People continuing to quit their jobs without having another one in place in response to toxic workplaces and bosses who focus only on results.

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 Steven Howard.

Steven Howard is the award-winning author of 22 leadership, business, and professional development books. His latest book is Humony Leadership: Mindsets, Skills, and Behaviors for Being a Successful People-Centric Leader. In awarding the book a Gold Medal, the Nonfiction Authors Association called Humony Leadership “a significant work with an important mission.”

Steven was named to the 2023 Top 200 Global Biggest Voices in Leadership list by the LeadersHum network in recognition of his thought-provoking and leading-edge thinking on leadership.

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. 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?

Unfortunately, much that will be the same about work in 10–15 years are some of the things needing to be changed, such as the huge income gap between upper-level management and the bulk of the workforce. CEOs will still be overpaid and rewarded for things like increased share price instead of the organization’s contributions to society, development of the workforce, and solving society’s biggest issues.

On a macro level, political schisms between countries will remain and impact the global business world.

Fortunately, the changes we will see will far outweigh the constants. There will be greater flexibility in how, when, and where many employees work. There will be a reduced office footprint, though this has major ramifications for city infrastructures and revenue.

Additionally, a higher percentage of organizational workforces will come from part-time workers, freelancers, and other contract workers. The workweek will shorten to four days or less for many.

Despite political interruptions and challenges, I also foresee more highly bound international linkages. Economies across the world will become more interlinked, with the positives and negatives this will bring.

We will undoubtedly see more women leaders in business, industry, government, and nonprofits. And the way we measure and evaluate will change, with greater emphasis on essential skills such as adaptability, resilience, coaching, mentoring, and emotional intelligence.

Can organizations become future-proof? Is there such a thing in a world of constant change and disruption?

Instilling flexibility and adaptability into the organization is the only way to become future-proof. And this includes the way leaders are measured, evaluated, and rewarded.

Such flexibility and adaptability may require something similar to how Hollywood operates. Instead of permanent teams reporting to a single functional boss, we will see more instances where agile teams are created to tackle temporary assignments. These teams will comprise the most suitable talents who want to be on the team. This will be a more successful approach than forcing a group of available employees to form, storm, norm, and try to perform together.

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?

Perhaps the biggest gap is the notion of managerial control. Control went out the window in the Spring of 2020 with the forced work-from-home mandates of the pandemic.

Linked to this is the leadership mindset of being people managers. Managing people is a 1980s construct no longer relevant or applicable today. People do not want to be managed. They want to be led. To be motivated. Trusted. Given opportunities to grow their skill sets and decision-making capabilities.

People want (and need) to be coached, mentored, empowered, unshackled from directives, and freed from being told how to accomplish their work. Only the leaders who excel at the coaching and mentoring aspects of leadership will enjoy sustainable success. Those leaders who continue to focus on micromanagement will not.

The gap between the mindsets of employees and their leaders has never been greater. And unless leadership mindsets change, this gap will continue to grow.

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

Working from home will continue as it will be non-negotiable for a significant portion of the workforce.

Also, as I mentioned previously, part-time work will increase. And many people will prefer two part-time jobs they can do from home over one full-time job which requires commuting and being in the office five days a week.

Plus, in 10 years, the 50+ portion of the workforce will have a decade or more experience of productively working from home. They will want to continue this or increase this as they get older and have less need for the social interactions of the office environment.

I think this trend will also impact the home building industry. For instance, we will see more homes built with one or more rooms designed for home offices rather than spare bedrooms being used for this purpose. And homes will come wired with more electrical outlets and full-house Wi-Fi coverage, eliminating the need for extension cords and router devices.

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?

First is probably a mindset change for organizational leaders. One of the silver linings from the pandemic is that many leaders realize that their employees have responsibilities outside of work.

Previously, lip service was given to the notion that people had lives outside work. And it was okay for them to have these lives once their work responsibilities were completed.

Now, leaders and organizational policies must respect and support the reality that people have responsibilities outside work. And that these responsibilities, such as caring for elderly parents or coaching youth sports teams, are important to them. These are not hobbies or personal tasks. These are responsibilities, and the more organizations and leaders help their employees fulfill these non-work obligations, the more productive and loyal their employees will be.

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

I am optimistic as I believe that talent will dictate the future. The war for talent is over, and talent has won.

The pre-pandemic model of the organization-employee relationship was that organizations bought the employee’s time (usually 8–5) and mandated that this daily time slot, five times a week, be devoted solely to them. Handling personal business or concerns during the working day was considered anathema and barely condoned, even for the most urgent personal matters. Plus, employees were told where they would physically be placed to spend this time sold to their employers.

The new model for the employee-organization relationship (note that now the employee comes first in this equation) is that the organization is buying a skill set and, in many cases, the purpose and passion of the employee.

The employee and the organization will decide together where they work best and how best to deliver their commitments and responsibilities to the rest of the organization and its customers.

The best outcomes will be produced when the employee has work/life harmony and integration, including a say in where and how they can best perform their duties and responsibilities.

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?

This is not a collateral issue for employees. It is a key concern for much of the workforce.

I read one research study which showed 49.7% of knowledge workers chose mental wellbeing as their top priority over physical wellbeing, career advancement, relationships, and friends.

I have seen other research showing 89% of full-time employees saying they had experienced burnout over the past year. And 70% said they would leave their current job for another organization offering better resources to reduce feelings of burnout.

I think senior management has yet to pay enough attention to this issue. They don’t hear about burnout and mental wellbeing concerns because people are reluctant to talk openly about these topics. There is still a stigma attached to mental health and wellbeing.

Hopefully, the future of work will have a new perspective on the people costs of decisions and actions. And by “people costs,” I do not mean payroll and employee benefit programs. The people cost I am talking about is the toll and impact on employees and the workplace climate resulting from leadership decisions and actions.

For instance, what is the impact on a person’s relationship with family members when they feel obligated to respond to their boss’s text messages or emails at night and on weekends? What is the impact on people’s mental, physical, and emotional health from working 50+ hours a week for long periods?

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?

As I mention early, talent has won. And there is a growing gap between what employees want and what leaders think they should be doing.

Leaders think they should be managing their direct reports. But in truth, people do not want to be managed. No one wakes up and says, “I cannot wait to be managed today.” And certainly, no one says, “I cannot wait to be micromanaged by my boss today.”

The key message leaders need to hear is that people do not want to be managed. The second key message is that the organization-employee relationship has changed, as I mentioned above.

Leaders need to stop treating employees as only a means to an end. This mindset has contributed to millions worldwide quitting their jobs and seeking new employment with organizations that value them as human beings (not assets, resources, or headcounts).

There has been a fundamental change in what people value, and work is no longer the most important thing that defines a large portion of the workforce.

So, if the mindsets of employees have changed so drastically, why haven’t leaders changed their mindsets about what it means to be a leader? Leaders who do not understand the importance of becoming people-centric leaders will not succeed in the future of work environment.

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

  1. Learning how to support the increased responsibilities people have outside the workplace without unduly impacting team performance and results.
  2. Learninghow to manage a workforce comprising more part-time workers, contractors, and freelancers.
  3. The so-called “soft skills” of emotional intelligence, resiliency, adaptability, communications, and coaching becoming essential skills mandatory for success and promotion.
  4. The demise of over-demanding and bullying bosses.
  5. People continuing to quit their jobs without having another one in place in response to toxic workplaces and bosses who focus only on results.

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?

I love quotes. In fact, I love quotes so much that I published a book called Great Leadership Words of Wisdom which contains over 1000 quotes on leadership from global business leaders, statesmen, athletes, coaches, sages, and philosophers. So I love this question!

My favorite inspirational quote is from Robert F. Kennedy, who said, “Some men see things as they are and ask, why? I dream things that never were and ask why not?”

This quote has inspired me to keep questioning the status quo and people’s mindsets about change. When I coach leaders, some of the greatest successes come when I get them to think in new directions and approach people, events, and situations from a new perspective.

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.

This one is easy: Michael Jordan. Not only because I admired his leadership on the basketball court, but because of the way he has drowned out the noise of critics during his career and later as the majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets.

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?

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