Workplace flexibility is one of the most important trends I see in 2022 and beyond. In fact, MetLife’s 19th annual EBTS survey found that a whopping 71 percent of respondents agree that the ability for employees to work remotely will have an impact of the future of the workplace. In today’s hybrid and remote workplaces, half of employees have reported being happier with their current working situation compared to before the pandemic — it seems that employees are comfortable and accepting of this new work environment and are working towards an even better work-life balance.

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 Missy Plohr-Memming.

Missy Plohr-Memming is senior vice president of MetLife’s Group Benefits National Accounts Sales organization, which provides employee benefits solutions to U.S. based employers with 5,000 or more employees. In this role, Plohr-Memming oversees sales strategy and key growth initiatives to drive top-and bottom-line financial results. Plohr-Memming was named to this position in October 2020.

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.

Early in my life, a family member of mine lost a family member to suicide. This experience led to several things that I focus on. The first being family, the second being mental health — for family and people I work with — and third, the importance of insuring the things you love and hold dear, including life insurance.

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?

As we’ve all seen, the workplace has drastically changed since the start of the pandemic, and our expectations from our employers have followed. One thing is almost certain, though: While employee benefits may look different year to year, there will still be a means for employers to support the holistic health of employees — as well as a consideration for employees when taking or leaving a position — in 10 to 15 years. Even though in-demand benefits have undoubtedly shifted from even two years ago, with remote benefits quickly replacing pre-pandemic in-office benefits that were so popular in the 2010s, MetLife’s 19th annual Employee Benefit Trends (EBTS) study found that benefits in any form are imperative to supporting the financial, physical, mental and emotional health of employees. So, while the face of benefits might shift with changes in the workforce and impactful events (such as the pandemic), the role they play in building a resilient, happy, and healthy workforce will not change, nor will their importance in attracting and retaining talent.

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

Long-term, one way that employers can “future-proof” their organizations is by investing in the resilience of their employees. It’s generally found that workers who can withstand and even thrive through change — and are therefore resilient by definition — are the ones who will be more productive, engaged, trusting, and holistically well in a post-pandemic workplace.

In order to create an environment that fosters resilience, employers need to engage their workforce through tangible solutions that promote an open, trusting and supportive work culture. This is imperative, especially when considering that MetLife’s 19th annual EBTS report found employees who trust their employers’ leadership are 70 percent more likely to be resilient and 50 percent more likely to be productive than those who don’t trust their employer.

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?

According to MetLife’s 19th annual EBTS report, employees who say their employer offers a benefits package that meets their needs are 41 percent more likely to feel resilient and 60 percent more likely to trust their employer’s leadership. Even so, gaps persist between what employers offer and what employees are expecting, especially when it comes to non-traditional benefits. For example, employee expectations for benefits like critical illness insurance (44 percent consider this a “must-have” benefit, but only 29 percent of employers offer this) and paid or unpaid leave (71 percent vs. 57 percent) are not being met by some employers.

This discrepancy can be addressed by ensuring that companies are offering comprehensive benefits packages to their employees. Taking a holistic approach to benefits — in which offerings complement each other — can help to fulfill needs that aren’t being met by traditional benefits alone.

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

We have now learned that many Americans can effectively do their jobs and remain productive without physically being at the office — a concept that, prior to the pandemic, was not widely accepted or even considered as an option for employees. Now that we’ve experienced both ways of working, Americans have a new mindset of how they want to work. MetLife’s 19th annual EBTS data found that three-quarters (76 percent) of employees are interested in alternative work arrangements like remote work and more flexible schedules.

Unfortunately, though, there is a gap between employer and employee interest when it comes to workplace flexibility, as 81 percent of employers believe they’re offering adequate flexibility in work hours and arrangements to their employees, but only 28 percent of employees agree. When considering the future of work, employers should think about how flexibility isn’t just a nice-to-have, but rather an essential aspect of the workplace that can help attract and retain new talent.

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 pandemic has undoubtedly reshaped the workforce, and there are societal changes that have stemmed from these unprecedented times. For the companies that do return to in-person work, there should be flexible policies that can accommodate a variety of employee needs. Some examples include caregivers who prefer to spend more time at home, and individuals who are worried about getting sick in the office. Looking ahead, employers should handle the transition to the “new normal” with empathy, patience and compassion.

Fortunately, working from home has helped improve employee work-life balance, as MetLife’s 19th annual EBTS report found that half of employees in their 20s, including young millennials and Gen Z, say their work-life balance is better now than before the pandemic. Employers saw the importance of a work-life balance through the pandemic as well, with 44 percent saying their organization plans to invest in work-life management programs.

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

My greatest source of optimism is that employee health — mental, financial, physical, and emotional — is becoming a top priority for employers. This is not a new trend, but it has been amplified by the pandemic and every challenge that came along with it. Just consider that MetLife’s 19th annual EBTS report found that 8 in 10 employers are planning to increase the range and/or level of investment in employee benefits because of COVID-19, a sign that employers are taking note of this shift in environment and adjusting their policies accordingly to support their employees.

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 have seen the effects of extreme burnout and the lack of productivity when employers aren’t in tune with their employees’ needs — it’s been a key driver of ‘The Great Resignation.’ Now more than ever, it’s critical that employers are considering employees’ mental health and well-being in their day-to-day work, especially as MetLife’s 19th annual EBTS data found that a quarter of employees (26 percent) say they have sought help for stress, burnout, or other mental health issues in the past 12 months, and almost half of this group (48 percent) used an employer resource to get the help they needed.

There are so many ways employers can take action and get their employees the help they need, and the pandemic has helped create even more resources than before. Employers can consider offering therapy as a benefit offering, which could be in the form of in-person sessions, virtual appointments, or digital platforms like Calm or BetterHelp. Additionally, providing paid time off or offering sick leave for mental health breaks can show employees that they’re committed to bolstering mental well-being.

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 feels like the start of a new era in the workforce — employees are re-evaluating their needs and wants and increasing their expectations of their employers on this front, and I think this should be a major wake up call for leaders. With all the shifts in the workplace over the last several years, there was bound to be a breaking point here, but the pandemic played a large role in expediting this realization of the power imbalance between employers and employees, and it’s time for employers to readjust. The best way to do this is by offering versatile, customizable benefits packages to their employees, and effectively communicating these options to employees.

There are unbelievable results when employers do this — MetLife’s 19th annual EBTS data saw that when employees are satisfied with the frequency and clarity of communications from their employer, they’re 177 percent more likely to be holistically well, and 156 percent more likely to feel valued and appreciated. These comprehensive coverage plans could get confusing or misunderstood if not communicated correctly, so employers should prioritize explaining their offerings in a value-facing way to allow employees to identify the gaps in their coverage and adjust accordingly.

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

  1. Increasing Need for Workplace Flexibility

Workplace flexibility is one of the most important trends I see in 2022 and beyond. In fact, MetLife’s 19th annual EBTS survey found that a whopping 71 percent of respondents agree that the ability for employees to work remotely will have an impact of the future of the workplace. In today’s hybrid and remote workplaces, half of employees have reported being happier with their current working situation compared to before the pandemic — it seems that employees are comfortable and accepting of this new work environment and are working towards an even better work-life balance.

2. Enhanced DE&I Programs and Adequate Training

As the workforce has continued to grow and change over the years, so too have employee needs and expectations. The second trend I see in the future of work is an increased need for enhanced diversity, equity and inclusion programs and initiatives, but managers currently need proper training and resources to navigate these conversations. In fact, almost half (48 percent) of employees say they are interested in diversity and inclusion programs, but 3 in 10 say that their managers are unequipped to handle them. Offering these resources will be paramount for employers who want to remain competitive in the workplace.

3. Continued Demand for Financial Wellness Tools

The third trend to track is the continued demand for financial wellness tools. EBTS data found that financial health is employees’ number one concern — with 86 percent citing finances as a top source of stress for them now and in the future — and in turn, these concerns have affected employee productivity, with a quarter (27 percent) of employees saying they’re less productive at work because of financial worries. With the financial turmoil that resulted from the pandemic combined with the highest inflation rates in decades, Americans want to feel prepared for the unexpected; even still, only 37 percent of employers are planning to invest more in financial wellness benefits after the pandemic.

4. Prioritizing Employee Mental Health

Outside the workplace, there have been ongoing stressors for Americans — increased rates of depression, looming threats of climate change, and what feels like endless COVID-19 variants to name a few — and combined with workplace burnout, employee mental health has seen a major decline. As 70 percent of EBTS respondents agree that employee mental health, stress and burnout will have an impact of the future of the workplace, the fourth trend I anticipate is greater mental health support in the workplace. Managers in particular have been struggling over the last year, as they have felt more stressed, overwhelmed, burnt out, and isolated/disconnected than non-managers, and millennial managers are more burnt out than any other generation. The pandemic brought to light — and worsened — the mental health struggles Americans experience, and I believe employers will continue to prioritize employee mental health moving forward.

5. Continually Evolving Benefit Needs

Lastly, the future of work will continue to see the benefits space evolve. Employers should anticipate a need for a wide range of benefits that focus on their employees’ holistic well-being. This will include emerging benefits that peak employees’ interests, like setting boundaries on working hours (69 percent), telehealth coverage (68 percent) and caregiver benefits (62 percent), as well as perks such as “no Zoom Fridays.” Moreover, it’s important that employers recognize that employees have unique individual needs, and it’s outdated to consider benefits with a “one-size-fits-all” perspective.

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?

“If you want to garden, you have to bend down and touch the soil. Gardening is a practice, not an idea.” — Thich Nhat Hanh. This quote reminds me, always, that life is about being present. Given the state of mental health, overall well-being and burnout/anxiety, this is a quote I use to continually ground myself.

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.

There are so many people, living and passed, that I would like to talk to, but if I had to choose one, it would be Mary Barra. Mary rose to the highest levels in corporate America, leading an automobile manufacturer company. She must have overcome numerous obstacles, both internally and externally, but somehow seemed to remain grounded.

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?

I am Missy Plohr-Memming 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.