Empathy. The pandemic forced people to evaluate their lives and think about what is important to them. On the employer side, understanding the challenges people have faced with empathy is critical, my hope is that employers continue the empathy mindset when supporting their 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 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 Sheila Dukas-Janakos.

Sheila Dukas-Janakos, MPH, IBCLC, LE, RLC is CEO and Co-founder of Healthy Horizons Corporate Lactation Programs and Breastfeeding Centers. Healthy Horizons lactation rooms are found in Fortune 500 companies and top workplaces in over 110 cities in North America. Their breastfeeding centers have supported over 100,000 families and counting. Sheila is affectionately known as the “The Milk Fairy Godmother” to many families.

Sheila was inspired to start Healthy Horizons after her physician discouraged her from breastfeeding during her first pregnancy and found there was little to no support for breastfeeding at home and in the workplace. Healthy Horizons was a first-to-market business 30 years ago and continues to be the industry leader in their work for lactation benefits in the workplace today.

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 new mother, I found that there was a lack of support and education around breastfeeding. I was given incorrect information from a variety of physicians and eventually connected with a midwife in Scotland who helped guide me through my questions and challenges while breastfeeding. The midwife’s guidance and Nursing Mothers Council peer-to-peer breastfeeding counseling helped me nurse my daughter for 17 months. This success was my inspiration to become an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and help other parents through their chest/breastfeeding journeys.

When I started Healthy Horizons Breastfeeding Centers, employers were giving their employees adequate time and place for cigarette breaks, however lactating parents were not given time and support to successfully pump while at work in a safe, clean environment. This disparity of benefits along with how unfair the workplace was for women gave me the drive to start my business, making sure that women and families felt supported and safe.

I was personally motivated to start Healthy Horizons because I was looking for a career that would work into my life as a working mother, allowing my children to be with me or to work around their schedule. I was also in graduate school as I started my family and needed to work around my class schedule. In grad school I had originally focused on public health and education but narrowed my focus to breastfeeding and support based on my personal experience. Women have the expectation to find work-life balance, and to become “supermom.” This can mean the morning routine of getting out the door, to the evening routine of meals, homework and bedtime while also making sure to nurture a partner or marriage.

Healthy Horizons started with clients receiving services from home-based working mothers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, these mothers believed in me and my mission of supporting lactating parents. Many of these women were clients who, through their work for me, were also able to work to support their families while helping other parents and families. Eventually a brick-and-mortar store front was opened as a full service chest/breastfeeding boutique and lactation support center. The center focuses on working with parents through lactation education and support while they return to work, and offers various products new parents need such as hospital-grade breast pumps, nursing essentials and baby gear.

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?

We have already seen a continuous change to the American workplace due to the pandemic. This is the first time in history that working parents have had an advantage in their work-life balance. They have learned firsthand how critical being with their newborns really is and how support in the workplace is long overdue. The days of women having to look for a safe place to pump their breast milk uninterrupted throughout the day are fading, because companies are stepping up and providing dedicated space on-site for lactating employees. It is clear that lactation rooms and support from employers is a vital need that working parents will no longer ignore.

The modern workplace has evolved due to the pandemic. Companies and businesses will still have corporate headquarters or main offices, however the doubts and fears many employers had about remote work have been all but erased. Companies and employees adjusted to a fully remote workplace with measurable tasks and projects allowing employers to measure the success of their remote employees. These measures will continue to evolve as the workplace evolves to provide both a hybrid and remote workplace for employees. This is a benefit to working families as more companies are listening to the employees needs and reaching out to companies like Healthy Horizons to support their in-person workforce with lactation rooms and support that has been missing from the workplace as little as 2 years ago.

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

Listen to your employees’ needs. Be clear during the hiring process what the company’s expectations are of the employee, what commitments they must meet for the job, and take time to speak with a potential employee about what their schedule is and how that coincides with the position. Open communication is key to future proofing a business.

Even with my own employees, my team and I discuss business needs and expectations in conjunction with our employees’ needs and schedule to create an optimal work-life balance. We recognize the hard work of our team through employee appreciation gifts and events. When we can help provide that balance as employers, we create a team that can work together for years.

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?

Employers who want all employees back in the workplace as more people are vaccinated and COVID-19 subsides will see that employees expect that the work and projects they did remotely will have a remote component or become hybrid work.

Employers and employees will need to work to find a middle ground to continue moving forward. Communication and flexibility will be key to finding that balance. Employers will need to outline which positions are in-person, and which positions can be remote or hybrid. Open lines of communication, updated benefits in the workplace such as a dedicated lactation room and support for parents who do go into the office, will show employees they are valued and help with worker retention.

One gap that will be critical for the success of new parents returning to work is providing on-site amenities and support. For example, even if 20% of your workforce is returning in person you still need well maintained lactation rooms. Otherwise parents won’t have the resources they need on-site and the decision to return to work has been made for them due to it not being a realistic option.

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

The modern workplace will continue to evolve. As employers are able to measure employee performance, and employees continue to work successfully in a remote or hybrid environment the new workplace environment will continue to adjust with need as well as technological advancements. These advancements bring our global economic community together in a way we never imagined just a few years ago.

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?

We are in the midst of a changing workforce now. While the world was thrust into the changes and adjusted relatively well, we continue to see individuals and groups working towards larger social change. Remote work has given families more time to bond, and the return to the workplace has found that some states are now creating laws to allow children in the workplace until they are crawling. We have allowed pets in the workplace, giving flexibility for pet noise and time to take pets out for bathroom breaks, etc. Why not let our infants join parents at work? This would take some of the stress and worry away from parents and allows them to support their children in the most vital state of life. Both parents get the opportunity to share in their children’s day.

The remote world has shined a light on diversion and inclusion issues such as socio-economic disparity, the continued fight for rights based on race, gender and sexual orientation are growing as our world connects in new ways.

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

We are seeing more companies reach out to Healthy Horizons for our Corporate Lactation Services for lactation room design, implementation and maintenance. These employers are investing in their employees’ health and safety. This creates a ripple effect that extends to their families.

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?

Employees want to feel heard and valued.

When employees feel heard and valued, they are happier and more productive. Offering health benefits such as medical, dental and employee assistance programs will help keep mind and body healthy.

A strategy to assure an employees’ health and safety on the job is consistent and maintained lactation rooms and support, policies for safety from sexual harassment, and race or gender based harrassment. This helps employees know that they are not just safe, but they are a valued part of the team.

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?

Employees have options now. The interview process is vital for both the employer and the potential employee. Companies that are not evolving with hybrid options will lose out to employers that are evolving to the needs of the worker.

The global workforce is as diverse as it is large, and the workplace needs to move and grow right along with it. Benefits that reflect the workforce will help businesses create a diverse and inclusive company culture. Companies that grow with the society around it will continue to find success.

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

  1. Hybrid Workplaces. Employees will expect to do at least some work from home. I’m seeing this with parents with kids in daycare and grade school. If there is a COVID outbreak at school, students are sent home and there is no longer childcare available in most cases. This means a parent needs to stay home as well, the hybrid work environment allows working parents to have a solution when there are no other options.
  2. Flexible Schedules. Having the flexibility to integrate work and life has come to the forefront of what employees want and expect.
  3. Better Benefits and Lactation Rooms for Parents. The pandemic stretched parents to the limit. They are looking for support from their employer. This includes education, stipends, new parent gifts, childcare, and on-site lactation rooms that show they are valued and supported as they balance work and life.
  4. Reduced Stigma Around Career Breaks. During the pandemic people were laid off, or they had no choice but to leave their career to care for their children as the world shut down. Seeing a career break on a resume is being normalized because so many people took one during the pandemic.
  5. Empathy. The pandemic forced people to evaluate their lives and think about what is important to them. On the employer side, understanding the challenges people have faced with empathy is critical, my hope is that employers continue the empathy mindset when supporting their employees.

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?

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” — Oprah Winfrey

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.

I would have lunch with Melinda Gates. What she has done to enhance healthcare and improve the lives of so many around the world is inspirational.

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?

Readers can contact me through the Healthy Horizons website www.healthyhorizons.com and learn more about how Healthy Horizons has supported working families for 30 years and counting!

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