…Providing Fair Compensation: Examining pay gaps between men and women and the difference in compensation will become increasingly more important as we work toward establishing a fair and equitable workplace. We need to be hyper aware of these pay gaps so we set salaries for the role and not the gender of the person performing the role.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Melissa Dexter.

Melissa Dexter is the Chief People Officer at Uprise Health. She is a leader in mental health human resources and digital solutions and is responsible for building the blueprint for the wellbeing strategy at Uprise Health. Melissa brings over 25 years of human resources experience in all facets of People Operations including specialization in building HR infrastructure, talent acquisition, employment law, cultural transformation, and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. She received a dual JD/MBA degree from Southern Methodist University.

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.

Failure is the greatest teacher, so looking back it’s not the successes but rather the challenges that have really shaped me into who I am today. Being a mother and specifically a working mother has been the most challenging and fulfilling experience in my life. It has been the greatest teacher in prioritization. Every day I know I can not be the best at everything. One day I am the best mother I can be and others I am the best employee and executive. Having to choose between going to my sons sporting event or attending a board meeting and balancing both motherhood and a career has been extremely difficult at times and honestly has left me with a fair amount of guilt. That said, motherhood has also made me more empathetic when dealing with different types of people and has led to my son’s respecting women and seeing through gender stereotypes. I’m who I am today because of my role as a mother.

Another experience that stands out is an amazing mentor early in my career who asked me a simple but profound question. At the time we were in the middle of a serious employee relations issue. My mentor looked at me and asked, “What are you going to do?” By asking me my perspective instead of telling me what to do, I had to have the courage and use my experience to make a choice on the best path forward, and trust myself that I knew what the right choice would be. This was a pivotal moment, it gave me the confidence to trust my instincts and feel empowered to take ownership and responsibility for the critical next steps of the issue. I often ask my teams the same question to make sure they know that they, too, often have the answers they are seeking and that part of the process is trusting your instincts.

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?

I was on my way home from Ukraine when I heard about COVID spreading to the US, back in 2020. I stepped off the plane as an HR executive and very quickly had to become a person in charge of the health and safety of a workforce in the face of the first pandemic of our lifetime. If you had asked me pre-pandemic if an international company could work effectively in a remote setting, I would have laughed, but companies across the board were able to transition to a digital workforce virtually overnight. Managing a remote workforce during COVID has been the greatest social experiment in my professional life. The point being is the pandemic taught us it is impossible to predict the future of the workplace because things can change in the blink of an eye and that flexibility and creativity are paramount.

One aspect we know about the future of the workplace is that it will continue to evolve. The way in which we take time off, the way in which we interact, travel, all of that will continue to change. There is also an awareness of how our social consciousness has changed over the last few years regarding things such as diversity and inclusion, the acceptance of pronouns, different age ranges, the stigma of mental health, gender, and other cultural considerations. Ten years ago, there was not such a hyper-focus on creating these diverse teams. Ensuring that these different viewpoints and employee voices are being reflected in your workforce will become more important than just about anything moving forward.

Another change the pandemic created that I see continuing, and rightly so, is that people will continue to identify when they need time off to step away from the screen and nurture themselves with family, friends, and other activities they enjoy. Employees today are more aware than ever of their mental health needs, and employers now know they need to provide support and time away in order to keep employees happy and healthy. We have learned at Uprise that mental health has a definitive effect on physical health.

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

I don’t see the field of HR as black and white — I live in grey, and I see that flexibility as an invaluable way to future proof organizations. While we can’t predict the future, putting people first is always going to be important, as every person is different, with different needs. To future proof, we need to take a step back. Previously businesses have always been focused on their bottom line — and between health insurance, salaries, 401K matching, and other benefits, employees are your most expensive assets. To succeed and grow in the future, employers need to look past those numbers to see what employees want and need in order to be successful. In re-designing benefits for 2022, we could have had hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings but instead chose to invest it back into our people and offer a benefit plan that pays for all coverages 100% with a small share of medical that employees contribute. To future proof, now is the time to step back, put people first, and completely rewrite anything you have done before. Open your eyes, open your mind, and listen to what people have to say — it has value. You have to be flexible and innovative, you have to challenge the status quo. It is not the same world anymore.

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 really depends on what type of business we’re discussing but regardless, remote work options will likely be a needed and appreciated benefit for many employees. Flexibility is king, with no one wanting to feel constrained when it comes to taking care of family or other personal issues that arise in this ever changing landscape. As we look to the future, we need to ensure employees remain satisfied and still feel as though they are part of a community. Investing in employee benefits that provide support of mental health issues and cultivating a strong work culture are great places to start. Whether it’s sharing new support platforms with employees or upping creativity across screens, boosting morale should be at the top of the list.

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

The pandemic has fundamentally changed everything including the ways in which we live, work, and communicate. There was once a time where I was traveling every week and felt the need to be in person for every meeting. Those days aren’t coming back, and people have proven they can be just as efficient working from home. A combination of hybrid and completely remote workforces are here to stay, and it’s absolutely necessary to embrace these types of workforces and make sure they are seen and heard, regardless of if it’s through a screen. We’ve seen the successes that are possible by working remote and supporting a level of flexibility. For companies to succeed, it’s imperative that they accept this new norm in the future of work as well as be open to constantly learning and adjusting to the nuanced pivots that are occurring in all aspects of business. It’s not just about the compensation anymore, and both employers and employees need to modernize and embrace this. There’s also a related savings from decreased travel and real estate expenses that companies see as a financial savings, and in many industries, that can really change thinking to a reinvestment in people.

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?

Continued acceptance and embracement of diversity, different cultures, pronouns, and ideas will be essential to supporting the future of the workplace. These days people can work anywhere, and they aren’t going to choose a company that doesn’t reflect their passion and values. A constant feedback loop will be essential in understanding the workforce, using ongoing surveys and ongoing engagement to take informed action and effect change.

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

The move to a remote workforce has had many benefits, with a top contender being the increased flexibility for employees, which can lead to a more positive mental mindset. Between waking up and getting showered and dressed, having breakfast, driving to the office, driving home, a typical workday requires a lot of non-working time. Working virtually saves hours every day to be doing important tasks or spending extra time with family or on self care. Additionally, instead of having to take paid time off, employees today have the flexibility to step out midday as appropriate and complete their work on their own time. This results in a better work-life balance and less burnout, resulting in a more productive workforce, ultimately helping a company’s bottom line.

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?

Uprise Health recently conducted a survey which revealed 56 percent of respondents have considered leaving their careers or jobs, and of those, and one in four cite mental health needs as the reason for the switch. The conversation around mental health needs is currently at an all-time high and the old way of operating is no longer sufficient. The best thing employers can do to help support their employees’ mental health and wellbeing is to invest in digital mental health platforms and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to give them the support needed to succeed. At Uprise Health, our mission is to help organizations do just that by offering digital mental health solutions to provide crisis management, personalized coaching, chronic condition management, managed behavioral health, and more to give people the whole person care they need to flourish.

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?

These headlines indicate an extremely competitive hiring market for organizations. If you don’t have an environment that is attractive and values employees and what is important to them, you are not going to interest potential talent and they will instead go somewhere that will. With potential hires having four to five different offers on the table, employees can afford to be more selective than ever when it comes to the type of company they want to work for and the type of community to which they want to belong and contribute. To evolve, companies need to touch people in a way they never have and make them feel like they are part of something bigger — it sounds trite but it’s true. Foster an atmosphere of learning every day and make sure everything you are doing is authentic and resonates with people on a human level.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

Expanding Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives: Diversity and inclusion efforts will continue to play a role in the future of work. Understanding unique voices and ensuring that they are reflected in your workforce will be essential to create more equitable work environments.

Providing Fair Compensation: Examining pay gaps between men and women and the difference in compensation will become increasingly more important as we work toward establishing a fair and equitable workplace. We need to be hyper aware of these pay gaps so we set salaries for the role and not the gender of the person performing the role.

Tracking Employee Demographics: Analyzing employee demographics such as age and how that is trending will help steer recruiting, compensation, and succession planning; really everything you need to do in managing your workforce. With the baby boomer population exiting the workforce, you’ll need to take into consideration that many employees may have an eye on retirement. Tracking and monitoring demographics will help to avoid unexpected surprises and keep your talent pipeline robust.

Amplifying Employee Voice: Employee engagement surveys have always been important to get insight into workforce sentiment, and with The Great Resignation, it has never been more essential to keep your finger on the pulse of employee pain points and remain flexible. For example, if 87% of your workforce says they do not want to return to the office full time, and you decide everyone needs to return to on-site work, you may end up with a huge attrition issue. Getting real-time feedback on what employees need is essential, because if they are not getting it at your organization, they will get it elsewhere. Asking the questions and taking action is crucial to moving forward into the new world of work.

Be Prepared to Pivot: There has been an evolution in HR from 10 years ago, five years ago, and even two years ago. It’s important not only to arm yourself with the voice of your employee population through constant feedback and surveys but also acting on it to be their advocates. There is no going back to the way we used to do things. Being flexible and quickly pivoting to adjust to a new way of working will be essential to both attract and retain talent, and to create a positive workplace environment and culture. Look at everything you have done in the past, and be ready to do things you never thought possible. It is a time to reinvent old ideas and embrace innovation.

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?

“Some women fear the fire and some women simply become it.” R.H. Sin

This quote is on my wall in my office, it continually inspires me. To be a female executive in this ever-changing social dynamic, you can’t live in fear, nor can you sit and wait for the proverbial “Seat at the table.” You have to be fearless and become the spark for those around you. No one ever achieved their dreams and goals by not taking a risk.

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 have lunch with the CEO of CVS Health, Karen Lynch, who is an absolute dynamo. How she has managed to become a female CEO in the competitive healthcare industry and the work she has done to position CVS as a neighborhood resource for non-emergent care is incredibly impressive. She has a unique voice, and I would love the chance to be able to exchange ideas with her.

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 find me on Linkedin. For more information on Uprise Health, visit our website or connect with us 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.