Real mobility — where employees are wanting to work/when/how they want. It’s actually really difficult to deliver and how that comes to fruition is going to be fascinating. The fact the legislation is changing around flexible working in the UK is a really encouraging first step, but we need to balance this with the needs of a service based business.
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 Lenah Ueltzen-Gabell.
Lenah Ueltzen-Gabell has a deep heritage in and passion for sport. An award-winning equestrian in her younger days, Lenah joined Wasserman in 2008, established its International marketing hub in 2010 and now oversees global service excellence and corporate growth from Wasserman’s London office.
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.
It seems obvious but leading an organisation through those dark days of COVID was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Luckily I wasn’t alone — we all came together as a business. From chairman to the support team, from HR to our employees, the new partnerships that evolved within the business during that time were so important in our survival. It was one of those situations where nobody had the answers and were building the plane whilst flying it and had to ensure we were in constant comms so we could be there for each other, taking each day as it came.
Now we’re on the other side, I’ve never been prouder in my 15 years at Wasserman. It was a sobering experience for all leaders. It showed that we don’t always have all the answers, but if we all hold hands as a team across the organisation and lean in (as cliché as it sounds) we can get through anything.
Beyond work, my mum has been my biggest role model. Sadly she’s no longer with us, but her motto was “seize the day” — face your fears, be human and grab those opportunities. She was ill for a long period, and that really brought home the importance of relationships and how to make decisions. It’s what has impacted me most not only as a leader, and how I act as one, but also as a friend and mother.
We do all this amazing work, and deliver incredible campaigns for clients. And they’re great! They’re amazing moments in your career but are they going to shape you as a person? Probably not.
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?
Can we prepare for everything? No. But what we can do is prepare for how we tackle the challenges that our coming our way, be it technology, personnel or society.
Partnerships are key. The partnership and communication between HR and the commercial teams, for example, has never been so important. And it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. It needs to remain strong if you are going to keep your finger on the pulse of your teams and their evolving needs. There has always been a working relationship between these two facets of business, but in this dynamic post covid environment, successful organisations will see the corporate and commercial teams working closer and closer in the coming years.
What will never change is the need for people to be connected. To be heard, to be appreciated and to have purpose. Generally, someone would have a single purpose with a single employer. Now they want to be “doing good”, prioritising the importance that the work that they do is aligned with their moral compass and will look elsewhere if they feel this need outside of their primary day job isn’t being met.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Simple: listen to your people. That means making space for employees to have their voice heard, whether that through an anonymous feedback portal, an open forum, a Slack channel — or in real life. Whatever works best for your business and all its stakeholders. The important thing is that employees are being listened to and feedback is being taken on board and visibly actioned in a timely manner.
This in turn helps create a culture that is employee led with active and engaged stakeholders who are teaming up with management for action. There is a bit of a lag in the organisational change to accommodate the stronger relationship with employees, but I am confident we can get to a better place together. It was a very different dynamic when we were in the office all the time, businesses relied on natural and organic conversations happening. On both sides we need to be diligent with proactive, intentional communication and the creation of social capital.
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?
We have come a long way in the industry from the primary considerations being salary and location-based. As leaders, we know we need to be building equity in our businesses as employers and being mindful of promoting the full suite of benefits when trying to acquire top talent — benefits, flexibility, remote working, massage rooms… and yes, purpose, DE&I and ESG commitments too.
Funny enough despite the additional costs and resources needed to support the broader benefits package… it’s actually a massive advantage as it gives us the opportunity to have a deeper conversation and better dialogue with candidates about the type of company that they are working for, and setting out those expectations on the table.
However, when all’s said and done, we have to remind employees that we are a business. We rise and fall as a business on how we perform on the pitch. So while it is important to engage with our employees holistically, and dedicate resources to off the pitch harmony we always have to have an eye on performance metrics.
There’s always going to be a compromise and by bringing employees on the journey with better communication and empowerment hopefully, we can find the right balance or actually that’s probably the holy grail.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
During “Peak Working From Home”, boundaries were blurred. People lost that separation between work and their home life. Working from home sounds amazing, but I do think people were, and are, missing that divide and the culture related to working in the Sports and Music industry. Perhaps the much-maligned commute and the infamous water cooler chats are not dead yet. Maybe there is something about giving you that time to decompress, to have that change of scenery and people to engage with actually gets you out of your own head a bit more that we initially realised.
It has certainly driven the conversation around wellness. People have become a lot more aware of their mental wellbeing and what they need to maintain this for not only their personal happiness, but peak performance. So in the end, the businesses need to be switched on to this and support their employees accordingly.
Ultimately it comes down to balance. At this point, it’s industry standard to not have a mandate on when people come into the office, but this may change or at least we need to continue to work together to find the right balance of flexibility, culture and productivity.
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?
Workforces have definitely become more aware of societal inequalities. At Wasserman, some of these inequalities are faced by our team. Of course, DE&I has been central to everything we do for a while now, but the murder of George Floyd acted as a tinderbox moment at the company when it came to activism. It highlighted the challenges many were facing, and supercharged our response to supporting them.
This included our hiring approach as well. You want to be recruiting people who are really engaged. Having a more engaged society means that you have people pushing for change. So for work to have a positive future, you need people to take action, for employers to listen. There is also an argument that you should be looking to hire a community, not just a workforce. And that community should be a reflection of society, leaning in and getting involved.
As my colleague, Broderick Hicks, Wasserman’s Head of EMEA, says: “Just get involved, be part of the change.”
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
What lifts me (also keeps me up at night) is the fact that employees are becoming so engaged and they are becoming as passionate about their work as their personal life. COVID really woke people up to the fact that we had neglected a lot of the softer elements of the job, and that we needed to be more than just providing a place of work, a salary and a career path. That’s a real cause for optimism.
Also, that people are really invested in their work. They really want to make a difference, and to be seen to be doing something worthwhile. And doing really interesting things that they have a real passion for.
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?
Wellness has become more holistic. Businesses are now looking at ways of working through a wellness lens, meaning that employers can see where boundaries need to be drawn, where there may be inefficiencies and how these can be addressed. Again, it goes back to the idea of empowering your people.
Also wellness at work isn’t just 9 to 5. The best wellness and mental health strategies include a range of services that are available 24 hours a day. Be that Headspace, forums or access to mental health first aiders. Catering for all needs, and making sure that all these avenues are accessible is really important.
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?
The power has shifted — it is now an employee-driven market. Leaders need to listen, develop and show flexibility if they want to keep their best people. Even as we face a recession and hiring will slow down… at least for Wasserman we are laser focused on recruitment and retention of the best talent through our holistic approach and are not afraid to say we are on a journey where we are constantly tweaking and improving… hopefully!
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Real mobility — where employees are wanting to work/when/how they want. It’s actually really difficult to deliver and how that comes to fruition is going to be fascinating. The fact the legislation is changing around flexible working in the UK is a really encouraging first step, but we need to balance this with the needs of a service based business.
- Real hybrid working — businesses are still working out what this looks like at the moment. What can’t be denied is that in an employee-driven market, you need to have it on the table. It will be interesting to see what form this takes moving forward.
- Employees realising their TRUE power — how can we encourage them to actually break the rules for positive change and empowerment? It’s something that I am continually grappling with. “We’ve listened to you, so now make that change.” And then they don’t because of some traditional, invisible boundary that they feel uncomfortable crossing. How are we going to break that down?
- See it, Say It, Sort It — in today’s workplace we are all important stakeholders. The community values action from both employees and employers. Making your voice heard and being part of the change is a form of empowerment and employee satisfaction.
- Serve it Up — With increasing mutuality within the employment relationship, employers are expected to listen to their employees and make sure that they provide not only competitive salaries and a robust benefits package, but also opportunities to further their careers, wellness and social capital. Employees will choose to participate, but there is an expectation that employers are responsible for providing options for fulfilment.
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?
“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans” by John Lennon. Sometimes you just have to get involved. That’s the only way you are going to make a difference and force real change.
“It’s not important how many times you fall, it’s how many times you rise” from Nelson Mandela. I know this is a common quote, and attributed to others but it is really important to keep in mind. Every single day, there is going to be a challenge so how are you going to meet it?
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 have thought long and hard on this question. Funnily enough, my answer used to be different, but we have sadly lost some of the leaders I have admired most — Maya Angelou and of course the beloved Queen. I tend to gravitate towards strong, but relatable women who share their real stories to help/inspire all of us on our own personal journeys to take the challenges as they come and not worry about making the wrong decisions.
So now I have to say I would be honoured to have a private breakfast with the amazing Dolly Parton. I mean who doesn’t love Dolly?! And despite her platinum and meticulous appearance has always been humble and quietly powerful using her stardom for good.
And I just think she would have some cracking stories and views on being a strong, but still feminine woman in a very male-dominated industry.
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?
The best place to follow me is on my LinkedIn and potentially Instagram if you would like a look into my crazy family life with 3 very active boys — Finn, who is five, and my twins Colt and Gus who are 14 months!
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.