Flexibility and remote work — The pandemic increased people’s desire for mobility and desire for a flexible and/or remote work environment.

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 Jenn Mann.

Jenn Mann leads a global HR organization that acts as stewards of the SAS culture and engages a diverse workforce of more than 14,000 employees. She is responsible for developing and guiding SAS’ talent management philosophy, as well as articulating the organization’s strategy for acquiring, developing, rewarding and retaining the best talent.

Her workplace culture insights have been shared in The Wall Street Journal, US News & World Report, CBS MoneyWatch.com, CBS Sunday Morning, CNN, The Huffington Post, and The Great Workplace by Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin. Mann was selected as HRO Magazine’s Chief Human Resources Officer of the Year in 2015 and was recognized in WomenInc Magazine’s 2019 list of Most Influential Corporate Directors in 2019.

In an interview with Glassdoor.com, Mann explained her work-life balance philosophy: “At SAS, our goal is to offer meaningful work for our employees, an empowering management philosophy, and a world-class work environment that includes services and benefits to make employees’ lives easier at work and in their personal lives. This allows them to be motivated, creative and innovative in our software development. It’s critical for us to provide a workplace that incentivizes great talent.” This leadership philosophy, shared by SAS’ entire executive board, has resulted in numerous accolades across the globe for workplace culture and commitment to innovation.

Mann joined SAS in 1998, working initially with executive leadership on employee performance and organizational effectiveness programs. She managed an HR team supporting Worldwide Marketing and R&D divisions before taking on her current role in 2008. Prior to joining SAS, Mann held HR leadership roles in high-tech manufacturing, health care and academia. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and business from Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. She serves on the HR advisory board for North Carolina State University’s Poole College of Management, the board of trustees for Meredith College and the executive leadership committee for the American Heart Association Go Red for Women campaign, and chairs the talent and compensation committee at United Community Bank.

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?

Life Lesson — the importance of family and being in the moment:

Four months after your son goes off to college, your father at 70 years young will die of a massive heart attack, a crushing first unexpected loss. Your mother, whom you have watched your entire life be the rock and provider of the family, will now need you for strength and support. A reminder that life goes so fast and if you are not careful it will happen “to you” instead of “with you.” You will regret the time you did not spend with your family and friends and remorse over the time you spent on things that you now realize are not important.

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?

Many of the same workforce predictions that have been discussed for the last few years in the industry will continue to be at the forefront including:

  • More gig and/or self-employed/freelancers: According to the BLS, self-employed are expected to hit 10.3 million by 2026, up 9.6 million from 2016. The pandemic has increased people’s desire for mobility and choice associated with nontraditional jobs and the flexible work environment that comes with them. Almost every job will have some degree of flexibility whether you work as a permanent remote worker or from home a few days a week. Work will be fluid as people require flexibility to juggle work and family obligations.
  • Impact of technology innovation and AI on the workforce: While there will be a decline in certain types of jobs, there will be growth in others; especially those that machines haven’t mastered yet such finely tuned social, connection, leadership, and emotional skills.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that the power of choice now lies with candidates and employees. The pandemic and shifts in the economy have caused a major shift to a candidate and employee driven talent market which can make it difficult to find the right talent for specific jobs. Companies will need to rethink their hiring strategies and platforms to be competitive.

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

1. Stay relevant/adapt

It’s impossible to predict the future, but we’ve learned being quick to adapt will help you navigate changes that lie ahead.

2. Nurture Curiosity

Curiosity is increasingly recognized as a valuable skill by business leaders and is addressing some of the biggest challenges facing organizations today — from improving employee retention and job satisfaction to creating more innovative, collaborative, and productive workplaces. This is according to our SAS [email protected] Report, which surveyed nearly 2,000 managers globally and analyzed data from LinkedIn over the last year. You can’t force curiosity, but you can create an environment that fosters creativity and innovation. At SAS, we discover new capabilities by applying our curiosity and desire to make a difference. We value curiosity and a willingness to find better ways to work.

3. Monitor trends

Pay attention to what’s happening in the industry and pivot when necessary. For example, during the pandemic, many companies made return to work declarations too early and then had to retract them. SAS surveyed our employees asking about their preferences and listened when they said they wanted a more flexible work model when our offices were able to be more fully open. We were also one of the first tech companies to mandate vaccinations for our US employees after the FDA approved the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. SAS is committed to helping society move past the pandemic and to protecting our employees, families, and community.

4. Ask and listen to employee feedback

SAS has always been a culture of trust and flexibility so when employees told us they preferred a hybrid model, it was easy for us to implement. We want employees to work where they are most productive and feel safest. Some weeks that may mean an employee is in the office every day. Other weeks employees may work more remote days. The bottom line is we trust our employees to get their work done.

5. Be prepared to reskill your workforce

The pandemic and the Great Resignation have shown us that we need to redesign career paths and opportunities. Companies will have to reskill/upskill their current talent and put a focus on life-long learning and help employees navigate the shift from the ‘typical’ linear career path to career experiences.

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 gap is more about the disconnect between what employers are doing and what employees actually want, especially as we think about the Great Resignation. According to McKinsey & Company’s research, employees want a more fulfilling employee experience that includes relational factors and a strong sense of purpose and belonging. When employers were asked why their employees quit, they cited:

  • Compensation
  • Work-life balance
  • Poor physical and emotional health

These issues did matter to employees, but they were not the root cause. When employees were asked their top three reasons for quitting, they cited:

  • Not feeling valued by their organizations
  • Not feeling valued by their managers
  • Lack of belonging at work

We are focused on the relational aspects of work to encourage retention. It’s harder to leave a workplace when you feel valued and have a strong sense of belonging. Our employee experience is one where employees know they work for a greater purpose while still being able to enjoy a work-life balance. Our leaders motivate and engage our teams by giving them recognition, care about their employees’ well-being, help with their career development, and lead them through change to reveal new possibilities.

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

Flexibility and remote work have always been topics in future of work discussions and now, we have all proven that we can be productive in a hybrid and remote work model. We have been doing it for 24 months and it has forever changed the way we work. Companies that try and go back to the “old way” will not be successful because this is the new normal and employees expect it as part of their employee experience.

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?

The pandemic affected everyone differently, particularly women and people of color. In addition, social justice movements have caused companies to think more deeply about diversity, equity and inclusion and their role in society. Embracing diversity and inclusion is no longer enough — it must be woven into the fabric of an organization. Companies must create caring, inclusive cultures where everyone feels they can thrive. Employees will not tolerate unsupportive, inequitable workplaces. Also noted in the [email protected] Report, 60% of managers said they found it difficult to keep motivation high and more than half had difficulty retaining good employees. Paying attention to employees’ morale has never been more crucial.

Organizations should be proactive in supporting women and people of color through representation, caring leadership, providing flexibility and benefits that support women, and offering parity of support and recognition. At SAS, diversity is not just an HR thing, it’s an everybody thing. We strive to increase representation across all levels of the organization because it impacts every aspect of our employee lifecycle. We also strive to create an inclusive work environment where everyone can be their authentic self and achieve their full potential.

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

Resilience! There are silver linings to be found from the pandemic and I’m proud of how resilient SAS has remained. When the pandemic hit, we quickly pivoted our focus and pulled together to help our customers, community, and each other. We’ve had to reimagine almost everything we do, from how we work, hire, communicate, learn, and engage with each other. This has shown people that we have the strength and support systems to overcome hardship and can weather any storm together.

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?

SAS has always focused on nurturing our employees’ holistic health and well-being and believes that happy, healthy people who have a passionate engagement with life bring that same energy to work and vice versa. Now, more than ever, as the lines blur between work and life, employee well-being affects how we show up, perform, and engage in the workplace, as well as thrive in our personal lives. This year we formalized a global well-being task force to amplify these offerings as part of our exceptional employee experience to help avoid burnout and disengagement.

That’s why SAS supports all dimensions of employees’ well-being, including:

  • Emotional: Being aware of our thoughts and feelings, effectively managing stress, and developing resilience to support mental health.
  • Examples: SAS provides our Winter Wellness Break between December 25th and January 1st. This is a time for employees across the company to unplug, recharge, and enjoy time with loved ones — without a pile of e-mail upon return. We also provide 20 hours of Volunteer Time Off and a variety of other types of paid leave, including jury duty, military and bereavement leaves and unlimited paid sick days.
  • Social: Developing meaningful connections and relationships, a sense of belonging and a strong support system.
  • Community: Fostering the connections between our own lives, our communities, and our environment.
  • Financial: Managing finances to achieve economic stability and financial peace of mind.
  • Career: Expanding our knowledge and skills to create personal satisfaction, enrichment, and professional growth.
  • Through our manager feedback survey, career development was noted as an area of opportunity, so we have developed a leadership training roadmap built off leadership “passages” to create learning for each leadership level in the organization.
  • Physical: Optimizing physical health and wellness through proper nutrition, regular movement, health care visits, and adequate recovery.
  • We provide a variety of virtual and in-person offerings including physical and leisure activities, healthy eating and cooking seminars, and a wide range of free services at our onsite Healthcare Center.

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?

Company cultures should foster a strong sense of purpose and belonging. Jim Goodnight, our founder and CEO has always said, “If you treat people as if they make a difference, they will make a difference.” He believes at the most basic level; we exist to help others. We exist for all the those who are working to make their corner of the world a better place … whether that corner is a bank, a hospital, nonprofit, university, or a government. It’s our creative people behind our products who love a challenge and the feeling of accomplishment that comes from solving a problem — whether technical, artistic, social, or logistical. It’s important that people understand the connection to what they do every day to the impact on society, and that they feel valued and cared for. Everyone should feel that no matter where they work and that’s the kind of culture we have at SAS.

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

There are many trends that have been identified over the years related to Future of Work and those have not necessarily changed. What did change was that we had a global pandemic that has fast tracked many of the changes and impacted our economy such that we are now in a demand generated industry where candidates and employees are in the driver seat.

  • Technological innovation/Automation and AI — When we think about what jobs will exists in 10–20 years, we probably think about the Jetsons. But AI and machines don’t create themselves; people guide the innovation and curiosity — both core to SAS. Automation is likely to replace workers doing routine, methodical tasks, moving away from office support and machine operators to more computer engineers and information communication specialists.
  • Flexibility and remote work — The pandemic increased people’s desire for mobility and desire for a flexible and/or remote work environment.
  • Reskilling/upskilling- Company’s will have to reskill/upskill their current talent and put a focus on life-long learning with a focus on strategic importance to the company, such as advanced IT skills and programming, advanced literacy skills, critical thinking, and problem solving.
  • Career paths and career development will never be the same. People will not stay at jobs/companies for 15 years like they do now. They will have to be in a constant state of learning because new skills and upskilling will be required for the new types of positions in the market. Employees will expect to learn new skills to prepare them for future jobs. If someone is in a job that does not enable them to learn new skills it is setting them up for eventual unemployability.
  • Demographic shifts and new types of jobs. The changing size, distribution, and age profile of the world’s population — we are aging but have longer life spans. Older workers need to learn new skills “Re-tooling” will be the norm. And, by 2030, there will be at least 300 million more people aged 65 years and older than there were in 2014. As people age, their spending patterns shift, with a pronounced increase in spending on healthcare and other personal services. This will create significant new demand for a range of occupations, including doctors, nurses, and health technicians but also home-health aides, personal-care aides, and nursing assistants in many countries. Globally, it’s estimated that healthcare and related jobs from aging could grow by 50 million to 85 million by 2030.

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?

“Don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff.”

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.

Dolly Parton is someone I’ve always admired. You don’t have to know or like country music to be inspired by Dolly. Many may not realize the path she paved for businesswomen. She was bold to go out on her own in a male dominated industry at a time when women didn’t have the support to do so. In her 70’s she is still one of the highest paid women in country music. A true testament to resilience. Through all her fame she has always remained kind and humble and completely unapologetic about who she is. Her one desire is to make people happy…and who wouldn’t want to meet someone like that?

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?

Your readers can connect with me on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/jenn-mann-6a21a95.

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