We need to reinvent the work ‘family’. A common motivator that keeps talent in place is socialisation — work feels like being part of a family. Distant working makes it hard, sometimes impossible, to create this feeling. Organisations will find new ways of doing this.
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 John Lees.
John Lees is one of the UK’s best-known career strategists and also works internationally including the US. Author of 15 books on careers and work, including the bestselling How To Get A Job You Love, he frequently keynotes at business and consumer events and consults with business schools. As well his books published in the US and UK, his titles have also been translated worldwide into Arabic, Georgian, Polish, Spanish and Japanese. As a career coach John specialises in helping people who say “I know I want to do something different, but I don’t know what it is.”
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 spent most of my career focused on the world of work. I started working with external recruiters, training them to be better interviewers, and discovered I was more interested in people sitting on the other side of the desk. I get a real buzz out of supporting people through career change, encouraging them to make confident next steps, and decoding opaque recruitment processes.
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?
One thing that probably won’t change very much is the prevailing pattern based on permanent employment and relative stability. Although the media love stories about job hopping and dramatic changes of career, the reality that is that most people in work are in permanent, salaried roles and stay in them for relatively long periods. There has of course also been increasing interest in self-employment and portfolio careers, but these may become less attractive in times of high inflation where a predictable salary rise each year becomes important.
Where work is likely to change significantly relates very closely to the way remote working has taken off during the pandemic. Head offices will never be quite the same again, and attitudes to flexible working have changed enormously. I can’t see will be putting the genie back in the bottle on this one.
What would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Guaranteed future proofing is impossible, but as work becomes increasingly automated human assets become more valued where they offer complex and nuanced interpersonal skills, for example the ability to handle difficult people or situations. Organisations are going to have to continue to find creative ways of motivating and retaining the people who do this best.
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?
Work has become a sellers’ market again, and flexible working is seen as the norm rather than a rare fringe benefit. However the real point is that what keeps people engaged and motivated varies enormously, and organisations have known for some time that an “off-the-shelf” approach to retaining people is unlikely to work. Reconciling gaps is going to be a matter of being agile and responsive to the varied and changing needs of a complex workforce.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
The pandemic has accelerated all kinds of change, principally around the way people meet. Communication tools have now become cheap and accessible. The investment in technology in this area will probably improve beyond recognition within a very short space of time. The next phase will probably allow meetings to feel more like meetings, with increased awareness of body language and the ability to talk over one another. This will have a radical effect on all kinds of interactions ranging from sales meetings to appraisals and team planning sessions. Many organisations are likely to abandon the idea of a head office. Distance working also opens up new possibilities for attracting talent from a wide geographical area.
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?
Work is moving in contradictory directions. There are factors which improve job satisfaction, including a strong focus on learning and development, real attention to talent management, plus of course new options around flexible and distance working. More organisations are acquiring virtual workforces in different time zones.
However there are aspects which decrease satisfaction: work feels increasingly pressurised and often boundaryless, with workers expected to respond to information requests out of hours. For some parts of our society, precarious work (low-paid and insecure) is a fact of life, and so is working poverty. It would be interesting to give more focus to what “good work” looks like and how we embed it in society, but the current sense of the value of free markets means that worker wellbeing and security seem under threat.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
One positive looking at the future of the work is variety; new kinds of roles are being invented all the time. Some economists estimate that there are more people alive today then have ever lived during the whole of human history, and one reflection of massive population growth and rapid changes in society is that we have far more types of working roles to choose from than any previous generation.
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?
It’s interesting to see employers giving attention to mental health as well as issues such as neurodiversity. This isn’t just a fashionable trend; organisations are making genuine efforts to understand how to respect as well as engage all parts of the workforce.
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?
Headlines are often just headlines and don’t reflect the detail of what’s really going on. It’s important to really understand what’s going on in work sectors, and one way is through focusing on the reasons talented staff stay in organisations, and the reasons workers move from one employer to another. Company cultures will always face challenges, but positive changes possible — largely around visible and measurable behaviours.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Recruiters will continue to be more interested in talent than location — An executive recruiter friend tells me that many organisations now pay little attention to where candidates live, assuming that many will work virtually.
- We will rediscover collegiate working — A large not for profit reported recently that its staff have only met virtually for the last two and a half years. Teams have forgotten or don’t know what they can do differently and better by meeting in person.
- Individuals need to manage their visibility differently. If getting a promotion depends on being seen by the right people and having useful informal discussions, we need to think how virtual relationships can replace this.
- Organisations will develop new strategies for retaining talent. Recruitment and training costs are high, so it’s vital to get a return on investment by giving talented people good reasons to stay.
- We need to reinvent the work ‘family’. A common motivator that keeps talent in place is socialisation — work feels like being part of a family. Distant working makes it hard, sometimes impossible, to create this feeling. Organisations will find new ways of doing this.
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?
A phrase that has always stuck with me is “Be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it”. Too many people long for change, but hear themselves valuing the same-old same-old.
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.
My perfect breakfast companion would Susan Cain, author of ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’. I reference this work all the time.
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?
You can find me at
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.