In order to attract and keep talent, organizations need to understand what drives employees. Employees are reevaluating their professional goals and when, how, and where they want to work.

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 models 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 Lynne Ford.

Lynne’s career spans more than 30 years of championing retirement security and wealth protection for Americans of all income levels. She’s an experienced leader in every aspect of retirement services, including asset management, advice and delivery, and platform and operations.

Before joining MissionSquare Retirement, she served as an Executive Vice President and Division Executive for SunTrust’s Private Wealth Division where she led a team that delivered wealth management and retirement products and solutions to clients. Prior to SunTrust, she was an Executive Vice President at Calvert Investments where she led the preeminent socially responsible investment firm’s institutional retail distribution efforts.

She also served as Executive Vice President and CEO of Individual Retirement at Voya Financial, and she served for 20 years at Wells Fargo Corporation and Evergreen Investments in leadership roles focused on retirement at the client and participant levels.

Having grown up in a family of public servants, Lynne is deeply committed to the financial challenges public employees face, and she’s passionate about helping them achieve peace of mind when it comes to retirement security.

Actively involved in community and industry activities throughout her career, she currently serves on the Board of Junior Achievement Greater Washington and the Women’s Initiative for a Secure Retirement. She is a past Director of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and Junior Achievement USA. She served as Director of the Insured Retirement Institute for 10 years, serving in her last year as Chair.

Lynne has a bachelor’s degree from Davidson College and a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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?

As I reflect on how I got to where I am today, it occurs to me that there were several times early in my career when I took risks to do something that I hadn’t done before, that I had no real experience in doing, or where I had a very steep learning curve. At the time, I didn’t especially see them as big risks, but in hindsight these experiences taught me a lot. Taking a risk taught me how to learn new things quickly, how to be agile, how to work with different types of people and how and think across disciplines. It also fueled my confidence. I highly recommend stepping outside your comfort zone as one develops and builds their career.

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?

The public sector retirement space will continue to work through issues such as attracting and retaining a diverse workforce, showcasing the importance of public sector roles, tracking burnout and supporting sustainable retirement benefits and rising healthcare costs.

In terms of change, I believe organizations will need to put diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and tracking employee mental health/burnout at the forefront of their priorities to build a strong culture that will retain and attract the talent they need. With the changing workplace, companies also will have to focus on changes in technology and innovation. For example, at MissionSquare Retirement we have invested in technology and systems to best service the public service workforce so managing their financial needs is easier where they are and when they need help or support.

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

2022 has been challenging for public sector employers, given the Great Resignation and job shortages. That means, organizations must adapt quickly to the changing work environment. To future-proof organizations, employers must focus on putting their workers first and think beyond traditional benefits and programs.

For example, our Workforce Trends study from MissionSquare Research Institute shows that while retirement and health benefits will continue to be a central part of public sector benefit offerings, innovative public employers also will need to explore how to support their employees in building emergency savings and adopting other nontraditional benefits such as student loan repayment and holistic health and financial wellness programs.

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?

It is more important now than ever that employers take into consideration the needs of their employees by tracking burnout, providing flexible work arrangements and reassessing their benefits offerings. Together, these actions will enable employees to not only be secure in the short-term, but also over the long-term.

According to our latest Pulse polling survey from the MissionSquare Research Institute, 84% of public service employees are increasingly anxious about their financial security amid the turbulent economy and market volatility. Public sector employees deliver essential services, and worries about personal finances can impact their ability to do their job.

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

People working in public service did not have as much opportunity to work from home as the rest of the workforce in general.

The nature of many public service jobs makes working from home impossible for many workers. For example, we saw that jobs in fields like public safety, healthcare and education are impossible or not well-suited for working from home. But at the same time, some public service employers now offer increased work-from-home and schedule flexibility where it makes sense to help attract and retain workers.

Overall, the “working from home” experience created an emphasis on how employers must support their workforce in non-traditional ways to address burnout, mental health, and attrition.

We know from our surveys on government hiring challenges that despite more full-time employees hired in 2021, nearly 70% of state and local government human resource professionals said more employees were quitting and 60% said more were retiring.

More specifically, the state and local government human resources professionals surveyed for the research also reported the most difficult positions to fill are in healthcare (83%), policing (78%), engineering (78%), dispatch (75%), building permitting and inspections (73%), corrections/jails (72%), and skilled trades (71%). Industries that do not offer work from home flexibility.

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?

As a female CEO, I put an emphasis on DEI initiatives at MissionSquare Retirement. My senior leadership team is highly diverse, with 75% either female or a person of color. I understand the importance of diversity in culture and having core values and people who carry these values for a diverse workforce to be successful as a business. It has been encouraging to see other organizations also begin to take note. In fact, DEI initiatives are a main priority for local governments throughout the U.S.

To support a future that works for everyone may seem challenging to some but the emphasis on DEI is on the rise. Our research has found workforce diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a high priority for 56% of local government human resources staff. The most common focus of local government DEI programs and policies is on the equitable treatment of employees (52%), an area that many of our research respondents (70%) say has been successful.

We hope the focus on DEI accelerates as we enter 2023. For MissionSquare Retirement, DEI is something we have always emphasized. It’s who we are, it’s in our DNA and always will be.

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

I am a firm believer in the power of people. That is the source of my optimism for the future. When I joined MissionSquare Retirement as CEO, I told the board that I was fairly certain the ideas that would pave the way to our future success were ‘already in the house.’ In my experience, the people closest to the work already know what needs to be done. The secret is to create an environment that uncovers those ideas, enables them to be analyzed and polished, and then supports and stays focused on execution. I can’t wait to see what ideas our younger generation comes up with.

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?

To retain and attract new talent, employers must keep mental health top of mind. Our 2022 Workforce Trends report revealed that public sector employers in particular will need to support their staff with Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), wellness programs, provide flexible work arrangements, and opportunities for training and career development to stay competitive and retain workers. If they don’t, their workers may look elsewhere for employment.

I believe that the hybrid work model adopted to weather the pandemic has been a blessing in disguise as it relates to our collective mental health and well-being. There now are essential elements of flexibility that need to be incorporated into our go forward paradigm of working. People want to spend less time commuting. They want to be home for dinner with family and friends. They want to be together at work to connect, relate, learn, mentor, innovate — not to warm a chair and sit behind a computer screen. Employers will be required to deconstruct their old work models and figure out a plan that provides flexibility and enough togetherness.

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?

In order to attract and keep talent, organizations need to understand what drives employees. Employees are reevaluating their professional goals and when, how, and where they want to work.

While this is certainly concerning for the public sector (which was already facing recruitment and retention issues), it’s also an opportunity to focus on what gives public sector employers a competitive advantage and how they can respond to issues that came to the forefront during the pandemic (e.g., flexibility, remote work, childcare, paid family leave, and mental health).

MissionSquare is deeply committed to public employees through familial and personal ties of our own. As part of our commitment, we honour our clients’ service by providing expert research, scholarship opportunities and financial education to help employers attract and retain talent, while making our communities better places. Other companies need to understand how to personally connect with employees to make them feel needed and retain talent. In fact, this year we established the MissionSquare Foundation, pledging $20M over 10 years to reinvest in the communities and families dedicating their lives to public service.

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 favorite life lesson quote is from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “and now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

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’d love to have breakfast or lunch with Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase and toss ideas around on how MissionSquare Retirement can curate an expanded set of products, services and solutions for the benefit of the people in our country who have chosen a life of public service.

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 email me at [email protected] or visit our website — to learn more about our latest research and find resources for the public sector workforce. You can also follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook.

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