Employee Activism: This trend is exploding right now and most employers seem very uncomfortable and unprepared to deal with it. Put simply, employees want to be treated fairly, and they want a seat at the table for important decisions that impact them. Employers have to find a way to accommodate these demands before they lose their most talented and valued employees.
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 models 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 Peter Rahbar.
Peter Rahbar is a workplace legal expert who guides clients through the most important decisions of their professional lives. After almost twenty years of representing major international corporate clients in high profile matters, including over a decade as the chief employment attorney for a major global media company, Peter founded The Rahbar Group, a boutique employment law practice based in New York City. Peter specializes in representing individuals, including C-Suite executives, media personalities and other professionals working in finance, media, sports, real estate, fashion and tech.
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.
As a first-generation American, I spent my childhood and early adult years making important decisions that would shape the rest of my life, with little to no guidance or mentorship. There were certainly times where I felt lost, and when I look back, I wish that I had someone to help me make those decisions. The memories of these early experiences have fueled my desire to be an advocate and advisor to others, and in particular to help my clients make smart, informed decisions at work and in their careers.
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?
After the past three years, it is impossible believe that anyone could predict what work, or the workplace, will look like 5, 10 or 15 years from now. But I do have some thoughts on this regardless! At the top of the list is the shift of power towards employees in the workplace. The simultaneous emergence of remote working, a tight labor market and the breakdown of traditional stigmas attached to changing jobs has empowered employees to seek a seat at the table with their employers on key workplace decisions. Employers are not happy about this, because they want to have full control and most managers already have too much on their plates, but companies will have no choice but to find a way to provide their employees with a meaningful voice.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
This is such an interesting question to me because I talk to so many business leaders who just want their workplaces to “go back to normal” — as it was before the onset of the pandemic. If you are an executive with that perspective, you are doomed for failure. Instead, your mindset should be focused on flexibility and how quickly you can adapt to changed circumstances. For example, why would you push to abandon remote work, when it would be absolutely necessary if we were to face another pandemic or similar event that literally stops the normal functioning of our world? Instead, you should be focused on making remote work better, and training your managers on how to better supervise and motivate a remote workforce. That is just one big, obvious example, but the main point is that employers must work together with their employees to embrace and prepare for change.
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?
Employee expectations from their employers are higher than ever. They want transparency, fair and equitable treatment, a voice in decision-making and an employer who they can trust. Most employers are struggling to meet or even understand what is being sought from them. And many employers won’t even address their employees’ expectations unless they are forced to — by legislation (i.e., minimum wage increases, salary transparency laws, etc.) or worker retention issues. My top strategy for addressing these gaps is communication and data. An employer has to speak directly with their employees to learn about what is important to them — get the data, and continuously work to gather it. If they do not, employees will turn to external sources for help or they will move on to another job. This does not mean that employers have to give employees everything they want. But it does mean that they have to spend more time explaining decisions and establishing trust with their employees.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Remote working has completely transformed the workplace and it is here to stay. It is unfortunate that the narrative about remote working is so negative when so many people spent the majority of their time helping their companies function remotely during the pandemic. Smart leaders will embrace remote working and collaborate with their management teams and employees to determine the right balance for their company, and how remote working can be better. While remote working may now be viewed as a “perk” to some, we are already seeing employees being forced to decide whether they want to prioritize remote working over the possibility of being on a promotion track, or earning higher wages.
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?
Focusing on the US, we have to implement federal paid parental leave benefits immediately. I don’t think this requires much explanation, other than to say that it is a major obstacle to equality in the workplace. We also need to make Diversity Equity and Belonging a core priority for every company. Smart leaders know that a company needs to have a diverse group of employees and perspectives to be successful, and our society needs to hold corporate leaders accountable on these issues.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
My greatest optimism for the future of work is the resilience of our workforce in battling through the obstacles and personal challenges presented by the COVID pandemic crisis. Our whole world stopped, yet we worked together to find ways to survive and thrive in the face of adversity.
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?
I am not a mental health professional, but my view is that all of us have suffered from some form of PTSD as a result of the pandemic. If you are an employer, you have to acknowledge and incorporate your employees’ mental health into every decision that you make. This not only includes obvious examples like your remote working and leave policies, or evaluating the benefits that you offer, but also basic things like the time and manner in which you expect employees to perform their regular job duties. In the past, many employers have outsourced treatment of mental health issues to EAP programs and counselors. Given the increased need to focus on these issues, the smartest employers will either hire or regularly consult directly with a mental health professional when making important decisions for their business, or with respect to issues raised by their employees. Managers should also be trained to identify potential mental health-related issues, and how they can help support their employees in need.
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?
Whatever you want to call it, the message is the same: the pandemic has caused workers to reevaluate the priorities in their lives. This includes work, where they spend so much of their time. Workers are evaluating how they want to work, how much they want to work, and who they want to work for. Based on my experience with clients moving to new jobs, they are prioritizing their desire to be valued and treated respectfully, which of course includes being paid fairly. Many companies need to work harder on establishing trust with their employees and candidates, including improving communication, implementing equitable pay and promotion practices, and being transparent with employees.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Employee Activism: This trend is exploding right now and most employers seem very uncomfortable and unprepared to deal with it. Put simply, employees want to be treated fairly, and they want a seat at the table for important decisions that impact them. Employers have to find a way to accommodate these demands before they lose their most talented and valued employees.
- Remote Work: As I said earlier, remote working is here to stay. Indeed, many of my clients will take this into consideration when evaluating a new job. Employers should be focused on how to make it better and more productive for their company, rather than spending time and money on monitoring or one size fits all return to work policies that send a message of distrust to their workforce. This should include investments in technology and management, as well as gathering input and ideas from employees.
- DEB: We’ve seen many companies make statements and commitments to Diversity, Equity and Belonging principles, but there is still real work to be done. Indeed, recent surveys in many different industries tell the same story — hiring and promotion of diverse candidates and employees has still not meaningfully improved. As part of the rise of employee activism, employees will increase the pressure on their employers to make real advances on DEB-related issues.
- Role of AI: Use of AI is creeping into the workplace, often without notice or warning, or adequate consideration of the consequences of relying on machines instead of humans. Did you know that AI bots might be reading your resume? Or reviewing your performance evaluations for potential layoffs? Employers should fully disclose their use of AI to evaluate candidates or employees, and should take adequate steps to make sure that the use of AI is not having a discriminatory impact on any protected class of employees.
- Pay Transparency: I am a lawyer, so I had to include something legal here. We are already seeing pay transparency laws take hold in Colorado, New York City and California, and I believe that we will soon see these laws in most, if not all, states. The reality is that employees are now actively seeking this data, and companies that do not provide will be at a disadvantage in recruiting and the battle for trust. State regulators believe that this is a key tool in battling longstanding gaps in pay equity. I happen to agree!
What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
I remember seeing Maya Angelou speak in my first week of college and wanting to immediately read her work. Her quote to “pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you,” has always motivated me to not only work hard, but to have confidence in myself when making career decisions that prioritize my passions and interests over job security or compensation.
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.
Lewis Hamilton. He is not only a Champion of Formula 1, but also a champion of treating others with respect, fairness and decency. In every statement, action, and race, you can see the respect that he has for his team, his competitors and his fans. As we have seen recently, there are many athletes, politicians, corporate leaders and celebrities who could learn a lesson or two from Lewis.
How can our readers best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
You can always find me on LinkedIn, Instagram or through my website: www.therahbargroup.com.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.