Gallup Employee Engagement — I feel like Gallup is the leader in reporting on global employee engagement. Not only are they tracking the % of employees that are engaged in their work, but they also track those that are actively disengaged. We hit an all-time high in the U.S. in 2021 at 36%. This is still pretty low if you translate that to 64% of employees who are NOT engaged in their work.
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 Jason Davis.
Jason has spent his entire career supporting Fortune 100 companies. In those experiences, he established processes to measure learning effectiveness for 43,000 learners, has coached more than 225 frontline managers, and reduced training expenses by more than 1.5 million dollars. As a certified Talent Optimization Consultant, Jason specializes in measuring learning effectiveness and leadership development. He also holds additional certifications in Design Thinking, Management Analytics, and Strategy and Execution. To learn more about Jason and his work, go to https://www.jmmadvisorygroup.com/.
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.
Thanks for having me, I appreciate it. An experience that has shaped who I am today is simply a question that my former boss asked me years ago. I had a question about a situation that I was trying to solve, and I needed some help. Or so I thought. I left my desk and knocked on her door to see if she had a couple of minutes to talk. The door was open, I was knocking as a courtesy before barging in. Luckily she was available, so I stepped in and told her about the situation and asked for her thoughts. She looked at me and said, “well, what do you want to do?”. I had no idea how to answer that question. No one at this company had ever asked me that before. I provided an answer. It wasn’t a good one, and she kindly let me know. From that point on, I knew that she saw me as a trusted partner, and not just an employee. She wanted to know what I thought. Which again took me back. I felt so empowered. It gave me the confidence to do more problem solving and try to find a solution before I went and asked for help or feedback. Over time, that increased my confidence in making decisions and my measure for success was keeping my work off of my boss’ desk.
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?
In 10–15 years, I feel like we will still be trying to deal with expectations that are sometimes too much within the workplace. There’s nothing wrong with high expectations, but the issues are more so with how people deliver and handle them. The workplace should look much different for knowledge workers. These workers are responsible for developing strategy, process, support materials, etc. and I feel like their roles will be remote, with an occasional group event. We’re already seeing a dramatic shift this way and as more millennials move into senior leadership ranks at their companies, you will find that they can lead in-person and remote.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Invest in these three things: upskilling, belonging/equity/inclusion, and automation. Why are these three things important? Let’s break it down in no particular order. Upskilling is critical for many reasons. Right now, upskilling is going to be one of the best defenses against The Great Resignation. Research from Deloitte says that 94% of Millennials would stay with a company longer if they invested more in their learning and development. Belonging, equity, and inclusion (BEI) is another investment that needs to go beyond titles and turn into systems or processes. Employers and leaders need to start leading their teams in a way that reflects where the organization wants to go. I’m still seeing opportunities for leaders to be more open and communicative about BEI within their organizations. We’re observing managers shying away from the subject because they only attach it to race, and they don’t even want to get into those conversations. Automation is going to be the other way that employers can future-proof their organizations. Right now, an employer’s ability to automate processes that are run by humans is being put under the microscope. With so many people leaving their jobs, (which won’t slow down in 2022, by the way) employers are stuck with trying to manage heavy workloads with fewer people. Some are by choice through layoffs, furloughs, etc., but many other employers are struggling simply because they can’t keep people. There are many reasons for that, a couple of which I’ve already mentioned here. The greatest advantage that automation provides to replacing people is consistency. Processes and systems are built to be efficient and singularly execute tasks. Humans are anything but that. Now, I’m not calling for the automation of everything. We are a long way away from getting there. However, employers today should put a great focus on automating monotonous, repetitive, and time-consuming tasks so that they can have a much greater ability to predict their throughput. Leave problem-solving and critical thinking to humans. This brings us back full circle to upskilling. For this to work, we need to build problem-solving and critical thinking skills with the masses so that the greater workforce can be successful.
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?
I feel like the biggest gap right now is with where, when, and how people want to work. According to new research from The New York Times, more than 70% of executives want their teams back in the office. While 40% of workers want the same. This is going to be a tremendous tug-of-war between employers and employees for quite a while. I feel like it’s going to take the next generation of leaders, the millennials to come in and create truly flexible workplaces. The current generation is not incapable of doing it, however, there seems to be this hesitancy to let go of being physically seen by people.
To move forward, I would encourage employers to talk and listen to their employees about flexibility in the workplace. Many of us have been working from our homes for quite a while and have built lives around flexibility throughout the day. Some of it is out of necessity for running errands, or going to appointments, while some of the flexibility is needed to help manage the stress of our day-to-day lives. Start talking about new norms, create new ways of working for your teams. I find that the biggest issue with leaders moving to flexible environments is that they feel like they are losing control. For some, this will be healthy. You can’t micromanage your team so much anymore, which in the end will be best for everyone. It also gives leaders the ability to create those new norms and ways of working for their teams. Just because your team is working remotely, doesn’t mean you lead hands-off.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
It’s going to dramatically change the way that people expect to work. It already has. For individuals that continue to work from home, they are going to have more flexibility over their time day-to-day. In some places, this might mean they get to pick when the work gets done if it’s asynchronous. Workers are now going to expect to have that flexibility within their day, and they are going to be skeptical of jobs that require them to be on-site 100% of the time when that may not be necessary. This won’t apply to all roles, but there are a lot of roles today that can be done from outside of an office or facility. Leaders should take a hard look at how they can best provide flexibility in when and where the work gets done. Once we start to recover from the pandemic, work from home will no longer be a perk. It’s an expectation.
From a leadership point of view, young leaders are going to be made responsible for figuring out what the future of leadership looks like. These individuals are going to be tasked with creating a path for leading in hybrid and remote environments. That being said, it’s going to be a bumpy ride for leaders for a while. It’s going to take time for people to figure out what works and what doesn’t when leading in these environments. They won’t get it right the first time. We’ve been leading teams in-person for hundreds of years now and we still struggle with it. Leading in this new environment won’t be easy, but it absolutely will be different. The first step here is acknowledging that leading people in the future will be different.
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 a super-interesting question. From a societal standpoint, we’ve made a lot of progress on our feelings about remote work, virtual learning, and even hygiene. One change that I feel is necessary for the future of work is that we need to place more emphasis on fulfilling worker needs. First and foremost, a 15 dollars minimum wage in the U.S. Anything less is unacceptable. Employers should focus on helping their workers fulfill different needs. I’m not saying that will be easy, the needs will be different from person to person. But employers should look at things like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and develop strategies for how they help employees meet those needs.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
My greatest source of optimism right now is that no matter how divided we may be in our personal lives today, I feel like there is a connection among people that they want to be treated right in the workplace. I feel like this is going to be a driver towards paying more attention to employee well-being. You’re already seeing it with so many articles about how companies can deal with employee burnout. The more we talk about it, the more people will pay attention to it and the better chance we have to make lasting change. It’s great when employers decide to give their teams an extra week off for a break. However, this is a short-term band-aid to fixing burnout. Employers need to take a deeper look at why burnout is happening, and be willing to change it. I’m optimistic because we’ve made some good progress on looking at why burnout is happening. We have a long way to go when it comes to changing the way we do business though. I feel like it can happen though, with time and the right leaders.
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 don’t feel like I’ve seen many innovative strategies to this problem yet. Employers have a long way to go when it comes to employee wellbeing. There is a large disconnect between employee and leader expectations when it comes to wellbeing. We’ve seen actions like giving people an extra week off of work, and other time away benefits that carry a short-term value. If a company decides as a whole to give their employees an extra week away from work to curb burnout, there’s something wrong with the way you’re working. The week off is a band-aid to the real problem. Which could be many different things, and it doesn’t seem like employers are doing the work to solve the root of the problem. It’s nice to give people more time away, but are employers adjusting goals down because people won’t be working? Probably not. Some leaders might even argue that the extra time away might make people more productive. That is possible, again it’s only going to be short-term though before the burnout creeps back in.
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 feel like the most important message that leaders need to hear is that the workplace will be changing for quite some time. We can’t talk about going back to anything anymore. The language should be about moving forward and finding a path to success in the new marketplace. Whatever that may look like for your business. To me, that statement holds when you talk about talent or the customer marketplace. Without a doubt, the customer marketplace has changed with how they interact with us. The talent marketplace will never be the same. Right now, I feel like workers are in control. Leaders might be best served to take a step back and think about that for a second. How are they going to win in this new talent marketplace? Not just compete, but win. In the U.S., more people are quitting their jobs each month than ever before. It’s never been more critical to make sure you have the right people in the right roles, and that includes your leaders. Employee development and internal mobility should be just as important as your external recruiting efforts.
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.)
- Job Quit Rate in the U.S. This data is tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and measures the rate at which people voluntarily quit their jobs every month compared to total employed. I feel like this is a top trend because it gives insight into the willingness of people to leave their current jobs. This job quit rate data in the U.S. goes back to January 2000. Before the pandemic, the highest recorded monthly quit rate was 2.4%. The quit rate bounced around 2.4% for several months in 2020, but 2021 was a different story. In 2021, the quit rate exploded, in relative terms and hasn’t been below 2.5% since March. It topped out at 3% in September and November. We’re still waiting on December data.
- The gap between workers and employers/leaders about workplace expectations. I feel like there are several employers/leaders out there who feel like we’re going back to something and the workplace will be like it was before the pandemic. That’s not going to happen. What I mean by not going back are things like an abundance of roles that are in-office, or don’t allow for flexibility throughout the day. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people out there that want to work in an office 5 days a week, and don’t require flexibility. I feel like they are in the minority right now though and people that want more flexibility have a great deal of leverage.
There are a lot of options out there for job seekers today and plenty of remote or hybrid opportunities. This also goes for how employees feel about the workplace in general compared to executives. According to The Predictive Index from a survey they conducted in 2021, while 92% of C-suite executives said they felt engaged in their role, only 67% of individual contributors said the same. Engagement dropped at each level of management down to individual contributors in their report. To me, this illustrates a large disconnect between how these groups feel about their employers, which likely dictates their level of discretionary effort.
- Job Postings from Emsi/Burning Glass Dashboard — I like to track the open jobs in the U.S. from this Dashboard because it gives me a leading indicator for my top trend, the quits rate. Open jobs and the quit rate are highly correlated. The reason that I use data from Emsi/Burning Glass is that monthly results are available through it much earlier than the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Using this report allows me to have a good estimate as to where the quits rate data will trend in 2 months.
- Gallup Employee Engagement — I feel like Gallup is the leader in reporting on global employee engagement. Not only are they tracking the % of employees that are engaged in their work, but they also track those that are actively disengaged. We hit an all-time high in the U.S. in 2021 at 36%. This is still pretty low if you translate that to 64% of employees who are NOT engaged in their work.
- Upskilling impact or interest — Upskilling has been a hot topic in the talent development space for a couple of years now. We’ve been talking about it enough that we’re finally starting to see leaders in other parts of organizations getting involved in it. I feel like the employee interest in upskilling is going to skyrocket as more task-based work gets automated. We’re already at a point where 57% of workers are at least very interested in upskilling programs. It would make sense that we have a large number of workers out there that need to gain additional skills to remain employed as companies look to be more efficient going forward. Companies being more efficient usually means some kind of reduction in force. From an employee’s perspective, the best defense against that is to build skills that can’t be, or haven’t yet been automated.
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?
“Strategy is a commodity, execution is an art.” — Peter Drucker. This quote has shaped my perspective by making sure that most of my attention either as a business owner or people leader is on execution. Don’t get me wrong, strategy is necessary for proper execution. I have observed so much attention and time being given to creating a strategy, that the conversations about how that strategy will be executed don’t happen. It’s great to set goals and a strategic direction for your company. You have to do that because everyone will be heading in their direction if you don’t. As a leader, you can’t just pat your back and call it a day when the strategy is done though. You’re going to need to support your team in executing the strategy. I get that it’s hard and that’s because you’re now dealing with people. Not just words on a screen or document. The words mean something when you’re trying to execute.
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’m going to continue with the theme of the article here, and go with Josh Bersin. I feel like Josh and his company has their finger on the pulse of what is happening in the HR/employee experience space.
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?
The best way to continue the conversation with me is by connecting on LinkedIn. If you want to stay up to date on what I’m doing and talking about, I host a podcast called Lead Smarter Not Harder. The focus of the content is to help managers be better people leaders. Subscribe to Lead Smarter Not Harder on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon, and Google Podcasts.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.