Employers need to continue increasing their support of employees’ health and overall well-being in a really holistic way. Without that, those employees are going to move to teams that do provide that kind of essential support.

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 Marsha McVicker.

A driven, innovative, and empathetic leader, CEO Marsha McVicker founded LYLA (then known as Errand Solutions) during her MBA program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Building upon 20+ years studying human needs and behaviors, Marsha now uses that insight to help businesses engage with their employees, create customized HR benefits, and increase satisfaction, retention, and ROI — all through the Luv Your Life App (LYLA).

Marsha has been featured on MSNBC, MSN Business on Main, NPR’s “Future of Success” series, and has presented at Crain’s Business Forum, the Women’s Business Development Center, University of Chicago, UW-Madison, and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She also received a second MBA from the Entrepreneurial Masters Program at MIT.

Personally, Marsha has spent 7 years as an advisor to the local team at FEJ, a Haitian foundation led and operated by Haitian community members that aims to build sustainable communities through micro-economic development, assistance for women business owners, and family resources.

Discover more about Marsha and LYLA here: www.helpmelyla.com

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. 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?

I think what you’ll see 10 to 15 years from now is really the magnification of a couple of core themes around technology, culture, inclusivity, and autonomy.

Technology is going to continue to accelerate, specifically AI. And I think pairing artificial intelligence with actual human intelligence is going to be a constant evolution from this moment right now over the next 10 to 15 years. It’s going to be really fascinating to see how that turns out!

Even with my company, LYLA, I mean, the purpose of LYLA is to be that dedicated virtual assistant for what you need today and keep evolving, with the tech aspects and the human element, to still be what you need ten years from now. And other technology, besides LYLA, will make the lives of employees and employers a lot easier, and a lot more meaningful, I believe.

I think we all need to embrace the fact that we have a real role in determining how and when we want to engage with technology, as well as with each other. I mean, genuine human connectivity is still incredibly important to have a thriving work environment. So as a leader, you really have to think, “How am I nurturing connections amongst my team in a really meaningful way? Is this AI more of a help or a hindrance to that?”

Which leads me to culture.

I think companies of all sizes are really starting to understand their power and potential to create — and insist upon — a much more just and healthy world. I mean, we’re already seeing that in action, in situations where government fails to act, whether in regards to social justice, poverty, we’re seeing organizations decide how they want to impact the world in those areas.

And I think that over the next 10 to 15 years, employees are going to flock to the organizations that show they understand that power and have a clear purpose.

And that leads me to inclusivity. I mean not only listening to everybody, giving space for everyone’s voices to be heard, but also doing more than listening — actually responding with meaningful changes in the business structure and infrastructure.

A quick example of this has to do with fair pay. I mean, over the next decade, that’s going to be a given, I think. Because the autonomy that many of us have felt during the pandemic . . . that has really empowered us to speak about our lived experiences and how we want to those life experiences reflected in our work, in our work environments. Employees are no longer viewing themselves as being passive, but as drivers of their own work experience. And I don’t think that’s a case where the pendulum will swing back at all. I think that’s here to stay.

And because of that, employers are definitely going to need to be nimble and willing to think outside their traditional boxes in terms of how benefits are offered and accessed, how people are paid, when they are paid, how they are paid.

I think embracing a more egalitarian way of business is going to be essential, and especially in regards to benefits, of course, which is the space that we at LYLA live in. I don’t see the artificial boundaries that we used to have between “work” and “home” ever being reassembled. I think they will continue to be torn apart and torn down because people have realized that they want to live differently.

It goes back to autonomy, it goes back to inclusivity.

And I think we’re going to really see the dismantling of what I would call “patriarchal” HR benefits, where you have people in finance and HR “sitting on high” saying, we know what’s best for you, here are the benefits we offer. I think that’s going to be burned. Hopefully.

LYLA is all about allowing people to make their own choices about how they want to live — and rewarding them for doing what drives their purpose and really being there on that entire journey with them. And I think exceptional employers understand that the way to have exceptional employees is by supporting them holistically. So they truly bring their whole selves to work.

The whole, “we know what’s best for you” mentality? I think that is done. I really do.

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

I think the key is to always listen to your team, and then take it that next step and act on what you hear.

There’s going to be a redefinition, I think, in terms of being customer-centric, to expand that mindset to include employees as part of your customers because in the same way that a business needs to serve its customers, it needs to serve its employees, too. So you need to take the same level of attention to employees as you do your customers in order to truly future-proof.

And once you act on what the employees are sharing, it does have this wonderful effect of building that trust because they’ll notice that you’ve taken action on what’s important to them. It shows that what’s important to them . . . is important to you as an employer, too.

So that really combines a couple of other skillsets for employers to consider: first, the ability to be very nimble and responsive and quickly adjust and then once again, the ability to use technology and human partnership as we evolve.

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?

I think the biggest gaps that employers are facing these days fall pretty much in three areas. There’s the pay equity gap, the diversity gap, and the gap in general understanding of lived experiences.

So how to fix it? I mean, it sounds simple, but . . . to fix it, we gotta eliminate the disparities.

I think we have to make sure all employees are compensated in an equitable way. But the problem that has existed to this date, is that “equitable” has been defined in so many convoluted ways by employers, that it’s really sometimes quite challenging for an employee to understand whether or not they’re being paid fairly. And so when they hear of a coworker that is making X and they’re only making Y. And from their perspective, the only difference they see is the color of their skin or their gender . . . It’s very easy for them to jump to conclusions. And that’s not the fault of the employee, that’s the fault of the employer for not being transparent.

The good news is, it shouldn’t be as complicated of an issue to resolve as it was to get into.

Fair compensation and fair representation at board tables, in meetings, in employee resource groups is going to be essential as we move ahead. It’s essential in order to recognize that we all have very different lived experiences, because we need people present in leadership who have experienced those differences. And then, as leaders, we need to pay deliberate attention and continuously ask ourselves, “How are we really, truly translating that knowledge into how we reimagine equity and diversity and healthy work environments for our employees?”

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

I actually think work from home is not an experiment anymore. It’s here to stay.

There’s a lot of confusion around what’s remote work, what’s hybrid work, what the definitions are, what’s going to be allowed, what’s not going to be allowed, who gets to dictate those terms . . . and I think healthy employers really need to understand, like I said earlier, those lived experiences of all of their employees during this pandemic. And what’s emerged is this necessity for a lot of employees to have flexibility and autonomy in terms of deciding where they want to work and when they want to work.

Collaboration and getting together and being in the same space is essential and needs to happen . . . embracing work from home (also “work from anywhere”) is just as essential. And making work as productive and collaborative when it needs to be — and as thought-provoking and introverted as some work needs to be — I think they involve very different spaces and very different mindsets, and as employers we need to be ready to support all of that.

Our teams, regardless of where they’re at physically, they need benefits that really expand beyond the physical walls, of course, of an organization. And this is really what we at LYLA saw, and why we stepped into that space during the pandemic. From our perspective, a lot of the mental health resources, the financial wellness resources, the counseling services, the coaching services that were in place . . . they just didn’t translate to the “new normal” So through the programs and the systems we developed, we at LYLA were really able to step in and start bridging significant gaps in benefits. Helping in really meaningful ways.

For example, our number one users are nurses. The number one request we get from nurses has to do with mental health — either their own or a family member’s. And the trouble was, before we entered the space, they weren’t getting supported. And that meant that trust had totally broken down. They just didn’t trust the programs that the employers had in place. And even when they did trust the employee assistance programs they were assigned, a lot of times the employees themselves were asked to do all the heavy lifting.

They were told to go through these long lists of providers and figure out whether or not the provider had availability or if it was the right provider or if they would take their insurance. For a healthcare worker in the middle of a pandemic and in the middle of a personal crisis, that’s an incredibly heavy lift.

So LYLA stepped in, and employees really started leaning on us to do that research, find the resources, make the connections, do the heavy lifting. And that’s exactly what we’re there for.

So I think as far as the future goes, it’s essential that employers ask the questions to understand how people are perceiving what they’re doing, and how they’re doing it. Because that perception has radically changed. And being able to respond to that, as an employer, is essential in order to create healthy work environments in the future — whether that environment is an employee’s couch or a collaborative in-office workspace. Flexibility will be essential to attract and retain the talents of tomorrow.

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?

I think the most obvious one is that a huge spotlight was shone on the inequities in our country. I’d like to think that we all believe all people are created equally, but they certainly have not been treated equitably, even in their work environments.

You just can’t offer one set of benefits to one group of employees and not have it extended to another set without breeding resentment and a lack of trust. And I think there are things every company can be doing right now to help alleviate some of that.

And another thing that organizations can do, that’s going to create a sustainable future of work, is really embracing the purpose that resonates closest to their hearts.

So for us at LYLA, obviously we believe in supporting the whole human being so they can bring their whole selves to work. And our purpose is really about making sure all people, regardless of their demographics, feel comfortable leaning on LYLA for help with everyday tasks or help when there’s a crisis.

The thing that kept our team together during the pandemic, honestly, is when we offered our services for free to first responders. We all felt so strongly that those were the folks that needed us the most, who really needed access to the resources we provide. These people were so busy taking care of everyone else. They needed somebody to help take care of them and their loved ones. And by putting our energy into that, we were able to stay really cohesive as a team.

There are so many organizations that are examples of that, right? Like Tom’s Shoes, for example — they’ve always been outspoken about being mission-driven and because of their dedication to that mission, they’ve been able to recruit incredible talent.

I think people are still craving that sense of connection, of community, of purpose. And I think employers can help create all that.

I look at the employee resource group chats, the client Slack channels that we participate in . . . and a lot of our clients, I mean, the employees in those groups are so diverse in so many ways. Everything from cat lovers to quilters to Girl Scout moms. And they really did an amazing job during the pandemic of creating communities for each other. I think employers would be wise to tap into the literal human resource they have and use those communities as focus groups for how they can continue to create a really rich culture, from a broader sense, at their organizations.

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

My greatest optimism in regards to the future of work is that during times of great stress, a lot of reflection and innovation occurs. So I think one of the benefits of kind of the turmoil the world has been in, is that people are really thinking outside of the box in ways that can maybe solve some really big issues: creating more sustainable workforces, meeting people more where they’re at, elevating diverse voices, making sure everybody has a seat at the table, embracing the autonomy of employees.

And because of all of that outside-the-box kind of thinking, you’re seeing really innovative companies emerge that I think can be a real asset as we create work environments that are incredibly productive, purpose-driven, and passionate.

Some of those companies were around before the pandemic, but they’ve come into the forefront because of their creativity. Think about something like Zoom. Even though we all complain about Zoom, or whatever platform you’re into, they’ve really impacted our lives and our work by allowing us more face time than we ever had with people who are physically distanced from us.

So I just think of all the tools and how they’re evolving and how we can leverage technology so we have space to focus on caring for each other in an empathetic way, really being there for each other? It’s that kind of connection that feeds all of our souls.

And I have tremendous optimism about the future of work because there are so many kick-ass entrepreneurs out there doing really interesting things, and there are so many employees out there speaking their desires and their needs. And there are so many amazing, progressive employers that are looking long and hard at how they’re redefining how folks work, where they work, why they work, and kind of upending their own apple carts to reimagine how we move forward in this new landscape.

And that gives me hope.

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?

Mental health was rarely talked about when I started my company, which was originally called Errand Solutions, about 20 years ago. As an organization, we always imagined that we could get ahead of burnout and really reduce the stress in people’s lives by just helping them with their to-do lists, so that’s what we started out doing.

As our organization has evolved, so has the conversation around how mental health is impacting the lives of those that we interact with on a day-to-day basis in the workforce, and what people really need in order to maintain their mental health. And that’s an area that I’m particularly passionate about, coming from a family where my mother’s bipolar and my sister suffered with depression, and now my son has had tremendous anxiety over the course of the pandemic.

I think our current focus on mental health is . . . it’s like the equivalent of the industrial revolution, essentially. I have seen so many great entrepreneurs with so many innovative solutions about how to keep people mentally healthy, how to help them quickly course-correct, how to get them the help they need in real time. There’s great, innovative tech that allows people to do personal check-ins about their mood, how they’re feeling. And then AI gives them real time feedback about what they might want to do — eat a snack, go for a walk, call a friend — or if it’s more serious, they’ll direct-connect them to a coach or a counselor. It’s an important time in the mental health space.

And the entrepreneurs that are in that space range from people who have family members who have suffered or who themselves have suffered to practitioners who’ve been embedded in the science. It’s personal. And the collaborations that we’re seeing are pretty mind-blowing. The LYLA platform in particular can layer in a variety of different solutions so we can address just an array of mental health questions or experiences employees might have.

This is finally a time when so many employers are looking for ways to make meaningful impact and keep their employees healthy — not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

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 number one message that managers can glean from The Great Resignation is that they need to listen to what their employees are saying and they need to act on it. I think a lot of employees felt they were just pushed too hard and they really became exhausted. And if you don’t have support systems in place to make sure you’re keeping your employees healthy and happy and engaged, then you’re going to continue to see attrition.

I also think it’s important to reflect on the fact that a lot of organizations had, and still have, a very patriarchal approach to benefits and support systems for their employees. It’s like they’re saying, we know what’s best, we’re going to have this particular health plan, we’re going to have this particular Employee Assistance Program, this particular family leave policy . . . and that just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

There’s talk about hyper-personalized benefits, and that’s great — that’s how you really support your people. As an employer, you need to give your employees the autonomy to self-direct, select benefits that are relevant for them. This was a key driver behind we call the LYLA Wallet. The LYLA Wallet allows employees to direct their pre-tax money to whatever service is going to benefit them most, from getting their dog walked because they’re on a series of Zoom calls, to scheduling hours with a mental health counselor or a financial wellness coach, to planning their kid’s birthday party. I mean, these are all things that matter deeply to people in the moment, and they should be able to have control over that.

This mindset of “we know best” has got to go away. And employers have to set up systems that allow employees to self-direct what benefits matter to them and actually use that cash, a lot of which is being totally wasted right now. If you look at EAPs, utilization averages under 10%. And some industries fall as low as 5.5% (source: Society for Human Resource Management). By contrast, LYLA’s services see a utilization rate of around 30% because we actually allow employees to get the support they know they need — instead of what employers are guessing that they need.

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

The five trends that I see continuing into the future in terms of workforce (not in any particular order) are employee autonomy, tech, health, purpose, and employee-centrism.

I’ve talked a lot in this interview about employee autonomy, and particularly what that means when it comes to benefits and flexibility, because I think that is essential for a healthy workplace culture. And the organizations that choose to prioritize their employees’ autonomy are going to see lower rates of attrition and higher rates of satisfaction.

I also believe that tech, specifically AI, is going to become a true partner to many employees, and I think that’s going to be fascinating to watch.

Number three would be health. Employers need to continue increasing their support of employees’ health and overall well-being in a really holistic way. Without that, those employees are going to move to teams that do provide that kind of essential support.

Number four would be the acceleration of purpose-driven organizations. We’ve even seen it with Ukraine, and the current crisis there — very large companies have stepped in when governments have failed to make statements and give resources. Purpose-driven organizations have the power to get ahead of what some politicians refuse to do, and really impact society through those actions.

And then finally, I think we’re going to continue to see this hyper customer-centrism that extends to the employees, with companies asking themselves, “How are we treating employees like customers? How can we do that even better?” Because there’s a real need to take care of our employees with the same level of dedication — more so, even — as we do our customers.

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?

One of my favorites is by Toni Morrison: “You want to fly? You got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” And I embrace that wholeheartedly, especially if there’s a negative relationship (in or outside of my business), or if I made a mistake and I just can’t let go of it, you got to let go of it to move on, or if you made a wrong turn in your business strategy, you got to let that go and just keep moving forward.

Another quote I love is by Mr. Rogers: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” And my team is the most incredible group of helpers on the planet. Right now, my team is out there — making sure the nurse has new tires on her car so she can get safely to work, finding the perfect tutor for a student with special needs, getting a great counselor for the grandma that just lost the love of her life. It’s amazing. I love it. I love it. I love it.

Just like I loved Mr. Rogers growing up. Hands down, my favorite show.

And then when I’m really feeling like channeling my inner diva just to take it the extra mile, I love the Cher quote that says “Women have to harness their power.” It’s absolutely true. It’s learning not to take the first “no.” And learning that if you can’t go straight ahead, you go around the corner. Really, isn’t that what life is about? Just don’t give up. There’s always a way.

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? They might just see this if we tag them.

Somebody I’m really impressed with is Theaster Gates. Talk about investing in communities! He actually lives really close to me, I think, but I’ve never met him. I’m so interested in the creative work he’s been doing on the south side of Chicago, using art to revitalize neighborhoods!

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 way to follow along with LYLA is on Instagram. If readers want to connect with me personally, they can follow me on LinkedIn.

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