FLEXIBILITY RULES — Employees have tasted autonomy and it works. Remote work surveys are a new source of engagement data and the statistics tell the story: 41% higher engagement and 77% increased retention. Job seekers won’t be hoping for this flexibility, they will be expecting it.
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 Maura Barclay.
She is the CEO of Changing Greatly, LLC, a culture consultancy that helps organizations create psychologically safe, inclusive cultures that unleash love for work. She is a certified Change Management Professional, a certified Talent Optimization partner with Predictive Index and a Neuro Facilitation Practitioner. She has had the privilege of bringing her thought leadership to Fortune 500 companies, the US Military and the International Monetary Fund among others.
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.
Back when I was a firefighter, I had an experience that impacted how I understand culture. I remember wanting to fit in so badly. I vowed never to be “that woman” who was always complaining and taking issue with the men. There was a Lieutenant that no one liked — not only did the entire department complain about him, some members of the community lodged complaints. One day, a few stations met at our Central Station to pick up a shipment of new turnout boots. I bent over to find the box with my name on it and he slapped me on the butt. This happened in front of two other crews. We were all kind of shocked and stood there looking at each other while he laughed. I confronted him privately and was met with a tepid apology, but I never went to HR. I wanted to be perceived as easy to work with which turned out to be a big mistake. As I was the only person who appeared not to have a problem with this Lt., I got stationed with him for a year. Within the first three months, he was so abusive and inappropriate, I had had enough. I reported him to HR and waited expectantly for my tickertape parade. I imagined the pats on the back from my Union brothers and sisters for finally calling this clown to the carpet. Instead, the Union surrounded and protected him and I became the outcast; the traitor.
In my youthful ignorance, I was unaware that those policies are were never meant to be used. Harassment policies were more like the good china — you’ve got it but nothing seems important enough to use it. I quickly recognized that I wasn’t a good culture fit in any organization that protected abusive behavior and punished people for speaking out. Turns out, there was a small minority that supported me, which made a big difference, but too few to move the culture. During my time at the FD, I had a few amazing professional relationships with men that were like my brothers. We genuinely loved working together and had a great time. That gave me hope and a template for what’s possible when there is mutual respect, trust and emotional intelligence.
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?
In 15 years there will still be: predominately homogenized Boards and executive leadership teams in the Fortune 500 space who opt for a Command and Control (churn and burn) culture. #squeezingtheturnip.
In 15 years: 50% of successful start-ups will have at least one female or BIPOC founder, 25% of Fortune 500 CEO’s will be female and five states will have successfully passed The Board Act to press the issue of diversity on Boards and executive teams.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
- Prioritize creating a psychologically safe culture. It is the underpinning of the holy trinity of revenue growth (from a workforce perspective): engagement, performance, and customer care. This is particularly relevant in businesses that live or die by innovation.
- Start planting the seeds for diversity at executive levels by identifying, nurturing and mentoring talented women and BIPOC employees. The sooner companies choose to include diverse voices in top leadership roles, the less likely that states will impose legislation like The Board Act.
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?
The biggest gaps that will turn-off candidates are low diversity in the workforce and leadership, ineffectual career pathing as well as 20th century pay practices.
Fairness and Equity are two aspects of culture that job seekers are weighing very heavily before they apply for a position. This applies not only to compensation and benefits but access to higher paying leadership positions for women, BIPOC and the Trans community.
Companies that prefer not to ask their CEOs to take a pay cut, suspend bonuses or reduce their annual pay increases will have to get creative. To reconcile certain inequities, the following strategies may help attract and retain employees:
• ESPP’s — allowing all employees to participate in company stock gives them a greater sense ownership of their work towards the success of the company and promotes retention.
• Guaranteed cost of living increases annually, or parity increases across the organization.
• Energy stipend — if commuting is required, earmark a fund to help compensate employees for gas. With fuel costs upwards of $5/gal, this is particularly important to protect purchasing power of take-home pay.
• Skills-based Career Pathing initiatives that demonstrate transparent and consistent practices and provide mentoring and support for all interested candidates internally.
• Performance-based flexibility: for those who can perform in a hybrid or WFH environment, offer these options.
• Financial literacy programs: help employees learn to invest in their futures beyond the 401K. (especially in Crypto).
• Paid vacation: a company fund that gives employees cash earmarked for spending on time away from work.
• Work/life balance initiatives that create and enforce clear boundaries around work hours that are modeled and reinforced by executives and direct supervisors.
• 4-day work weeks.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
It took a global pandemic to force this issue. In a knowledge economy, with some exceptions, there simply isn’t a justifiable need to have every physical body together in the same space every day to get things done. Covid proved that many people are more productive working from home, saving commute time and providing certain working styles the independence and autonomy they crave to perform optimally. This will become a deciding factor when job seekers apply to positions. Remote roles will also significantly impact the number of candidates able to apply for a position, greatly increasing the likelihood of quickly finding the right person for the right role.
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?
Incredible work cultures were the exception not the rule and people didn’t imagine they could afford to demand more flexibility, better pay/benefits and a performance culture where it’s safe to fail.
Most of the society is made up of workers (vs executives) who have just been collectively traumatized by a global pandemic. It common for a crisis to cause people to re-evaluate their priorities and much of the workforce has had an epiphany. So many people faced their fears of job loss, housing crisis and catastrophic illness that they were no longer afraid to demand more fairness and equity as a result.
As companies adapt to and prioritize the needs of their employees and they are able to have a more fulfilling work life, I believe it will create more empathy and kindness in our society. When people are treated well, people in general tend treat others well.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
There is an unprecedented power in favor of employees since the Great Resignation. For the first time, without a union in sight, there seems to be a collective implicit agreement about what job seekers are prioritizing. There are many forward looking companies who have already begun to adapt. As those companies embrace this employee-first culture and begin to outperform their competitors, it will become a matter of economics for the Laggards to adopt this cultural innovation.
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?
Integrating mindfulness moments into team meetings can have a surprising impact. Even in a hybrid environment, doing group meditation or fast, fun workouts together can build team cohesion, reduce stress and improve wellbeing. For specific issues, there are many digital wellness applications (from physical therapy to chronic illness treatment) and effective mental wellness-hacking platforms that could be integrated into wellness programs and offered as personal development.
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?
It’s common knowledge that since 1978, CEO compensation has grown 1,322% while median worker income has risen 18% while there has been an approximately 340% increase in the cost of living. It is also known that this has occurred because CEO’s have the power to set their pay rates and not because of some extraordinary new hazard or sacrifice. This data is not meant to shame executives for their wages. It’s to shine a light on the immense cultural strata that has been allowed to develop, creating a vast distance economically and career wise between executive leadership and their employees.
The ‘pay what you can get away with’ culture is being soundly rejected by a growing number of job seekers who reprioritized what really matters when faced with their own mortality during covid. Job seekers are becoming more selective and choosing companies that have a mission that matters, offer 21st century-level pay, signing bonuses, benefits, flexibility, equity and fairness, and a psychologically safe culture to work in.
The companies that listen to this collective desire for fairness and equity, and give its employees plenty reasons to fall in love with the company, will become unstoppable. A people-first culture with policies to back it up will be the hallmark of competitive advantage for the next decade.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- HR HORSEPOWER — New Roles like Chief Purpose Officer are an example of how HR is moving into a more influential role to drive culture, broadcast the executive team’s mission/values and hold the executive team accountable.
- FLEXIBILITY RULES — Employees have tasted autonomy and it works. Remote work surveys are a new source of engagement data and the statistics tell the story: 41% higher engagement and 77% increased retention. Job seekers won’t be hoping for this flexibility, they will be expecting it.
- MILLENNIAL MISSION — Millennials are currently the largest working generation. By 2025, they will represent 75% of the workforce. Mission and purpose are central to engagement and motivation with this particular generation, more so than titles and salary.
- SPECIFIC RECOGNITION — Targeted and timely recognition will be an important motivator. The need to frequently and specifically praise employees for good work has spawned companies like Sparckco, which specialize in delivering individualized (right time, right way, right reward) appreciation to drive engagement and retention.
- PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY — As culture fast becomes a competitive advantage, psychological safety is emerging as the underpinning of all things culture and profit: engagement, performance and customer service. In her book, The Fearless Organization, Dr. Amy Edmonson details the compelling research that proves the importance and impact of psychological safety to organizational culture that is driving engagement and, in the case of hospitals and aviation, saving lives.
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?
Wayne Dyer, “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” This was never more apparent than when I was diagnosed with cancer. I recognized that I had created the circumstances for a deadly tumor to grow in my body. Instead of having a cancer experience where I was a powerless victim of chance, I saw the immense power I had to make myself sick, through my own emotional dis-ease. Although I sought conventional treatment, I didn’t feel like I was fighting the cancer — instead, I surrendered into the perfection of it all. Cancer saved my life and this quote is a perfect example of how a mindset shift can liberate you from suffering.
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.
YES!!!! I am obsessed (in a respectful, well-boundaried way) with Gary V. He embodies everything I’m working to help cultivate in other leaders. Gary V unapologetically normalizes love (human, not romantic) in business, uses inspiration instead of fear to motivate and empowers his people to shine in their role. Plus, I have a potty mouth so I feel normal when I listen to him speak. He is the IDEAL CEO for my C-Change Show: Leaders Changing Business Culture for Good. I would give my first born for a 10-minute interview as long as I could get her back after the show .
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.