… Retention. This is tied to the first two trends but has meaning on its own. In addition to flexibility and fulfillment, there is the desire for less stress and greater well-being at work. It will be interesting to see how employers respond to this.

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 Paul Aldo.

Paul Aldo is the founder and CEO of Executive Presence Inc. His interest in executive presence was piqued years ago when trying to understand how businesses decided who had real leadership potential and who did not. After more than 30 years of observation and research, Paul has created an empirically-based and content-rich perspective on this critically important topic. His executive presence workshops and coaching consistently garner the highest ratings from numerous Fortune 500 clients.

Before starting Executive Presence Inc., Paul was an executive with Ernst & Young’s Management Consulting practice, prior to which he held leadership positions with GE in the United States and Asia-Pacific. He was also an adjunct faculty member at the University of Virginia, where he taught in the McIntire School of Commerce. Paul holds a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, M.S. and M.A. degrees from Western Michigan University, and a B.S. degree from Michigan State 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?

Two standout shaping experiences for me were my graduate work at the University of Virginia and starting Executive Presence Inc. The intellectual rigor and demands of the doctoral program at UVa were significant in increasing my ability to hold myself accountable and finish what I started. Founding Executive Presence Inc. got me thinking about self-confidence and the importance of curiosity, openness, and learning. That experience has made me a much better leader.

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?

The ongoing pressure for a less work-centric life, better work-life balance, less stress, and better interpersonal relations, especially with management, will continue. We’ve seen it as a force in changing people’s expectations for work since we started our leadership classes 18 years ago.

What will be different, which is related to this, is realizing more changes in where, when, and how we work and continuing improvements in workforce diversity.

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

Listen, probe, be open, and learn.

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 most significant gap is, and will likely always be, the lag in an organization’s ability to hear, process, and respond to changing workforce expectations. It’s been a constant problem since the advent of vertical organizational structures. Eventually, organizations “get it” and respond, but the lag can be seen throughout history.

Organizations can bridge the gap by creating organizational structures and processes designed to be sensitive to changing employee expectations and with cultures that promote flexibility and innovation.

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

Working from home has been a revolutionary force and is not going away. It satisfies demographic changes in workplace expectations (i.e., a less work-centric life and greater sensitivity to individual employee needs), but it has also revealed a kind of relative deprivation, when comparing pre- and post-pandemic work.

Before working from home became a reality for so many, including time flexibility and the lack of a commute that is part of it, most people didn’t know how good or productive work from home could be. Now they can compare it with their pre-work from home lives. It has completely changed perceptions about what work life can be. That’s not to say working from home is for everyone, but it highlights the importance of flexibility in how organizations can meet employee interests and needs.

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?

This is tough because there are so many different work-life situations that people find themselves in. Some jobs won’t change because of the pandemic. I’m thinking about construction, manufacturing, hospitality, and maintenance. The importance and demands of those jobs will need to be recognized with greater rewards and compensation.

Jobs that have changed due to the pandemic, typically more office-oriented, will also demand new kinds of support. Again, it goes back to what I was talking about earlier with organizational structures and processes that are designed to be sensitive to changing employee expectations and with cultures that promote flexibility and innovation.

Overall, I think the most significant societal change needed, which has already started to happen, is a re-evaluation of the meaning of work and what we can expect from work. As the PwC Global Workforce Survey 2022 pointed out, people are looking for more fulfillment from their work, higher pay, and being able to be more of themselves at work. These demands will continue to increase and force the changes needed to fulfill them.

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

I’m optimistic about employers continuing to become more flexible and open to their employees. We see it all the time in our work as organizations search for ways to help employees at all levels improve their interpersonal skills. It’s a trend that’s gained momentum over the last ten years. I think the pandemic has encouraged that by forcing organizations to see what’s possible in ways they hadn’t seen before it.

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 employees’ mental health and wellbeing?

First, I think it’s important to recognize that we’re seeing a significant shift in how organizations view their employees. When I started my career, organizations were much more impersonal. Little or no attention was paid to an employee’s mental health or well-being. Those things were viewed as private concerns best addressed outside of work. That’s changed now, of course, with organizational cultures becoming more open and inclusive. However, I don’t think that’s simply the result of a great awakening in management. It’s driven more by finally recognizing that how we treat each other has a lot to do with retention and getting the best ideas and the most effort from everyone. So I think the quest for innovative strategies for employee mental health and well-being starts with organizational cultures that are authentically interested in and promote well-being.

Three relatively easy things that leaders can do to get started: One is simply regular recognition and praise. It’s hard to overestimate the emotional value of being authentically recognized. Employees consistently report that they feel more connected to one another and the organization when they are recognized for their achievements. Another is having regular mental health awareness activities that involve exploring the sources of stress and tension in the organization and ways to relieve them. A third is maintaining as much flexibility as possible in work hours and where work is done.

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?

I’ve already talked a lot about company culture but want to emphasize the importance of openness and curiosity. Organizations that listen, probe, and learn will be the winners.

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

  1. Where and when we work. As I said earlier, organizational adaptation to the pandemic revealed possibilities for work that weren’t readily available before. While I don’t believe work will ever be the same, it will be important to watch how working conditions continue to evolve and how corporate culture and social relations at work change. It is an unsettled but critical issue.
  2. The meaning of work. People certainly work for different reasons, which causes work to be more or less important to them. However, I believe that an overarching trend will be the increasing importance of fulfilling work. The great resignation happened for many reasons, not least of which was the desire for a better, more fulfilling job.
  3. Retention. This is tied to the first two trends but has meaning on its own. In addition to flexibility and fulfillment, there is the desire for less stress and greater well-being at work. It will be interesting to see how employers respond to this.
  4. Work-life balance. This is an old trend but no less important because of it. While at Ernst & Young, I remember struggling to get to 25% turnover, primarily because of work-life balance issues. Despite our best intentions, it often turned out to be more talk than action. What are organizations going to do to address this?
  5. Pay and benefits. Salary and compensation continue to rank at the top of surveys assessing why employees leave or are attracted to a company. Benefits such as health insurance and paid leave, particularly maternity leave, will likely continue to evolve. I know Google recently expanded their maternity leave to provide much more excellent work-from-home options after childbirth for both parents. Will this become a much broader universal trend?

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?

My favorite life lesson quote is: “Don’t believe everything you think.” It helps me keep an open mind, actively listen, and not rush to judgment. Although my intuition has always been important to my decisions, the quote forces me to reach out for more data and for any arguments against what I think is going to happen or should be done.

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?

The person that tops my list is Terry Gross, the host of Fresh Air. She is one of the most intelligent and probing interviewers I’ve ever heard. She never fails to stimulate curiosity and thinking about what it means to be human. It would be fascinating to have the opportunity to talk with her about her preparation, questioning, and challenges during her long career.

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 visit our website (executivepresence.com) and connect with us on Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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