UPSKILLING AND RESKILLING. Always be learning. You are in charge of your career path and success. You must empower yourself to evolve with the inevitable changing times. Navigating the process of getting tools and support for your journey will be a topic everyone needs to know.

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 Melissa Hooper.

Melissa has 18+ years’ experience in Human Resources and people operations with a specialization in recruiting, compensation, and analytics. Her passion is supporting employees and leaders with what they need to be as efficient, empowering and profitable as possible. Melissa’s belief is that HR should be strategic, focused, and practical, by providing solutions and tools that improve the company’s bottom line AND the employee experience.

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.

When I was twelve, I read Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” and was struck by the conversation Alice had with the Red Queen in which they have the following exchange:

″’Well, in our country,’ said Alice, still panting a little, ‘you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time as we’ve been doing.

‘ ‘A slow sort of country! ‘ said the Queen. ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.

In short, the Red Queen is noting that in order to stay exactly where you are, you must constantly adapt, evolve, and proliferate not merely to gain an advantage, but also to simply survive against ever–evolving opposing sides in an ever–changing environment.

Put simply, it was not enough to get my education and then put my professional life on autopilot, I would need to continually learn, change, and adapt to just stay competitive. To find my edge and succeed I would need to do something that would accelerate and multiply this effort.

It was mind-blowing, when we talk about personal development and evolution a proverbial piggy bank comes to mind — I put the coin in and as I accumulate more coins, I am “worth” more over time. What we do not factor in is that the world around us is not stagnant. The world of work and our society continues to evolve around us so much so that even though we thought we were depositing little developmental gems into ourselves for our self-improvement, time and circumstance continued to erode those deposits until what we are really doing is just surviving. Another way to think about it is that the evolution of the world of work is a type of constant inflationary pressure on knowledge and skills. To thrive and find success, so we must find a way to multiply this effort to adapt with our changing world.

This brings me to another reality shaking, life-shaping experience — the Great Recession. What I learned here was less profound yet very simple to understand — the values that I had been taught growing up in the US education system had me bought-in totally to the concept that if I followed the proven formula of go to college, get a degree, and buy a house, I would have a better quality of life and an understood career path. What I did not account for, and what I later learned, is that the world had changed, and success was no longer the predictable sum of this calculus. For employee these are big realizations — you need to always be learning because your career path is driven by YOU.

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 10 to 15 years, we will still have five generations in the workforce ranging from those who grew up without technology to the true “digital natives” who were raised on smart devices. The basic needs of workers from their employers will have the same denominator — work life balance, job satisfaction, career trajectory, competitive pay, etc. — but will look different against the backdrop of the macro trends of contemporary society.

At this point in time, we will be in the middle of the greatest population bubble aging out of society bringing with it unique challenges for the generations in the middle. These workers will have the pressures of both raising children and taking care of elderly parents and possibly other relatives. Coupled with the historic employment numbers for women who in generations past have been the caregivers for the elderly, we will see rise to yet again another workforce and societal challenge.

I predict we will move to artificial intelligence at an increasing pace to fill the foundational gaps in our workforce. The Baby Boomer generation has more members than the generations coming up behind it, creating an inverted population triangle where there are simply not enough members of society to replace those that are aging out. I also predict that much of the expertise and knowledge this generation has will be used to program and train AI and robots to replace the lost workforce. If we are smart, we will move quickly on this. We will need this workforce bridge ready for this transition.

I also predict we will see a fundamentally different way of managing employees. The corporation first, cog-in-the-wheel mentality that has been so prevalent since the Industrial Revolution with be forced to evolve or die out. We will see more emotionally intelligent organizations and people managers that are resourced with our society’s vast knowledge on human psychology, relationships, and personal development.

In this vein, we will also see a move from traditional career tract education to competency-based education. The jobs of the future are not here yet so we must develop capacity, competencies, and the ability for lifelong learning.

Compensation and benefits will also evolve — there will be more incentives and benefits for employees caring for aging parents like there are for those with children. We will see a continued emphasis on mental, emotional, and physical health. The pandemic taught us our work is not worth our life nor our quality of life. This effect will continue to ripple out across our society for decades to come.

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

You live in a world that is constantly evolving through technologies, market changes, and changing societal norms. This requires you and your business to be in constant motion just to keep up. Remember from the Red Queen that if you fail to keep evolving you fall behind. To keep up with our ever-changing world you will need to always be learning through a leadership and organizational lense, constantly adapting to the changing business environment by anticipating and responding to change.

Also, you must invest in your front-line managers — the folks overseeing your individual contributors daily. We are not taught emotional intelligence, effective communication, or conflict resolution skills which are all critical to retaining employees and ensuring you never have to enter the battlefield in the war for talent.

I would also encourage employers to rethink job scoping. Folks retiring still want to work just part-time and with greater flexibility. Can you have one scope of work that two people fulfill by splitting the 40-hour work week? This requires clearly defined roles as well as expectations and requires different management skills from your organization but pays off in dividends by allowing your organization to harness workers with decades of experience as well as preventing burnout from other more junior employees who must shoulder the work when your business is understaffed.

Job descriptions and conversations about development are critical, employees need to have clear understanding on what is expected of them and what success looks like. It should also be a two-way conversation, does the employee feel like they can ask for resources to be more successful? Do they have the tools needed to deliver? Do you as a leader have appropriate boundaries between work and home? Service leadership is key here — are you asking something of your employees that you would ask of yourself?

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 by far will be along generational lines specifically along work norms. This could be anything from what is business casual to differences over work-from-home vs facetime in the office. For example, for more experienced workers, business casual may include a collared shirt with no jeans or shorts and for newer workers this may be jeans or even athleisure clothing. If you work in a professional setting, jeans with a polo may be the right balance while work from home Friday’s can include athleisure. Neither is right or wrong, but a matter of framing these conversations in your work environment and culture as well as your own unconscious biases. This could also show up with the normalization of remote work. Are workers in the office perceived as more efficient or dedicated? Is there an unspoken understanding amongst employees that while there is the option to work remote it is frowned upon?

It is up to business leadership to set the tone and clearly communicate expectations, we can no longer rely on societal “norms” to set the tone in our work world. The reality is that with five generations in the workforce spanning life experiences from the 1950’s to the present, there are five different generational interpretations of what is the “norm” or appropriate. It is every leader’s responsibility to define their company culture and communicate this to employees.

Leaders should also examine unconscious bias within themselves and on their teams. Do you say work from home Friday’s are “ok” but subconsciously reward employees that are in the office because you percieve them as more effective or dedicated because they are physically present? Is that is your personal preference versus a company expectation? Have folks at your work fallen into unhelpful generalizations about a certain group amongst your employees — maybe an “ok boomer” or entitled millennial reference?

Team building and fostering genuine, personal connection is the antidote to much of the generational friction folks can experience at work. No one wants to be in a toxic workplace, it is your job to make sure your team is aware of unconscious bias and has the tools to foster genuine connection.

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

The great work from home experiment has accelerated the adoption of greater work flexibility and broader acceptance of remote work. I expect our curiosity as a society will start pushing on other key work topics like a 4-day work week and what exactly is work-life balance in the digital age. For example, if I am expected to be reachable outside of work hours, how are employers being flexible back? We will continue to examine and evolve our collective work world.

Greater flexibility will be expected from employers going forward and generally speaking employers should flex as much as possible for their employees. We will be moving from the type of leadership where thinking about flexibility as the exception to one where flexibility is the norm. When thinking about the future, I think we will be saying “Why not?” a lot more when we think about the world of work.

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?

Reliable, affordable, high-speed internet that is equally available to all. Equal digital opportunity that provides for an equitable and inclusive workforce is a must. The future of diversity, equity, and inclusion will start to include a discussion on infrastructure and city planning.

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

Humanity’s ability to adapt and change. It is all we need to face what lies ahead. Each and every one of us is equipped to manage what comes next. And libraries, because we all need to keep running to stay in the same place.

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?

Normalizing vulnerability in the workforce is a key strategy for any business looking to improve and optimize mental health and wellbeing. It needs to be “ok” for an employee to work from home if they are exhausted but can’t take a day off. Look at your staffing plans and headcount budgets — are you increasing your profit margins at the cost of your employee’s health or pay equity? Employees should not face the impossible choice of career health versus personal health and wellness. Are you budgeting adequately for evolving business needs and do you have the adequate staffing to support your business? Do a gut check, are your teams working effectively or do you have a handful of “rockstars” that shoulder a majority of the work? Your company choices here set the tone for your company culture and employer brand.

Even conversations that recognize when work has been hard or frustrating allows for an open and honest conversation. I would also ask my employees that when you have a complaint to come to you as their leader with a request for change. This is a really effective tool to get organizations who are stuck in a problem cycle to focus on forward movement that will improve any issue.

I also think that for leaders to prioritize mental health and wellbeing, you have to model it for your employees. Do you take time off to refresh and recharge or are you the type that never takes a day off or works through their vacation? Are you replenishing your own emotional reservoir so that you can be present and vulnerable for your team? What you do sets the example for your team.

Hands down the best thing I have ever done for myself is to work on my own emotional intelligence. A great place to start would be Brene Brown’s “Dare to Lead” or anything from John Gottman’s legendary research on relationships. Understanding the “Four Horsemen” and their antidotes improves any relationship and grounds you in emotionally safe, accessible communication. And yes, this definitely applies at work — managing your thoughts, emotions, and physical reactions are crucial for effective communication.

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?

They key takeaway here is that folks no longer see employment as a stable economic growth engine. The social contract has been rewritten in light of the Great Recession and the pandemic. The connection between traditional employment and prosperity has been broken so it is incumbent upon businesses to communicate to employees how working for you can fulfill their needs. Company culture needs to connect your team to your employee value proposition — the “what’s in it for me” — to their employees and potential employees.

Also, the criticism surrounding the “me” aspect of work needs to be heavily revisited. No one works for free and your employees by definition are exchanging their time for money or other tradeoffs from your company. Alternatively you compensate them in return for their time and skills which adds value to your company. Understanding what you bring to the table is the key to unlocking your company culture as well as attracting and retaining employees.

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

  1. LABOR SHORTAGES AND INNOVATIVE PEOPLE OPERATIONS. Workplaces need to become more flexible to address labor shortages and turnover. From job sharing to flex work arrangements — technology, productivity, and remote work will be a big part of bridging the gap.
  2. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND THE TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE. Increasingly AI is becoming part of our world as our population ages and our work world technifies. We will need a way to train AI with the knowledge and skills needed as well as the ability to test this learning. With labor shortages and skill gaps, the successful transfer of knowledge to AI will be critical and may come from some unexpected places.
  3. TECHNIFICATION OF WORK & THE INTERNET OF THINGS. Increasingly even blue collar or lower skilled jobs require an advanced level of skills due to the introduction of technology and the internet of things. Technification has seeped into previously “low tech” jobs as more affordable and accessible technology becomes available. In the past, mechanics needed to know their way around a toolbox but now every new car has a smart chip and advanced electronics that require different skills than traditionally required.
  4. UPSKILLING AND RESKILLING. Always be learning. You are in charge of your career path and success. You must empower yourself to evolve with the inevitable changing times. Navigating the process of getting tools and support for your journey will be a topic everyone needs to know.
  5. MULTIGENERATIONAL WORK CHALLENGES. For the first time in human history we have five generations in the workplace spanning the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millenials, and Gen Z with Gen Alpha not far behind. The generation gap between each of these groups creates communication challenges. Additionally, as we continue to have more generations in the workplace spanning the technological divide, work norms are changing rapidly resulting in misalignment between company culture and employees. Knowing your unique unconscious biases, that is the social stereotypes you have outside of your conscious awareness, empowers you to bridge the gap by increasing your emotional intelligence and communication skills.

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?

“A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.” — Emily Dickenson

This is a great reminder to me to economize my words and to internally check myself when I may be about to say something in frustration or stress. It is important to remember with all of the means of communication we have in today’s world and the volume of communications we all receive, words still have power and meaning. We can all be a little kinder.

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 can’t pick between the following names given how important their contributions have been to the world of work and where I see their areas of expertise playing a part in the future — so I hope it’s ok if I list three!

Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability and courageous leadership is not only groundbreaking, but also a good place for anyone to start who wants to begin understanding the “me” part of who they are and how it influences their organization and team. She has a few books out but the one I would start with is Dare to Lead and I would follow it up with her latest which is The Atlas of the Heart. I recommend her most recent work for leaders and organizations because in order for us to improve communication, we must first understand what feelings we have and be able to clearly articulate those. Even better if your team shares the same emotional vocabulary. This will take your organization’s communication to the next level!

John Gottman’s work on relationships is the best in the world and soundly grounded in over 30 years of scientific research. A crash course in conflict management skills and improving relationships would be to understand the relationship “Four Horsemen” and their antidotes. You can in less than an hour get tools to help you deal with difficult conversations as well as get insight into your role in the “dance”. If the Gottman Institute sees this, we need a work version of “Making Marriage Work”. These tools are fantastic and so needed in relationships outside of marriage. I think more folks would engage in this type of education if there was a book from a team or professional lens — maybe even the readers of this article!

Marcus Buckingham has recently released his book Love + Work that is examining companies, employees, and the meaning of work. Work will always be work but there are ways to bring meaning and fulfillment to your employees. Marcus identifies some tools that you can start using right now to bring meaning to your work life and that of your team.

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?

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