Work-Life integration. One reason people have gravitated to working from home during the pandemic is that work became more integrated into their life. It’s not a thing done separately elsewhere. I think we’ll see a lot more of that integration for jobs where it makes sense. Obviously, not every job can be done from home. Brain surgery, for example.
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 Jay Levin. Jay is the founder and Executive Director of EQuip Our Kids!, a national nonprofit promoting increased Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, in PreK -12 education. Jay is best known as the founder and former CEO and Editor of LA Weekly newspaper. Throughout his career, he’s focused on social impact media companies and nonprofits, plus executive coaching.
Jay Levin has led six media companies and launched six nonprofits dedicated to social change. He is best known as the founder and former editor-in-chief and CEO of the multiple journalism-award winning Los Angeles Weekly, which became a cultural icon. He led and which he grew tp be the paper to become the largest circulation and most advertising-rich weekly newspaper in the country. His overwhelming focus now is on bringing to all PreK-12 schools emotional intelligence and other life skills learning that educators call Social-Emotional Learning through EQuip Our Kids! as viewable at( https://equipourkids.org).
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’ve always been fascinated by the question of why do humans do the hurtful things we do to each other that generate so much emotional pain in life. As a young journalist in NYC and later as the Editor of LA Weekly, I focused on covering the human development movement. That was one part of my beat. Along the way, I learned that people need two kinds of skills to be successful in school, work, and life. One skill is the ability to transform your own and others’ emotional and mental reactiveness. The other skill is creating more caring and creative ways of relating to yourself and others–and life itself–no matter the circumstances.
This life-long exploration has led me into earning a Master’s program in Spiritual Psychology, to life and executive coaching on a part time basis, coaching executives to more effective and egoless leadership, and eventually to founding EQuip Our Kids! Getting these two crucial skills to kids as early and consistently as possible can be truly transformative for kids themselves, families, schools, and communities.
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?
We’re in an historic period of flux on multiple levels. It’s tough to say specifically what might be the same in the next decade. But I think three trends will definitely continue. One is technology and automation, which is kind of obvious. Work will continue to be driven by innovations in computing power, software, robotics, sensors, materials, and more. Second is decentralization. Organizations, the work process, and even individual careers will continue to be spread out across multiple locations and multiple teams or partners or employers. The pandemic accelerated the work-from-home and digital nomad trends. And lastly, workers, organizations, and the workplace will continue diversifying in terms of cultures, languages, identities, and abilities. We see this in the workplace discussions and tensions around identity topics like race and gender and sexual orientation and neurodiversity and agism.
These three trends mean that work will need to be even more human in the next decade. As technology continues its ascent, people need to bring to work the human algorithms like curiosity, empathy, imagination, purpose, and motivation. As work becomes more dispersed, people need stronger personal skills at building and maintaining relationships. More collaboration with people who are very different from us requires stronger interpersonal skills.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Expand your recruiting, training, and promotion practices to encompass the whole human being. Right now, we’re all too focused on process and domain knowledge in the workplace. That type of knowledge is important, definitely. But more and more, process and domain knowledge will be baked into technology. People will increasingly need great personal, interpersonal, and organizational skills to succeed in the diverse, dispersed, tech-driven workplace.
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?
People can be the messiest and more expensive part of business. Employers have typically tried to avoid the costs associated with caring for people. Costs like living wages, mental and physical health insurance, paid time off, reasonable staffing levels and workloads. On the other hand, employees are increasingly expecting employers to care about them as whole people.
To close the gap, employers need to truly invest in organizational culture that welcomes and supports the whole employee. If employees can be wholly themselves at work, they will apply all their human algorithms to what they do. That’s a fully engaged worker, something that employers long for — and benefit from. Studies show itthat investing in culture more than makes up for the costs of doing business as usual: which means low emp[loyee engagement rates, more churn and overall lower overall productivity, higher employee turnover, and — crucial — much lowerless creativity and innovation than what’s needed to keep up with the changing world.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Work from home has meant that employers literally saw into employee’s homes, lots of them, on a daily basis. Because of that, employers can no longer pretend that employees aren’t juggling kids and pets and spouses and aging parents and medical conditions and housing challenges. Work from home is another force making work more human going forward.
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?
To build the more human workforce of the future, we need to start teaching all kids Emotional Intelligence skills right now. Emotional Intelligence is often call EQ. It’s like IQ for your heart.
A workforce that is curious, empathetic, imaginative, motivated, and purposeful doesn’t start with someone’s first day on the job. It starts in schools and families and communities. Businesses need to get behind this effort in a big way, or else they’ll be way behind the curve very quickly.
At the end of 2021, all sorts of alarm bells went off about youth mental health. The U.S. Surgeon General issued a youth mental health alert, saying that the crisis required a “whole of society” response. The Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics also, and independently, issued similar alarms about youth mental health.
That all-hands-on-deck response must include businesses. Business is a major way that our society solves problems. There is great opportunity in solving great problems, as well. But more than that, it’s in business’s self interest to help kids go from mental health crisis to curious, empathetic, imaginative, motivated, and purposeful.
Business answered a similar call to action around 2010. At the time, technology was really accelerating. Everyone realized that we didn’t have a workforce that was fully literate in science, technology, engineering, and math. Educators call these the STEM subjects. Since then, business has invested more than $1 billion in supporting STEM programs in schools and communities. STEM is now a household word. Local news shows have regular segments promoting STEM education. Businesses have a broader STEM labor pool, including more women and people of color.
We need exactly this sort of business response for Emotional Intelligence education. The good news is that there’s already a well-established and proven approach to teaching these skills. Educators call it Social Emotional Learning or SEL. Educators know the term SEL, but most parents and businesses don’t. The Surgeon General’s report specifically called for expanding SEL programs as part of the whole of society response.
Parents and business need to be as familiar with and supportive of SEL as they are with STEM. Those Emotional Intelligence skills taught through SEL build success in learning and work and relationships and life.
SEL been in the news lately, with conservatives making unfounded claims that SEL somehow indoctrinates kids and usurps the role families. That’s all just election-year culture wars. A recent NPR/Ipsos poll shows that most parents like what’s happening at their local school. A survey last year from the conservative Fordham Institute showed that 80+ percent of parents like what SEL teaches, even if they aren’t familiar with SEL specifically and don’t like the term. (Most parents prefer the term ‘life skills.’) And decades of research, including randomized control trials and longitudinal studies, shows that SEL builds the kind of fully human workforce that business needs.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
I’m optimistic because workers and parents are ready for building Emotional Intelligence in their kids, families, schools, workplaces, and communities. When I talk with people about EQ and SEL, the most common response that I get is, “I wish I learned that when I was in school.”
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?
I see a lot of businesses offering things that they think are innovative as a way to address stress and burnout. In some industries, it’s nap rooms and meditation classes. In the California tech world, it’s been things like bean bag chairs and pizza parties and ping pong tables. But all those are just Band-Aid fixes to the real problems which are overwork, stress, and discrimination. It’s better to not have burnt out and angry employees to begin with. The truly innovative employers are the ones doing the hard work of building an organizational culture that normalizes being fully human as a prerequisite for high, but balanced, performance.
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?
Leaders need to hear at least three things. First, people want to work where they feel a purpose. Workers want to at least work for an organization whose purpose they can support. Ideally, they want an employer that supports their own personal purpose. Next, they want to work where they can be fully themselves. People are tired of hiding their identities, their families, their lives, and their challenges while at work. And finally, people want a lot more control over their work. During the pandemic, people and teams proved that they are fully capable of self-management. As corporate hierarchies try to re-assert themselves, like trying to force successful remote workers to return to dysfunctional offices and schedules, workers are saying “no” and voting with their feet.
(Living wages and less economic disparity would be great, too.)
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Work-Life integration. One reason people have gravitated to working from home during the pandemic is that work became more integrated into their life. It’s not a thing done separately elsewhere. I think we’ll see a lot more of that integration for jobs where it makes sense. Obviously, not every job can be done from home. Brain surgery, for example.
- Human algorithms. Consultants Great Place to Work have decades of data that show how trust, pride, and camaraderie drive excellent performance. Google found their most effective teams had ingredients like psychological safety, purpose, and dependability, not star performers or experience or training or intellect. I think the businesses that make the most effective use of both computer algorithms and human algorithms will thrive.
- Self-management. There’s an organizational development movement called Teal, like the color. One of its tenets is self-managing individuals and teams. Instead of top-down pyramid organizations, you have autonomous groups following their purpose and negotiating their interactions with each other and with other groups. It’s very liberating for workers and removes both ego and burden from leaders. Major brands like Bayer, Iberdrola, Patagonia, Renault, Roche, and Zappos are heading in this direction. (The Society for Human Resource Management has a blog that introduces the Teal concept.)
- Brands with purpose. We’ve seen a lot more brand promotion based on values. One great and long-running example is Subaru car ads. Those ads stress the value of love and Subaru’s involvement in charitable causes. You never hear any mention of car models, features, pricing, or special promotions.
- Businesses supporting SEL like they have STEM.
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?
My guiding quote: “The world is the effect. We are the cause.” Lots of folks think that the world makes us stressed or scattered or anxious or depressed. It’s the other way around. We make the current state of the world through our behaviors with ourselves and others. If we change those behaviors, we change the world. Literally. That’s the root of all my work.
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 suppose right now it would be President Biden. I want to convince him to convene a huge conference of corporate leaders, and another of parent group leaders, to learn in detail from experts in Social Emotional Learning the realities and benefits of supporting comprehensive SEL.Learning. As well as usinigusing its premises and overview in healing the nation’s very serious wounds. (Jay, this one’s for you. Or consider the following.) I’d love to talk with any VP or C-suite leader from a Fortune 1000 company who connects with this message of building tomorrow’s more-human workforce today. It’s important work and we need their participation.
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?
Specifically, businesses can reach out to request one of two things. One, a free, customized webinar for their teams and customers about the need for Emotional Intelligence in schools and businesses, and what they can do to make that a reality. Two, request free interactive webinars for their parenting employees and parenting customers featuring SEL expert parents whose own children have been transformed by experiencing SEL in their schools.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.