Work Friendships Are Commonplace. Gallup found that people who have one best friend at work are more engaged and productive. It will be interesting to see if people are finding more friendships at work or if there continues to be a stark separation between work and life.
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 Ryan Jenkins and Steven Van Cohen.
Ryan Jenkins, CSP, is an internationally recognized keynote speaker, virtual trainer, and three-time published author. For a decade, he has helped organizations optimize generational dynamics, lessen worker loneliness, and prepare for the future of work. He is also co-founder of LessLonely.com, the world’s first resource fully dedicated to reducing worker isolation and strengthening team connections.
Steven Van Cohen is a global leadership consultant, executive coach and two-time published author. Steven has spent the past 12 years working with leading organizations like Salesforce, Home Depot, Komatsu and Blackstone to improve worker well-being, reduce employee isolation and boost team belonging. Steven is a Partner at LessLonely.com and CEO at SyncLX, a leading consultancy specializing in employee development.
Thank you for making time to visit with us, Ryan and Steven. 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.
Ryan: The birth of my three children. Being able to see the world anew thru their eyes and building unique connections with each of them has been a tremendous gift.
Steven: When my oldest daughter was born she came out early, she came out small and she came out not doing so well. Nurses immediately rushed her over to a table to help her breathe. My daughter’s vitals were low, and she was not responding in the right ways. The decision was made to take her up to the NICU. Before taking her to the NICU however, our incredible doctor recommended that our baby get quick skin-to-skin contact with mom. The nurse gently placed baby Claudia on my wife’s chest — Claudia looked right at mom — and took a big deep breath. She went from bluish purple to pink and bright. Her vitals stabilized, she relaxed, she melted into my wife’s arms. She didn’t need medical treatment, she needed human connection. Human connection is the most powerful force on the planet. Watching my daughter go from distress to delight in a matter of seconds, simply by being close to the person she needed most, was a life changing experience. It reinforced that we are nothing without our connections.
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?
Ryan: Work will always be a place where people with unique knowledge and skills band together to solve problems. What will be different is how we band together to execute work. We will use different tools to work together, the virtual and physical environments that we use to work together will change, and why and when we band together will change. Additionally, the problems we solve are always evolving.
- Hybrid work will be the norm.
- Employees will want independence for when, where and how to work.
- Most communication will come through technology (as opposed to in-person).
- Being too busy will continue to be the de-facto norm for most professionals.
- An imbalance of work-life harmony will exist (with work as the dominant focus for most).
- The use of artificial intelligence and virtual reality will be pervasive.
- Employees will put more emphasis on work purpose than pay or benefits.
- There will be a lot more “freelance” employees who work more entrepreneurially.
- Wellness and well-being will become more important at work.
- Learning and development will be prioritized more than it is today.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Ryan: Have a people-first culture. The greatest asset of any company is the people. One way to be people-first moving forward is to create work environments where people can derive a sense of belonging. The continued advancement of mobile technology, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and augmented and virtual reality will cause humanity to drift towards convenience and away from human connection. It will be increasingly important for employers to fight for the opportunities to bring people together to experience a sense of belonging.
Steven: Put purpose first. Our research shows that the quickest way to move someone from isolated to all in is to align their work with purpose. Purpose is a premier loneliness suppressant. Team members who rally around a clear purpose, are more engaged, feel more connected and are less motivated to seek new opportunities.
Leverage learning. When our brains are enraptured in learning something new, they are not feeling lonely or disconnected. Learning starves loneliness. Learning has also been cited as the number one thing emerging professionals look for when considering new job opportunities.
Make Time For Connecting. The adage people don’t leave employers, they leave bosses, still rings true today. Leaders must make cultivating connections a priority. Team members who feel connected to their work, leader and team, see a 56% increase in job performance and a 50% reduction in turnover. Establishing a sense of belonging within a team is not just good for humanity, but it is good business.
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?
Steven: Employees are going to expect their work and life to integrate seamlessly. With an “always-on” work culture likely to stay the norm, employees will need to have meaningful relationships at work that provide them the social sustenance they need to feel connected. This means employers will have to not only encourage closer ties within a team but help facilitate them. The line that separates work and life has blurred. When American’s were asked two decades ago how many confidants they had, the most common response was “three.” Today the most common answer is “zero.” Cue the heartbreak! Work is the most fertile ground for close relationships to grow and something emerging professionals are looking to their employer to provide.
Employers can encourage closer relationships by doing the following:
- Socialize Smarter — It’s time to go beyond the occasional happy hour. Teams who spend quality time together have more trust, deeper understanding and a much needed likeability that helps to build bonds. Leaders can seek bigger social budgets and do things with the team that are memorable.
- Introduce Icebreakers — Icebreakers might be an introverts worst nightmare. They do however serve an important role in team meetings. Taking 5–10 minutes to push past professional is valuable. Vivek Murthy, the current U.S. Surgeon General introduced an activity called “Inside Scoop” where each week one person showed a picture of themself doing something they loved. Murthy had this to say about the activity, “The impact was immediate. Presenting was an opportunity for each of us to share more of who we were; listening was an opportunity to recognize our colleagues in the way they wished to be seen. These sessions quickly became many people’s favorite time of the week, and they were more enthusiastic about participating at staff meetings. People felt more valued by the team after seeing their colleagues’ genuine reactions to their stories. Team members who had traditionally been quiet during discussions began speaking up. Many began taking on tasks outside their traditional roles.”
- Let The Armor Down — Leaders who can leave their well-crafted avatars at home allow for more meaningful connections to take place at work. Leaders must be able to demonstrate compassion, empathy, understanding and be the first to acknowledge their true feelings. Leaders who remain overly professional can create an environment of concealment.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Ryan: Remote work was working before the pandemic. Then after the entire world was forced to stress test “working from home” and it didn’t break, it is now forever on the table as a viable work option. However, isolation and loneliness is growing globally. According to our research in Connectable, 72% of global workers experience loneliness at least monthly. So while working from home is doable and practical, it can be detrimental to our well-being if we aren’t counterbalancing it with deeper connection with our teams and organizations.
Steven: It is the future of work. I do not anticipate any scenario where the majority of workplaces go back to in-office only. Job searches for “remote” have shot up to all-time highs for good reason. People want flexibility in how they work. In one study, 93% of respondents chose wanting either fully remote or hybrid working environments. Only 7% said they wanted to go back to full-time in the office. With so many people wanting to work remote, the future of work is likely to be a lonely one. Which is a big problem, because lonely workers are:
- 2x more likely to miss a day of work due to illness.
- 5x more likely to miss a day of work due to stress.
- More inclined to believe their work is lower quality (12%).
- Less committed to their organization.
- 2x as often to think about quitting their job.
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?
Ryan: A massive societal shift can occur if employers and leaders can use the workplace to lessen loneliness. Loneliness lies at the intersection of inclusion and wellness. So if we can strive to make the place we work more inclusive where people feel safe, seen, and heard then that will spill over into society and impact our communities in a positive way.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Ryan: I’m optimistic that humanity can find a way to leverage technology to do the type of work that is too dangerous, dirty, or difficult for humans to do. If technology can do the heavy lifting and take the “drudgery” out of work, then we can focus on solving loftier problems and bring more human elements to work. Human elements like purpose, empathy, humor, belonging, etc.
Steven: Employers are waking up to the fact that they must change. Business as usual isn’t sustainable. People are flocking to employers who provide them with way more than a paycheck. My greatest optimism about the future is rooted in the fact that employers are going to evolve. They are going to put more importance on people than profits. They are going to humanize the workplace. They have to, or else they won’t obtain and sustain the talent they need to stay relevant.
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?
Ryan: The first step (which isn’t an innovative one) is to normalize the conversation around mental health and wellbeing. One of our goals in writing, Connectable, was to begin normalizing the universal human condition of loneliness. We all experience it but don’t talk about it. Awareness is curative and the first step in solving the problem. Let’s start having more open conversations about loneliness so we can be aware of how it’s impacting our well-being and performance at work.
- Ensure Employees Are Using Their Time Off. According to 2020 data, 61% of employers said that they expect their staff to be available outside of regular hours. More employees are working through lunch and logging on to tackle work tasks late into the night than ever before. In addition, 51% of employees reported symptoms of burnout in May 2020 (when many were forced to work from home) and by the end of June 2020, the figure had jumped to 69%. Even before the arrival of the novel coronavirus our work-life balance was out of control as 42% of employees said they feel obligated to check in with work while they’re vacationing, and more than one-fourth feel guilty for using all their vacation time. People need quality time off to reconnect with the people, activities and places that make them feel whole. When a burn out culture exists, employees feel bad for taking time away from work. It is one thing to work hard and another to be totally consumed by work.
- Mental Health First Aiders. Two suicides at Citrix left employees across the organization with lots of questions. Donna Kimmel, Citrix’s Chief People Officer explained that employees started to ask, “What could we have done?How could we have known? What’s next for our team?” Feeling the gravity of the situation, Kimmel and her team expanded the company’s efforts to fundamentally shift how mental health concerns are addressed across the organization. Following guidelines from Mental Health First Aid International, Citrix established its peer-based mental health support initiative — Mental Health First Aiders. Kimmel’s team realized that staff suffering from depression or loneliness would be more keen to seek out help from a peer than they were a manager. “Reaching out to peers is much easier because people fear if their boss knew they were anything short of perfect, it would hinder their trajectory,” said Kate Stemle, Senior Well-Being Manager at Citrix. After a successful pilot with its Cambridge, UK, team and with support from leaders across the organization, Citrix asked for volunteers companywide to join the new initiative. The goals were to create permission to talk about these important issues in the work culture and to make conversations about mental health easier for individuals. To have broad reach, Citrix worked to ensure every department and level had representation in the program. People from engineering, legal, human resources, sales, and many other departments signed up for the initiative, which officially launched in 2020. Once vetted and approved, the first aiders attended workshops delivered by experts in the mental health industry. They learned what signs to look for, how to navigate difficult conversations, and what resources are available through Citrix’s HR team or directly including benefits like its EAP, employee accommodations, or leaves of absence.
- Share Stories (Normalize Conversations About Mental Health). At Expedia, employees share stories in the form of videos, recorded audios and written posts that help team members to be to be seen, understood, appreciated, valued, and applauded. Even the CEO shared vulnerable stories that helped people feel more comfortable talking about “sensitive” topics. When there is a culture of inclusion present, people show up for each other. They share stories and experiences that help to normalize what are often classified as difficult conversations.
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?
Ryan: While the “hows” of life are changing for people (especially when it comes to work). The “whys” of life are not changing. The two things people want in life are meaningful relationships and meaningful work. The employers who will overcome “The Great Resignation” and thrive in the future are the ones who can satisfy both of these things for people. Create environments where meaningful relationships can flourish while working towards a desirable and meaningful future.
Steven: People are no longer putting up with bad employers, below average leaders, and unfulfilling work. People are unhappy with the status quo, they deserve better, and they are finally taking action.
When asked what it takes to become one of the best places to work, Michael C Bush, CEO of Great Places to Work, says, “It is not about ping-pong tables, and massages and pet walking. It’s not about the perks. It’s all about how people are treated by their leaders, and by the employees that they work with.”
A paycheck and safe working environment are not enough to keep people around. If people do not feel treated a certain way, they will continue to seek opportunities until they find one where they matter.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Trading High Tech for High Touch. Are people taking time to connect in-person, or is most communication done via email, text or IM (instant message).
- Encouraging Time Off. Are employers doing a better job of encouraging time off. It is not enough to just provide vacation days, employers must encourage their use.
Examples = Basecamp, a web application company based in Chicago, pays for employees’ hobbies. Mattel, Inc., the toy manufacturing company, offers employees up to 16 paid hours off to participate in their kids’ school events. Airbnb, the community-driven hospitality company, provides employees with 2,000 dollars a year for spending on Airbnb properties anywhere in the world. Burton, a snowboarding outfitter, provides employees the day off to hit the slopes if two feet of snow falls in 24 hours. REI, the retail and outdoor recreation services company, offers an employee challenge grant where employees get 300 dollars in products for an outdoor activity, as long as it’s a challenge like backpacking in the High Sierras, running a marathon in Thailand, etc.
3. Meaningful Work Over Pay. Gen Z is willing to take a 10%-30% pay cut in order to do work that is meaningful. Will people continue to seek opportunities based on purpose over prestige?
4. Work Friendships Are Commonplace. Gallup found that people who have one best friend at work are more engaged and productive. It will be interesting to see if people are finding more friendships at work or if there continues to be a stark separation between work and life.
5. Are People Less Lonely. Per our research 72% of people feel lonely monthly, with 55% saying they feel lonely on a weekly basis. In the future, are people feeling more connected at work?
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?
Ryan: “I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better.” -Abraham Lincoln. It’s not differences that separates us but distance (or ignorance).
Steven: “You don’t see the world as it is, you see the world as you are.” — Talmud Your perspective is everything. You get to choose how to show up in the world, the world does not dictate that for you.
“People won’t remember what you say, they won’t remember what you do, but people will always remember how you made them feel.” Maya Angelo The very best part of my job is being able to see things in people they don’t see in themselves. As an executive coach I take Maya Angelo’s quote very seriously. Every word we say has the potential to either build people up or knock them down.
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.
Ryan: Screenwriter and director, Christopher Nolan. I would be fascinated to learn more about the creative process of having an idea, scripting it, and then presenting that idea/story in a visual way that connects with others and moves audiences.
Steve: Reid Hoffman. Reid’s podcast Masters of Scale is one of my favorites. He is a brilliant investor and someone who I admire. As a fellow entrepreneur I would love to talk business with him.
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 follow our work at LessLonely.com and on Instagram at @RyanAndSteven (same username for all other social platforms as well).
Thank you both for sharing your insights and predictions, Ryan and Steven. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health!