Flexibility. Employers need to be flexible and not tied to how things were done.
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 Olga Mendez.
Olga Mendez is the Corporate Director of Human Resources at American Packaging Corporation, a leader in the flexible packaging industry. Mendez earned a Master’s in Career and Human Resource Development from Rochester Institute of Technology and holds a Graduate Degree Certification in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University. Mendez aspires to advance American Packaging Corporation’s talent management strategy to foster a diverse and inclusive culture that will attract, engage and retain a motivated workforce. She currently resides in Pittsford, New York with her husband Rick, two children and three granddaughters. Independently owned, APC is committed to innovation, sustainability and customer delight from a talented family of packaging professionals. Today, APC operates five Centers of Excellence in the United States and employs approximately 1,200 talented, motivated professionals, including nationwide sales reps and field technical support.
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?
Thank you for this opportunity! When I worked at Verizon Wireless, I worked with a very inspiring female director in customer service. As we got to know each other and work together, we learned a lot about each other. She graduated from high school and received her diploma, but didn’t have any further education. I often reflect on a conversation we had together where she felt she didn’t have the education and qualifications to position her across the company. I said don’t focus on that element. Focus on where you want to be — interview today for the job you want tomorrow. Today, she is the chief operating officer, Consumer Group at Verizon Wireless in a highly visible role as an influential employee in the company. What stays in my mind is that she never lost sight of who she is. That conversation shaped who I am today. Your background may be what got you here, but it’s about being you that will get you further and it’s a unique skill to be influential.
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?
Employers will continue to have the same challenges — filling positions and labor shortages will continue to be a challenge for employers. Employers who stand out among the rest will be the ones who value their employees as humans and not just workers and aren’t reserved in allowing change to happen. Telecommuting is extremely important. If we don’t evolve or continue to evolve, we’re going to be closing the door on talent and employees who have a lot of potential. A retention strategy will also continue to be imperative. People don’t leave their jobs. They leave their bosses. I was recruiting someone who I previously worked with for an opportunity. She had mentioned that she loved her job because she loved working for her supervisor. She felt valued and appreciated, and that perspective to her was worth her not exploring departing from that company. Embracing diversity will be at the forefront in the workplace environment. I often hear it’s challenging to find a diverse candidate. I would ask what are we doing to find that candidate to bring talent and skill to workforce?
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Don’t forget the basics and the fundamentals. People want to be heard and valued and they are seeking authentic leaders who are empathetic. And that looks different across all positions. Relationship-building is key, and that starts from the interview to the onboarding experience. The first 30 days are key and critical. Take the time to follow up with the employee to see how it’s going. It’s important to have a solid onboarding program and schedule in place while allowing room for flexibility.
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?
As employers, we need to be flexible. We have jobs available, but we’re so focused on filling based on job skills and requirements that sometimes we miss out on taking a chance on people because we’re so worried about meeting specific qualifications. But let’s look beyond that. We don’t want to hire for the position; we want to hire for future positions. I believe that’s a major gap right now and is important to think about in today’s market. It’s also very difficult for seasoned leaders to go outside what their structure has been. That we’re interviewing the candidate for a vacancy and we have to follow this process. But this is not an employer’s market, and the longer you take during that hiring process, you’re going to lose candidates. We have an opportunity to influence what that looks like today and how to evolve and change. It’s important to be open-minded and flexible. Take a chance on someone, as I am certain someone took a chance on you! We can teach skills. What we can’t always teach is kindness, and people learn their jobs at their jobs.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
As we start transitioning employees to return to the workplace, we’re seeing how working from home for the past two years will impact the future. Our strategy is a hybrid model, but everyone interprets that differently. The challenge is that people adjusted to the fully remote concept; now we’re telling them we need you back in workplace. As an employer, we have to be prepared to listen to feedback. What is noise and what is an opportunity? We don’t want to lose good people because we’re focused on policy. Let’s listen to the voice of employees to make an inclusive workforce.
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?
Diversity. Doing things differently. Allowing experiences and interests in candidates to be more open-ended. Not prolonging process. Reshaping the future of work after a pandemic. Employers need to be prepared that if this is the right candidate, then allow them to leave with an offer in hand. Candidates are interviewing with 5–6 different employers. Employees are going to entertain the company that’s ready, even if it’s right on the spot. It comes down to level of interest.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
I like to consider myself an optimistic individual! I see the good in everything and always give the benefit of the doubt. I think it starts with having healthy and open conversations. I enjoy talking to employees and validating information about processes in place. In a recent conversation, I asked a question and that employee said, do you want honest answer or the politically correct answer? Being able to be open and transparent is necessary. I want to hear the good, bad and the ugly. If you have those opportunities to build relationships with people and employees and allow them a platform where voices are heard, it allows that employee to feel respected and valued in return. They took the time to listen to me and I feel respected and now I’m going to share that with other colleagues. That gets back to employees and it’s become part of the employer choice. They want to choose an employer who hears, understands and respects them. To have conversations with all different employees at different levels that are natural, organic conversations is something that excites me about the future of work.
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?
The subject of mental health is very important, especially from an HR perspective, because of the situations we deal with on day-to-day basis. We need to be more grounded to understand how we as leaders can help individuals get the resources and assistance they need. Do employees know how to take advantage? How can we make employees feel comfortable to use those services? These are the resources — use them and explore them. Go back to basics by getting leadership educated about the resources we have and how we ensure we’re having healthy conversations. As an employer, we’re here to support employees. But we’re people and we notice how employees are acting and can tell when something isn’t right. It’s important to be in the moment and be present to know when an employee is upset or seems off.
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?
People are doing things differently and are taking risks they may not have taken pre-pandemic. People are also going back to jobs they previously left. Focus on connecting with people for what they need and want from their employer. What can we control in the four walls of our operation and provide? Let’s talk about what we can do to influence and get employees to the next level. Let’s put them on a career talk track. Employers should take that approach because employees are invested in the company, and you’re invested in them.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Flexibility. Employers need to be flexible and not tied to how things were done.
- Transparency. Allow employees to see we’re not perfect and we make mistakes. I want employees to come to me regardless of titles but because I’m transparent.
- Value of people. People don’t come to work to not be productive and efficient. They want to get the job done. Let’s look at the value they bring and allow them to demonstrate what they can offer to the company.
- Relationship-building. Hire for people, not positions. Build relationships that promote growth and progress.
- Diversity of thought. Many different facets of diversity. Of thought, experience, education. Everyone looks at things from different lenses and experiences and platforms.
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?
Maya Angelo: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It keeps me balanced and allows me to be who I am. It also allows me to not forget what’s important. We forget what people say all the time. But people often say to me “Do you remember our conversation? What you said inspired me.” Leave an impact so people remember how you made them feel.
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.
Michelle Obama! An influential leader for women and for our country who values all walks of life regardless of color, education or background because of what she shares with others. Experiences truly shape you. You are who you are based on experiences, and experiences make a difference and can promote change at all levels.
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.