Employee expectations will continue to change, but salary isn’t always the main driver. Employees want to feel safe (and right now — for some — that means staying home) and they also want to “belong.” Connectedness and community will always continue to drive retention.
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 Martha Jensen.
Martha Jensen is Chief People Officer (CPO) at Sauce Labs, where she will lead the company’s People and Culture Strategy with a focus on scaling operations and culture.
Martha joins Sauce Labs from Ivalua, a SaaS-based platform for Spend management, where she established People and Culture strategy. Prior to Ivalua, Martha worked at Facebook as a strategic HR advisor to the Data Center Leadership team on all People and Culture related matters. During her career, Martha has worked for leading technology companies including Symantec, Aruba Networks, HP, VMware and IBM, with specialist roles in education, change management and organizational development, as well as leading complex and global HR functions.
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.
First, growing up in a large, close-knit family definitely shaped my perspective on collaboration, negotiations, listening for understanding and compromise. Second would probably be my military experience. The military challenges you in many ways — it taught me that the only obstacles in front of me are the ones that I allow to stay there. It was through this experience that I really came into my own.
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?
No one has a crystal ball. Not many would have predicted the pandemic and how it would change not only how we work, but how we socialize and live, too. That said, I think we’ll see AI become much more mainstream. In many respects, it is already becoming more adopted and perfected by many industries. While I am focused on the tech sector, this is applicable in other sectors as well.
Over a decade ago, automation changed the manufacturing industry. Now, the pandemic, coupled with automation, has changed so many other industries too. It’s changed the way we engage in retail and hospitality. AI will continue to be integrated into how we work and will likely change the focus of many roles within the corporate world.
With AI, training will start happening in real time; tools are providing feedback and training instantaneously. These tools, and the technology that fuels them, can also be connected to strong cultural initiatives. With the right tools in place, organizations are positioned to build stronger relationships, regardless of location. Plus, something we’re already seeing is the availability of completely different tech stacks, which further changes the need to be in person. We are human, and as such still have the need to physically connect. But the technology available now and into the next 10 years has the power to make virtual meetings feel much more like the in-person meetings we attend today. This will truly open the world to opportunities.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Don’t overthink it. Unless you are a think-tank with unlimited resources, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. The best advice I have is to stay on top of what is happening in real time at your organization, in the industry and around the world and stay nimble. Being able to pivot quickly is an important attribute. And don’t rely on lagging indicators. Also, stay on top of technology — always be thinking about how to incorporate it into your workforce planning.
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?
Our challenge, as employers, is to bring back or recreate the human connection we lost in the pandemic. There are a lot of employees who are making job decisions based on location being remote. Though, I think that might evolve over time as some people realize they miss the in-person camaraderie and connectedness. In the near term, air travel will be the bridge to bring people back together, but this can have budgetary implications that must be properly managed, especially in today’s workforce-driven job market.
Another trend I’m seeing is culture increasingly impacting where people choose to work. Candidates want to feel good about where they work and the people they work with. A mission-driven culture that aligns with your employees’ (or the candidate’s) social values is important. You must ensure clarity of your company’s brand to help you match with candidates.
It is also very important to understand the demographics of your workforce. The flexibility that people early in their career are looking for is very different from the flexibility a mid or late career person is looking for. We need to know our audience and meet them with the infrastructure and support they need to be their best whole person.
Too many managers and companies are trying to resolve the Great Resignation with money (salary and fringe). Instead, how managers communicate with their teams, how they empower them, how they measure them and the level of transparency in those processes can all be great tools to aid in retention. We all need to bring back the importance of individual contributions and building teams — connecting to each other and to the goals and mission of the company.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
It has already influenced the future of work. People are more remote than they used to be. Talented employees are requesting higher salaries than ever before, regardless of where they live. Countries and counties are enticing tech workers with tax incentives and benefits if they live/work in their communities. Technology is adapting to the challenges of remote work. All these will continue to influence how we think about engaging employees.
Contract labor is also becoming more prevalent. As employees have more options, they are opting to be contractors. However, this can create challenges for the employer, and it’s possible we may see changes in contracting employment laws in the coming years.
Further, how we think about People Management needs to change. It isn’t about looking over someone’s shoulder or “seeing” them work; it’s more about achieving employee deliverables and the impact that aligns with the greater goals. The skills and characteristics it takes to manage people well have changed dramatically… Now, our leadership development needs to catch up.
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?
The phrase ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’ comes to mind. Societal changes will need to be localized to address this global situation.
It’s no surprise that the U.S. education system needs an overhaul. However, one major change we’re seeing is the mindset that you need a college degree to be successful in tech, and it’s important to avoid looking at just the pedigree. It doesn’t matter where they received their degree (or if they even received a degree), core competencies and characteristics are just as important. Plus, mentorships, internships, apprenticeships can be much more effective than a 4-year degree. We should no longer be tied to education as a means for social mobility. It’s more important to look beyond the resume and at the core skills, aptitudes and attitudes a candidate brings to the table.
I think we’ll also see less people thinking about a job from 8–5, especially in a global work situation. Some teams are going to follow-the-sun; other employees might require more flexibility. Thinking about flexible work schedules while still maintaining a typical 40(ish) work week will be important to truly enable a remote workforce and to be inclusive.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
The nature of a more remote workforce makes companies capable of being more diverse. Inclusion needs to be the priority in the DEI strategy, and I’m optimistic about the kinds of conversations that I am hearing and seeing happen today. I’m also optimistic about the statistics around employees becoming more open to returning to the office part time. Human connection is so important to belonging and community, which should be a big part of a company’s culture.
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?
We are seeing a wide range of health benefits being offered to employees across the board, including reimbursements for gyms, mental health courses, financial health courses and access to training videos that go beyond work-related topics, like cooking or yoga or creative writing. Ensuring we are looking at all our employees holistically is important not only for them, but for the future and culture of the company. Extending those benefits to family members can also be a differentiator.
I also believe the future of benefits is a customized approach. The ICHRA ( Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Account) will become a transformative ‘why’ of offering benefits. Once this style of benefits is implemented, employers can focus on the holistic employee — on their wellbeing instead of managing the risk of a medical plan. This will be an opportunity for employees to customize what is important for them and for their benefit offerings.
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?
This is an “it depends” answer. Leaders need to hear the headlines, but also listen and focus on understanding when talking with their employees, their customers and their suppliers. That is the data point leaders should look to when thinking about changes to culture. Culture is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s unique to each environment and needs to be nurtured and fed to keep it healthy. We need to engage our employees in more meaningful ways. One way to do this is to create listening posts, check the pulse of our employees more often, have regular town halls and round tables and really communicate with our employees, finding ways to listen and react appropriately.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Flexibility will be one if it isn’t already.
- Employee expectations will continue to change, but salary isn’t always the main driver. Employees want to feel safe (and right now — for some — that means staying home) and they also want to “belong.” Connectedness and community will always continue to drive retention.
- Technology will continue to drive how we design the work experience.
- How employees and managers engage in development opportunities (whether training or on-the-job opportunities) will continue to evolve.
- Just as diversity and inclusion (D&I) evolved to DEI, I believe it will eventually evolve to bring in “belonging,” which is a natural progression from inclusion. This goes beyond the walls of the company and any employee resource groups (ERGs) they may have and can bridge to the actual communities people live in. I see a blending of CSR and ESG with the employees and local communities to build a sense of belonging for the employee and that community.
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?
I have three actually, but they are more philosophical than inspirational.
- I have kept an ampersand on my desk for over 15 years to remind me of the power of “And…” not to be confused with the book of the same name.
As opposed to yes/no or choices of win/lose, I try hard to remember to think of And. For example, we can do this AND do that. I can get what I need AND you can get what you need. This is the opportunity to pursue several approaches simultaneously, not just one or another.
- Another go-to life-lesson quote is “let it go”. It does no good to hang on to excess baggage, especially if we cannot fix it. Whether it is something we did that we rue, or a perceived injustice or just a personality trait that rubs us the wrong way… let it go.
- And lastly, this one sums up my approach to a lot of things. Focus on being directionally correct, roughly right. If we wait for perfection, we will wait forever. Get it directionally correct and iterate from there.
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.
This will be an eclectic mix of people…
- I’m not a basketball fan, but Steve Kerr (the head coach of the Golden State Warriors) is someone I would love to have a conversation with around the topic of building high performing teams.
- Christiane Amanpour has led a fascinating life. She’s seen and heard more than most — from her time at CNN to PBS. I have always enjoyed and relied on her reporting and insights, so hearing her perspective on the world would be fascinating.
- Last but not least, I would enjoy having a conversation with Amanda Gorman. We will continue to see a lot from this talented, insightful young woman, and hearing her perspective from her generation would be an inspired and insightful conversation.
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?
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.