…Career pathing. Workers don’t just want to learn new skills. There must be an end goal for their skill development. That means career pathing. A significant part of this will be not only formulating clear career pathways for new hires but also helping to connect tenured team members to career coaches and internal advocates who will help them shift into new positions. An important part of this trend will be emphasizing internal hiring as an engagement and retention strategy. LinkedIn reports that employees stay 41% longer at companies that have higher rates of internal hiring. Workers see those internal hiring rates as a signal that their company strongly values and supports the career progression of their talent.

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 Gracey Cantalupo.

Gracey Cantalupo is the Chief Marketing Officer at MentorcliQ and has over 15 years of experience in marketing and communications ranging from consumer products, entertainment, and the software space. Gracey has a passion for mentoring, learning, and teaching others. Gracey got to share this passion as an Adjunct Professor at NYU for Digital Marketing and is excited to spread the mentoring love to employees globally with MentorcliQ.

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.

I always wanted to move to New York City but I thought it was out of my reach as a girl from a small town outside of Jacksonville, Florida. I did not have the connections to land a job nor the funds to survive in the big city. But one day I decided to break the cardinal rule of savings and cashed out my 401k to pay for the move. I packed up my dog, a few belongings and my dad drove me up in a U-Haul from Florida. It was a big risk. I did not know anyone and I certainly did not understand how much it costs to live in NYC. Still, I figured it out. It was not the “Sex in the City Season 1” of my dreams, but working at MTV and teaching marketing at NYU were some of the big highlights. The lesson is you will never be 100% ready and there will never be a perfect time; just go for it. You will regret not doing it way more than the slight chance that you might fail.

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?

The human need for connection is universal and scientifically proven. Most people want their work environment to provide the type of stability, support, and growth that they often find in other self-selected communities. That’s long been true about worker needs and it won’t change in 10–15 years, even as we shift more toward a hybrid remote society.

What we’re seeing now amid the Great Resignation, however, is many people’s self-reflective realization that their employer wasn’t offering the work culture they need to succeed and find joy in their career. Every relationship gets strained under pressure, including the employer-employee relationship. The pandemic put work-life balance under tremendous strain. Unfortunately, the way many employers responded to the situation revealed that they weren’t creating worker-positive environments before and during the pandemic, and many have regressed back to bad habits now that the pandemic is evolving in a more positive direction. People are responding the best way they know how: quitting en masse without regrets.

What we’re seeing in the job market right now is the beginning of a work transformation that will be standard in the next 10–15 years. We’re going to see a societal shift toward workers’ needs unlike anything we’ve seen in decades. Flexible work schedules will be normalized, with work-from-home standardized where remote work is possible for the role. Work-life balance will truly be prioritized instead of given empty lip service. And importantly, employers who still have physical office spaces will reimagine and renovate those spaces to give them a more home-like feel so employees will want to be there not “have to be” there.

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

A future-proofed organization is one where employers respect the experience and needs of their workers. Your people are your most valuable asset because of how intimately involved they are in the day-to-day operations of your organization. Companies that don’t respect the voice, experience, and knowledge of their workers tend to find themselves constantly responding to industry and employment shifts instead of heading off these challenges before they cause significant stress or damage to the business.

When you have open lines of communication with workers and regular, honest conversations, you can quickly identify when people, operations, marketing, and technology strategies need to be re-evaluated.

This approach is broadly important for all organizations. But it can also give your organization an edge against competitors. All industries have niche needs that nobody understands better than the skilled workers whose job it is to regularly interface with your product, service, and clients. Giving those workers a voice and an executive-level ear will create the foundation necessary for predictive and fast response to changing market conditions.

A standard part of any buying process includes evaluating the customer reviews of the product and service. Savvy buyers also evaluate employee reviews to see what employees think of the company. Unhappy employees are not known to deliver outstanding products and services to your customers. Happy employees are more engaged and invested in delivering a great experience for your customers.

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?

Many employers will assume the obvious answer to this is going to be increasing pay. For industries that have historically underperformed wage gains compared to inflation, this will certainly be a top-of-mind issue and one where employee and employer disconnects will cause significant friction. Employers for whom wages are an exceptionally relevant pain point will need to be mindful about how they approach the issue, especially in conversations with workers. They will need to be transparent on why reconciliation may be difficult.

The wage issue is less of a problem for office-centric workers, where compensation has more often than not kept up with inflation. That’s where you’ll find the biggest gap between employer and employee needs tends to be issues surrounding work-life balance, career goals, skills development, job satisfaction, and engagement. Workers in those industries, such as professional and business services, education, and health care, tend to want scheduling flexibility (especially remote work), career pathing, upskilling and reskilling, and the establishment of fulfilling work cultures that value diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Many employers may be unwilling to put the necessary time, effort, or consideration into understanding why workers are asking for these types of changes. We’re already seeing the effect of what happens when employers miss the message. The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps proving the Great Resignation is real with its monthly data dumps on quit rates. Employers likely can’t count on this being a temporary blip in how much say workers have in their desired work outcomes.

The best strategy for reconciliation is for employers to begin recognizing the importance of a people-first approach. Employers should begin by re-evaluating their people metrics. Where can improvements in employee engagement and retention produce cost savings or increase revenue? How can those revenue increases and cost savings be rolled into providing workers with the experience or wages they need to find more fulfillment in their work, while still ensuring the business meets its critical objectives? Part of that may be to find technological solutions that increase employee retention and productivity and ultimately reduce the heavy cost burden associated with turnover.

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

Remote work was already trending prior to the pandemic. In a 2021 survey on remote work, Upwork found that 13.2 percent of hiring managers reported at least some of their teams were remote in 2019. In 2020, hiring managers reported that 56 to 74 percent of their teams had a share of remote workers, and 20 percent of their teams were fully remote. Interestingly, hiring managers responding to Upwork’s survey indicated that 5 years from now, 21.8 percent of their team members will still be fully remote, while 14.6 percent will be partially remote.

The number of fully remote and hybrid remote employees is likely to be much larger than hiring managers predict, especially if you look at survey data from what workers actually want. Survey responses vary, but most report far more workers want to stay fully remote or in a hybrid work environment than what Upwork’s surveyed population of hiring managers believes. For example, a PwC survey of workers found that 41 percent of people never want to go back to in-person office work again.

Those survey results alone reflect the gaps we discussed earlier between what employers think their people want, and what employees actually want. When hiring managers and employees are reporting vastly different numbers on what remote work is going to look like as a part of the future of work, there’s going to be continued friction. Someone’s going to have to begin to compromise on what they want. Current trends point to workers winning this battle of wills. Employers who keep pushing back against the tide are only delaying the inevitable, and losing the support and confidence of their existing employees while they’re at it.

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?

1. Employee-Led Change
The Great Resignation is in no small way born out of this problem as workers are now demanding the ability to prioritize their own needs. They want to enjoy the benefits of work (career building, saving for retirement, owning property) that their parents and grandparents enjoyed. Consequently, the pandemic caused many workers to realize that their employers weren’t prioritizing those needs. The entire worker-employer dynamic will need to shift, or else we’ll see larger swathes of workers simply checking out, as the growing Antiwork Movement seems to indicate.

2. Human Connections
Whether you consider yourself an introvert, extrovert, ambivert, or omnivert, all of the “verts’’ crave connection and belonging. The pandemic only enhanced this desire for connection and belonging. Employers that can master fostering these connections with a hybrid workforce will see more engagement and retention from their employees in the future of work.

3. Internet Accessibility
From a technological standpoint, our society needs to place far more emphasis on improving internet infrastructure. Unless you live in the city (and sometimes even not then), access to high-speed internet is still spotty. As remote work becomes the norm, companies are expanding their hiring radiuses. But talent living in rural areas where internet access is underdeveloped can easily be locked out of the job market. True democratization of internet access will place more skilled talent on the radar for companies and help create opportunities in areas of the country where such opportunities previously didn’t exist.

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

My greatest source of optimism about the future of work comes from the clients that I have the opportunity to interact with on a regular basis. In recent years, companies have really started to care about their employees professionally and personally and have taken steps to make sure that those people feel comfortable at work and are set up to thrive. It is refreshing to see executives and other leaders take an active role in listening to employees and taking that feedback to help build company culture, be more focused on inclusivity, and ensure people have career development opportunities. Each year we see more and more companies who strive to make their workplace a community that people want to be a part of and do their best work. When there is a fair amount of negativity floating around it is uplifting to see the people who care about their employees and make a positive impact on their lives.

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?

Mentoring (and associated mentoring software) is an incredibly valuable and innovative approach to solving many problems that lead to high levels of workplace stress, mental health issues, and declining wellbeing at work.

It’s a strategy that allows companies to pair their employees into various types of need-based relationships that serve the double duty of meeting the needs of workers and achieving critical business objectives.

For example, new employees can be paired with more tenured team members who can help them build confidence in the early stages of their career or employment with the company, and help them chart out a career path within the company. Another unique approach to mentoring we’ve seen taking flight is reverse mentoring, where younger employees serve as mentors to senior-level staff. This dynamic flip can help create humility and understanding among superiors while giving the junior-level employees the space to be the instructor on meaningful topics.

Ultimately, mentoring is about connection and relationship-building. According to the Work Stress Scale, most mental health and wellbeing struggles are relational. Workplace mentoring is not a new concept, but a software approach that creates better mentoring matches and provides big data on program effectiveness in ways that were difficult and impossible to scale in years’ past. Done right, mentoring helps create a positive company culture, tears down communication barriers that lead to conflict, and allows organizations to utilize the strength of their internal knowledge to help workers achieve career and life goals.

The more we connect our people, especially in remote and hybrid work environments, the more likely we are to help alleviate some of the biggest triggers for mental health struggles in the workforce. We’ve witnessed first-hand the transformative impact of mentoring and mentoring software. Companies that are going all-in on mentoring and leveraging mentoring software are creating smart, personality-based matches that increase employee engagement, retention, and job satisfaction.

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?

Employers need to home in on the fact that across all of these headlines and attempts to define the current workforce movement, the “re” prefix is a near-constant. Regardless of what term industry observers are adopting, they’re consistently using words that indicate workers are looking backward to help determine how best to move forward. When your workers reflect on the past two years, is their takeaway going to be positive or negative? Don’t be too quick to assume that it’s always going to be positive. Assuming the wrong conclusion may cause you to get blindsided by worker discontent and increasing turnover that you didn’t realize was coming.

Company culture must evolve in such a way that workers feel their needs are being met from day one. Those are all needs we’ve discussed earlier: career pathing, positive community, upskilling and reskilling, and DEI, among others. Actively seek out ways to move past the simplicity of compensation. Workers want more out of their employment situation than that. Offering competitive wages isn’t the end-all, be-all for attracting and retaining talent anymore. It’s now the baseline, and it won’t be enough to keep workers engaged.

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. Guidance in new roles and company culture.

A large percentage of the Great Resignation has not been workers quitting the workforce, but moving to new companies and upgrading to more senior-level positions. For most of 2021, LinkedIn has preferred to use the term “Great Reshuffle” instead of Great Resignation for this very reason. As we had into 2022, one of the biggest trends we’ll see are workers sitting in new positions with new employers. That’s an exceptionally large number of workers within onboarding periods. Promoting and cultivating a positive company culture by helping these new employees form connections early will increase retention.

2. Flexibility in role/ hybrid work environment.

Even as the pandemic continues to evolve, most of us remain hopeful that a return to life as normal is on the horizon. But we’ll also need to reimagine what “normal” looks like. A large percentage of the remote work shift is now going to be permanent. PwC reports that 19% of workers now want to be remote 100% of the time, even once COVID-19 is no longer a concern, and 25% want a hybrid option that involves being mostly or almost entirely remote. Only 22% want their work to be entirely in the office.

Companies will need to rethink their office spaces with calculated renovations that merge the concepts of the home office with the perks of a company-offered office workspace. That’s what we did with our Columbus, Ohio, office space.

3. DEI/Social Change.

We learned some hard lessons in 2020 in the wake of international protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others. Workers now expect companies that are visibility connected to social change and are willing to put their money and time into creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive spaces where workers can feel safe and welcome.

A CNBC/SurveyMonkey survey discovered just that, as 80% of workers now want to be part of companies that outwardly champion DEI. Consequently, DEI and social change will be top-of-mind for workers going into 2022. They’re watching what we do and how we respond. Organizations will need to have the time, resources, structure, and people in place to create and meet DEI goals over the coming year and to respond to potential DEI crises impacting workers.

4. Upskilling/ reskilling.

The global pandemic caused what Texas A&M professor of management, Dr. Anthony Klotz, has called “pandemic epiphanies”. According to Klotz, (who also coined the term “The Great Resignation’’), the pandemic caused workers to significantly reflect on their lives. Many are walking away with the belief that their post-pandemic life needs to have more meaning. For many, that means investing more in their work-related skills. Worker engagement in 2022 and beyond will need to include more clearly-defined structures for skill-building.

5. Career pathing.

Workers don’t just want to learn new skills. There must be an end goal for their skill development. That means career pathing. A significant part of this will be not only formulating clear career pathways for new hires but also helping to connect tenured team members to career coaches and internal advocates who will help them shift into new positions. An important part of this trend will be emphasizing internal hiring as an engagement and retention strategy. LinkedIn reports that employees stay 41% longer at companies that have higher rates of internal hiring. Workers see those internal hiring rates as a signal that their company strongly values and supports the career progression of their talent.

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?

“Whatever your mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” — Napoleon Hill
I believe that we hold a lot of power in the talk track that runs in our minds. Our thoughts are the one thing that we have complete control over. We can choose positive and motivating thoughts so we can achieve amazingly positive things for ourselves and others.

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.

Alton Brown hands down! I learned to cook by watching Good Eats in the early 2000s. Recipes are great but Alton also teaches the science so you can cook more than just the featured recipe. And he cracks me up. 
P.S. I have tickets to see him live in Columbus, OH, in March 😉

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?

LinkedIn is always a great place to connect with me and get the latest information and insights. Additionally, I discuss employment trends on Forbes Council which is another way to stay up to date on the world of talent management.

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