve their objectives in a more effective way rather than be present in the office at set hours or available on the laptop at home just for the sake of it.

Think what this would do to the morning/evening rush hour traffic that pollute the environment.

3. The return of Integrity and living by Company and Employee Values. The most successful companies I have worked for recruit a team based on the company values and whether the potential employee fits into these values — you can teach someone skills but values such as integrity, honesty, ownership, responsibility, partnership, entrepreneurship and achievement are often innate. As part of a leadership team, I believe it is vital to encourage and continually nurture an environment that supports the company values rather than, to quote Greta Thunberg, it all being just blah, blah, blah. As an example of how not to do it, what tipped me over the edge into self-employment was being responsible for an HR function and the achievement of the organisation’s ISO 9001, 14001 and 18001 accreditations. We achieved these with flying colours but with regard to the environmental accreditation, we ticked every box within the organisation but with the full knowledge that the local council didn’t provide recycling bins for companies but only domestic households so all of the work we did within the building was worthless and there was no interest in the leadership team to tackle this.

4. The end of Abundance Thinking — Post-pandemic, we can no longer rely on an abundance and availability of resources and the convenience this brings. The nature-positive/sustainability movement is driving the movement to a more measured approach to consumption. Our world depends on this. Scarcity, shortages, distribution delays and sustainability factors are now real and require the creative thinking of dynamic employees to see a way through these challenges. During the last decade I worked for one Chairman who boasted of being in the top ten of a global airline’s Airmiles listing and on another occasion, I didn’t meet the Finance Director for six weeks after arriving in the company as she was flying around Europe from Monday to Friday each week. I hope that these behaviours are seen as outdated and obscene, harming the planet and the individual.

5. The Collective Effort — With the advent of home-working, the culture of “we” needs to be nurtured and given a booster shot.

The business needs to ensure that all employees are aware of the achievement of the whole business. I have two experiences of this being done extremely well: I have worked, as a volunteer, for a Sunday Times “UK Top Company to Work For” — our local hospice which relies on around 95% of its income from local people and business. The second was a financial services company. In both cases, the most important people in the company are the staff reflect Richard Branson’s quote that “clients do not come first, employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”. Whether your “client” is a “patient” with a life-limiting illness or someone looking for their first mortgage, both organisations have clearly stated values which they live by and are communicated to all staff whether they be paid employees or volunteers because all staff are valued equally.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

My favorite quote is ‘be the change that you wish to see in the world’ by Mahatma Gandhi. I have always tried to live by this mantra. We each have the power to make a huge difference, if we know what we want and commit to it and if I can improve the experience of one person’s life in this day, then that’s today’s work done because we all only have today to make a difference.

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.

I would love to have a conversation with Megan Markle. I have huge respect for how she has adapted from an actress in the media spotlight, marrying into the royal family, and moving away to start a new life. I would love to know how she has coped with all those changes and how she stays mentally resilient when she is continually being scrutinised. I have had to adapt over the years and discover what I could do with my mind and self-belief, I would love to hear her talk about her experiences.

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?

Frances Dunning

[email protected]

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