Culture Matters: ManpowerGroup’s research indicates 3 out of 4 workers believe the work they do is important to their organization. In organizations with strong cultures where employees are energized to do their best, that number should be 4 out of 4.

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 Karel van der Mandele.

Karel van der Mandele joined ManpowerGroup in 2019 as the Senior Vice President of Right Management North America.

Karel brings more than 20 years of business and consulting leadership experience. He is a passionate leader who focuses on driving growth, building strong brands, and fostering a high-performing team with a sense of purpose and achievement.

He joined Right Management from Kimberly-Clark where he led the North American B2B Washroom business (Scott, Kleenex, and Cottonelle) and the UK & Ireland Family Care business (Andrex and Kleenex). Prior to Kimberly-Clark, Karel was a Principal in the consumer and retail practice at Booz & Company in Amsterdam and New York. As a strategy consultant, he supported several leading CPG and retail clients on engagements spanning growth strategy, organization design, and commercial capability development. He started his career in brand management at Procter & Gamble.

Karel has an MBA from Columbia Business School and a master’s degree in Economics from Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

On January 1, 1995, I was involved in a major car crash outside Warsaw, Poland. The car I was in skidded on black ice, rolled over twice, and landed in the opposite lane. Not only were we lucky to survive, but we were also incredibly fortunate that several bystanders stopped and helped us. I remember being driven home by a gentleman named Janusz. To this day, I still think about his act of kindness in helping me. The moment taught me how precious life is and how much better the world can be when we help others in need.

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?

If you google “lack of career development, key reason”, you’ll instantly find articles going back to 2008. All of the articles point out the same conclusion. A lack of career development opportunities is the main reason why employees leave their employers. We’ve known this for at least 14 years, so what’s to say that won’t be the case in another 14 years? The reality is that companies can and should do something about career development planning today but are being held back by several factors. First of all, historical budgets have always skewed towards talent acquisition instead of talent development. Two, talent acquisition shows instant ROI, whereas talent development ROI is measured in years. Lastly, creating a culture of career development requires buy-in from leadership at all levels. Many of those leaders haven’t experienced what it’s like to work in a company that takes career development seriously. But it can be done, as we’ve seen from several of our customers. It just takes courage and conviction.

In terms of what will be different, that’s harder to call out. We can spot a trend, but usually get the timing and impact wrong. For example, the trend towards remote working started in 1973 (!) when a NASA engineer coined the term telecommuting. Everybody that predicted that the world was rapidly going to shift to remote work when Internet access became widespread was wrong until the pandemic in 2020 when the genie was finally let out of the bottle. We already have line of sight to some of the trends that are going to shape the future: shifting demographics, remote working, the need to reskill/upskill the workforce, and the increased importance of company culture as a competitive advantage. We just don’t know what event is going to unlock rapid and widespread change.

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

One thing that won’t change is that the key to your future success is the talent you have today. Always select and promote talent on the basis of their potential (not only their past performance) and continually invest in their development. With the right talent in your organization, you’ll be able to navigate whatever challenges the market throws at you.

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?

Right now, the biggest gap between what employers offer and employees expect is around remote/hybrid working. Reconciling that gap will require employers to offer more flexibility to their employees while making a more appealing case to why being in-person is good for both the business and its employees. While I was a strategy consultant, I was on the road four days a week for client work. I actually looked forward to coming into the office on Fridays to catch up with colleagues. The firm’s leadership made sure to invest in those office days (social events, trainings, catered lunches, etc.) to make it appealing for consultants to come into the office, even after they had been on the road the rest of the week. Instead of handing down mandates, why not make take a similar approach and actually make the workplace an inviting prospect for employees?

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

I think it’s safe to say that we’re past the experiment phase! Two things stand out to me. First, what I continue to enjoy about the hybrid model is that I get to know my colleagues in a very different, more personal way as work and personal lines have blurred. I hope that doesn’t go away, because that has created deeper, more meaningful relationships at work. The other impact is that this experience has allowed us to think completely differently about talent pools. “We can’t hire that person because he/she refuses to relocate to X” is a statement that has been relegated to the past.

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

I’m currently reading a book called the Rational Optimist which was written at the height of the Great Recession more than a decade ago. The author outlines the continued advancement and resilience of humanity as a whole throughout history. I continue to be inspired by the resilience of the economy, the labor market, and society at large shown in the last two years.

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?

The worst strategy would be to make employee health and wellbeing a “check the box” exercise. There is no silver bullet answer or digital app that will solve all of your employees’ problems. Employers have to start by embracing that organizational culture is a key driver for employee health and wellbeing. And the tone for an organization’s culture is set at the top. If you’re serious about your employees’ health and wellbeing, make sure that you have the right leaders in your organization and ensure that they have strong HR business partners. Strong leadership builds strong, resilient cultures. Strong, resilient cultures enable employee wellbeing.

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?

If leaders aren’t paying attention to company culture, then a lot of these “great” things are going to lead to “really bad” outcomes. First and foremost, good talent is going to leave. Second, the remaining talent is going to be less engaged and, therefore, less productive. Leaders need to evolve their approach to culture. Great cultures don’t just happen. They are intentional and need to be nurtured and nourished.

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

  1. Culture Matters: ManpowerGroup’s research indicates 3 out of 4 workers believe the work they do is important to their organization. In organizations with strong cultures where employees are energized to do their best, that number should be 4 out of 4.
  2. Decoupling of Work & Home: 4 in 10 employees want to choose which days of the week they work remotely and have the flexibility to change those days every week, according to ManpowerGroup’s research. Managing hiring, onboarding, and wellbeing in remote/hybrid era is going to require some creative thinking.
  3. Skills Scarcity: Gartner says that 58% of all employees will need new skills to get their jobs done. Employers are going to need to make continuous build vs. buy vs. borrow decisions when it comes to their talent. Do you invest in talent acquisition to buy skills? Talent development to build skills in your workforce? Or borrow talent by engaging a third party?
  4. DEIB: ManpowerGroup’s research indicates that 30% of companies have deployed D&I training programs and 1 in 5 plan to deploy them this year. That leaves 50% without a plan… That’s not a great place to be in the middle of a talent shortage.
  5. Career Development as a key retention driver: We believe the key to attracting the best talent is by investing in the talent you already have. Help them to identify their key strengths and opportunities. Help them to develop career development plans that they are excited and passionate about. As a result, your employees will rave about their employer and help you attract the best talent.

What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

My father gave me a frame with a Spinoza quote “Bene Agere et Laetari” a couple of years ago. I finally looked up what it meant earlier this year. The best translation I found was “Do good, joyfully”. That gave me goosebumps.

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.

If Janusz, the gentleman that stopped his car on a cold, dark, icy road outside Warsaw on January 1, 1995, to help a perfect stranger get back home safely, is reading this: please reach out to me so that I can finally say a proper thank you.

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