Put team wellness — physical, mental, and emotional — at the top of the list of priorities. Corporations have long supported the benefits of physical well-being. On-site fitness centers, paid gym memberships, healthy eating options, and medical benefits have all promoted a culture of health. Now organizations are recognizing and prioritizing emotional and mental well-being, as well.

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 Mary Beth Sawicki.

Executive Coach Mary Beth Sawicki is a founding partner of Trilogy Effect, a boutique management consulting firm specializing in leadership development. Over the course of her 25-year career, Mary Beth has coached leaders at many of the world’s biggest and best-known companies. She fosters meaningful connections and productive outcomes for her clients by drawing upon years of expertise in business operations and management consulting along with extensive training in human behavior and team effectiveness. She is passionate about making room for people and their humanity.

One lesson we have learned from the “Great Resignation”, is that 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.

In this interview series, we would like to interview successful leaders, executives, managers, and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

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.

I am a people-first person; I always have been. And up until I was in my mid-20s, I truly believed there was nothing I couldn’t fix, if I put my mind to it. That all changed when my closest friend fell ill. I quickly learned a heartbreaking truth: I couldn’t fix Michael’s health. He died when he was only 30. And, while I had always lived my life through the lens of ‘relationships first’, Michael’s passing brought this priority into even sharper focus. It was the start of my journey on the path that led me to becoming a leadership development consultant and coach.

Another life changing experience happened about six years ago. The consulting company I’d worked at for more than half my life closed down. My long-term job disappeared and took my sense of security with it. The idea of starting fresh was daunting. But I got together with two brilliant and talented former colleagues to form Trilogy Effect, a boutique consulting firm. For me, it was a bold move. But I soon found I loved the self-determination of running my own business and I cherish the freedom it brings to other domains of my life.

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?

“Being Human is Good For Business” is our motto (and our podcast!) at Trilogy Effect. And while this tenet has always held true, it’s now coming to the fore as people embrace their own humanity — in all its perfection and imperfection.

People long for connection and being willing to bring our whole, sometimes messy, selves to relationships — both personal and professional — provides the opportunity to develop strong bonds.

We are at the beginning of a trend that we’ll see play out over the next 10 or 15 years. The pandemic has people re-evaluating their priorities, and many are seeking meaning and purpose in their work on a deeper level than ever before. People want to know that they are devoting a significant portion of their life to a job that aligns with their values. They want to know that they are making a meaningful difference in this world.

“What” people are doing has always been important to them, but now the “how” and the “why” are coming into sharp focus. People in the workforce of tomorrow will feel connected to their employer’s mission, vision, and values. If they are planning on being in business 10 to 15 years from now, today’s leaders must create — and foster / live / model / co-create — a culture of purpose.

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

Employers need to be adaptable by fostering collaboration and creativity! Charles Darwin has been quoted as saying that it’s not the strongest that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptable and responsive to change.

COVID-19 has provided us all with an opportunity for reflection and introspection about our quality of life and priorities. People want more flexibility, less structure, more agency, and to be trusted to do their jobs.

My best advice is to listen to your people. Solicit their input and perspective. Recognize that there is no “one size fits all” approach to any challenge. Be empathetic and flexible and use a human-centered approach to leadership. When you trust and take care of your people, they will take care of the business.

And be proactive about it! Companies that preemptively make work better for their employees — with higher pay, remote flexibility, other financial and social incentives — are shown to have the advantage over those that wait for their workers to demand those benefits.

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 endured lockdowns and are continuing to experience restrictions and constrictions in all aspects of life, and this makes us yearn for freedom and flexibility wherever we can find it — including at work. Having gone through extended periods working from home, employees now expect to continue to have freedom and autonomy in their work.

I’ve been helping clients navigate this since the onset of the pandemic. I’ve seen companies that previously had a strict “no working from home” policy suddenly find that, despite empty offices, their teams are just as productive as ever– if not more so. Others have employees who want to return to work like “the before times”, and still others who want a hybrid approach, working from home a couple of days a week.

To bridge the gap, employers need to decide how flexible they are prepared to be. Ideally, they will consult their teams and accommodate their views, opinions, and needs to come up with a workable way forward.

Honesty and respect are key. This requires listening generously, understanding individual concerns and perspectives, and then responding with transparency and kindness.

People, fundamentally, want to be seen, heard, and understood. This doesn’t mean a leader will always agree with every request or be able to deliver what is asked — but they can listen and relate.

Studies show that even when the decision isn’t what they would have liked, employees are more open and are at their most engaged, fulfilled, and productive when they feel they have been included in the decision-making process.

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

Honestly, it’s been a false construct to believe that anyone could fully separate their personal life from their professional one. We might try to convince ourselves that we can achieve this balance, but I personally don’t know anyone capable of it.

The future of work means worrying less about getting the balance right between work and “life”. First of all, everyone has a different idea of what that balance looks like, and it can often look very different depending on what stage in life a person is in. Instead, it means accepting that work and life are already integrated and always have been. It’s a more holistic approach that provides the flexibility and autonomy that people crave.

It can also play to your personal strengths and preferences. Not everyone is their best, most-productive self from 9 to 5! Personally, I’m better at certain things early in the day and other things — like catching up on the day’s news and playing Wordle — later! For others, handling important family commitments and personal appointments during the day, will give them a clear mind to focus when they sit down to a work project at 7pm.

It’s important to know what work-life integration looks like for you. Just as with work-life balance, it doesn’t look the same for everyone! Knowing what must be prioritized, what is flexible (and what isn’t), and what routines serve you, will allow you to experiment and tweak along the way. It’s not an overnight process.

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?

If we’re not careful, there’s a real risk that women could lose a generation of progress through the pandemic.

Women are disproportionately leaving the workforce to care for their children. In addition, they are being called upon to care for their sick or elderly relatives.

Even when women are offered the flexibility of fully remote work, it’s often with a reduction in pay and benefits, and there are unintended consequences. Opportunities and promotions are often influenced by in-person interactions. Working from home impacts a person’s visibility, and women specifically — and parents in general — are rightfully concerned about the implications of decreased face-to-face time. Getting equitable policies in place is vital, or gender inequalities will worsen.

Organizations are instituting “virtual watercooler” chats for people who may not otherwise get a chance to interact with their peers regularly. Pairing senior leaders and more junior employees, or linking together people working in different departments, will both raise the visibility of individuals and bridge the gap between “siloed” areas of a business.

A side benefit: it also provides the opportunity for connection that people are longing for. In our virtual Zoom sessions with teams, we design them to be as interactive as possible, with multiple breakout sessions and exercises. We are finding how much people appreciate the opportunity to just be with each other, in pairs or trios, and talk — about the challenges at hand, or simply what is going on for them in that moment. There are many benefits to making those connections.

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

There has been a lot of talk about the Great Resignation, but I’m truly optimistic about the Great Awakening!

Covid has given us the opportunity (or forced us!) to pause, reflect, and prioritize what is truly important. Many people are realizing that there is more to life than striving to achieve the next goal. Instead, they are starting to understand the importance of pausing to live in and enjoy the present moment. And while times are challenging and people are depleted — to put it mildly — and social media can give the impression that we are more divided than ever, I am also observing kindness, compassion, and grace. People are developing a deeper and more personal appreciation for others. Companies are coming to recognize that being human is, indeed, good for business.

And we’re seeing evidence of this in the powerful movement for diversity, equity, and inclusion. The acceptance of remote work as being part of “business as usual” supports this effort. When employees have the opportunity work from anywhere, teams naturally become more diverse. When teams are more diverse and inclusive, creativity blossoms, innovation increases, and people are more engaged, self-expressed, and fulfilled.

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?

I’m heartened to see mental health and well-being getting the care and attention that physical health has long received. For individuals, we’re seeing companies offer support in both traditional (mental health supportive services) and innovative ways. For example, one of our clients offers team members days off to recharge and rejuvenate. Some have instituted days or blocks of hours each day when there are no meetings, calls or emails. Others are investing in supporting employees with mindfulness practices, creative expression classes, and other non-skills training that benefit mental health.

We’re observing that companies are focusing more and more on psychological safety, creating a culture of belonging and inclusion on an organizational scale.

This is one of the reasons why we’ve seen a significant uptick in requests for executive and team coaching. We’ve always provided our clients with special frameworks and tools designed to help people understand what motivates them, what derails them and why, so they can be more effective at work, and usually a lot happier in life.

But since the onset of the pandemic, we noticed that many of our clients were seeking something additional to help them navigate unprecedented change, uncertainty, and disruption.

We have been incorporating into our client work — both with teams as well as with individuals — a therapeutic model that provides a framework to understand where potential gets “stuck” within interpersonal dynamics. Ultimately, this model provides access to calmness, curiosity, clarity, compassion, confidence, creativity, courage, and connectedness. These qualities are always available within us and provide the optimal environment for communication, innovation, and achievement of goals. The key is to equip leaders with the ability to reconnect with these qualities in themselves, and in others, when issues such conflict, breakdowns, lack of communication and silos get in the way of productive working relationships.

It’s a therapeutic approach that integrates well with other coaching tools and frameworks. It is about helping people reconnect to their whole selves so they can reach their full potential in life as well as in leadership.

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?

Can we explore The Great Realization? While there is plenty of change being done unto us, many of us are also seeking it out. People are consciously considering what they really want, what’s next for them, where they want to focus their energy. I’m reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day, that concludes with, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” This is a big question, and many are diving head-first into that inquiry.

Leaders will benefit from recognizing that while their people are feeling depleted, anxious, and overwhelmed, many are also realizing that they don’t want things to return to the status quo. For some, this looks like a long-term hybrid work schedule. Others might want to explore new opportunities within their organization, or even a career change. Still others are taking up creative pursuits as an outlet for self-expression. Understand that while we are having this common, shared, unprecedented experience, we are doing so in our own highly individual, personal ways. Being as adaptable, open, and understanding as possible will serve you and your people well.

And just as there is “no one size fits all” approach for individuals, there isn’t one for organizations, either! What works for one company won’t necessarily work for another, but a good place to start is with curiosity. A culture that encourages questions also improves engagement, collaboration, exploration, and innovation.

One major way that corporate cultures are evolving is in effort to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion. We humans are social animals, and we fundamentally want to belong. When we trust that we do belong, that we are safe, we are more likely to take the risks necessary for innovation and growth. We aren’t worried about being expelled from the community!

We are working with an organization in which the senior leadership team has prioritized their development. Not only are they individually doing the heavy lifting required for the next steps on their own leadership journey, they’re encouraging others to do so as well by extending their leadership training throughout the organization. They recognize that being human is good for business!

This path requires courage, compassion and yes, curiosity — extended toward self and others — as people engage in uncomfortable and necessary conversations. Encourage yourself and your team to develop and build those muscles!

Times are changing, and so are we. Speaking for myself, I never thought we would be in our third year of grappling with a global pandemic! Original policies and procedures that were enacted at the beginning of the pandemic — in organizations, schools, hospitals, places of worship — have changed, and changed back, and changed again. Everyone is suffering from their own personal experience of change fatigue. Whenever possible, extend space and grace to yourself and others, as we navigate this ever-changing landscape, internally and externally. We are all doing our best.

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

  1. Foster psychological safety in the workplace. At Trilogy Effect, we believe people come to work to make a difference. And statistics show that people’s commitment to contribute fully is thwarted when they don’t feel safe.

The term “psychological safety” was coined at Harvard Business School as “a climate in which people are comfortable being and expressing themselves.” And, studies show that only 3 out of 10 employees in the US strongly agree that their opinions count at work.

Psychological safety begins with a sense of belonging. If people wonder, “Will I — or my ideas and input — be rejected, dismissed, or shamed?” there is very little room for innovation. Psychological safety is crucial for creating a culture of trust that allows for vulnerability and the willingness to take risks.

It doesn’t mean that everyone will always agree; diversity of thought and life experiences are huge contributors to creativity, innovation, and growth. But psychological safety allows for productive conflict.

Organizations are making this an explicit priority, and are looking for ways to build diversity, equity, and inclusion. Since intentionally fostering this environment, one of our clients is seeing decreased staff turnover, increased creativity and innovation, and a more engaged team overall. When people feel included and accepted, particularly underrepresented groups, everyone benefits — individually and collectively.

2. Put team wellness — physical, mental, and emotional — at the top of the list of priorities. Corporations have long supported the benefits of physical well-being. On-site fitness centers, paid gym memberships, healthy eating options, and medical benefits have all promoted a culture of health. Now organizations are recognizing and prioritizing emotional and mental well-being, as well.

Companies are offering access to online therapists and confidential support services, providing platforms to discuss mental health resources, instituting wellness days off, and a variety of wellbeing initiatives. We’ve had clients dedicate space in their corporate headquarters for mindfulness and meditation. One client has instituted “Volunteer Days.” Employees are encouraged to spend time supporting their communities and organizations are realizing the many real business benefits of giving back. This activity has been a boon to both the community and to individuals involved. Companies are doing well by doing good.

3. Create a coaching culture across the organization. Companies are looking for ways to support their employees and creating a culture of coaching is something that we are seeing more. We have several clients who prioritize coaching and make it broadly available within their organizations, whether it’s a formal year-long — or more — coaching engagement, or ad-hoc support for an emerging challenge. While coaching has historically been joked about as something a person is given for “remedial training,” it is rightfully being embraced as a powerful support for personal and professional development. One of our clients credits coaching, in large part, for his organization’s meteoric growth. It’s a trend worth watching.

4. Devise hybrid models for working — blend a return to office with working from home. Right now, few organizations are anticipating a 100% return to office. It’s important that remote options are extended equitably, too. Some people are eager to return for reasons including socializing, collaborating, or even just a change of scenery! Others are willing to quit their jobs if they are not given the option to work from home. We have seen organizations not only suffer regrettable losses when they haven’t offered at least a hybrid model, but also diminished staff morale. We have a client whose team experienced an almost palpable energy boost once they pivoted to a hybrid model.

Underpinning this trend is the critical need to provide training on how to lead hybrid teams effectively to ensure that those who are working remotely have equal opportunities for visibility and participation.

5. The shift toward gig work continues to be a major trend. Many people — particularly the younger demographics — are not so interested in a traditional corporate career. They have seen what their parents’ work experiences were like, and they want no part of it! They have a whole different attitude towards work and the themes of freedom and autonomy resonate strongly. Covid has reinforced how uncertain life can be and as a result, people are emboldened to take risks in their careers. The freedom in forging their own paths, working for a company (or companies) whose values align with their own, having the flexibility to schedule their time to support work-life integration, has more people embracing gig work.

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 life lesson that I have found to be very powerful is Annie Lamott’s observation that “No” is a complete sentence.

As a lifelong ‘people pleaser’, it has always been difficult for me to say no to anyone asking something of me.

In the past, my inherent, knee-jerk “yes” reply often led to overcommitment, burnout, missed deadlines, and ultimately, to resentment. On the rare occasion that I said “no,” I immediately followed up with 17 justifications and explanations for why I really wanted to help but couldn’t.

There is freedom — that theme again! — and power in being able to authentically decline and understand that no justification is required.

What I say “no” to allows me to say “yes” to other things I really want in life.

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 would love to spend some time with author Brené Brown! Her work on the power of vulnerability and the interrelationships between shame, vulnerability, and leadership has been illuminating, and so helpful as we each navigate the messiness that is being human.

I recently rediscovered her SuperSoul Session on the Anatomy of Trust, in which she distinguishes seven elements of trust: boundaries, reliability, accountability, vault, integrity, and generosity.

If you’ve ever had a challenge with trusting yourself or others — you know if you’re a human being! — I highly recommend using Brené’s Braving Inventory.

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