Preparing for the Future of Work

Over the last few decades, the way people work has been evolving and changing, fueled by technological advancements in automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and innovations around the way we receive goods and services — all of which has only been accelerated by the pandemic.  

These new innovations have forced companies to rethink the way they operate and how they structure their work, creating new opportunities for some, and unfortunately, eliminating jobs for others. 

While change can be messy (and often frustrating when you’re in the thick of it), it can also lead to exciting new opportunities and personal growth. It’s up to today’s business leaders to focus on getting people the education and training they need for this new future of work, and it’s up to all of us to keep learning and developing new skills so we can meet the moment.

Disruptions & trends

According to research by McKinsey & Company, three major trends are currently disrupting work as we know it:

 

  1. The shift to remote work and virtual collaboration. Most companies are planning to continue some level of remote work or move to a hybrid model. Additionally, McKinsey estimates that 20% of business travel may be permanently replaced by virtual meetings.
  2. Digital transactions and delivery services. Digital trends in e-commerce and service businesses — from restaurant delivery to telemedicine — surged in 2020, and it looks as though these conveniences will be sticking around.
  3. Automation and AI. Companies using new and more advanced technologies to adapt to the future of work will continue to innovate and implement even more technologies in the future.

Moving from urban to suburban 

Another trend in the United States and Europe that McKinsey identified is that a significant number of working professionals are moving out of large cities and putting down roots in suburbs and small towns. This is showing up in office-vacancy rates and decreasing residential rents — which reverses a trend that has been going in the exact opposite direction over the past ten years. It seems people are taking advantage of the ability to work remotely while enjoying the more affordable small-town life. (Or maybe, they just want to see what John Mellencamp’s been singing about all these years.)

Healthcare & STEM job market growth

With more of the baby boomer generation now entering retirement age, it’s no surprise that the need for healthcare workers continues to grow. STEM fields (i.e., science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are also part of a growing category, especially for jobs in design and technology maintenance. These are all excellent fields to pursue for anyone looking for a lucrative career that offers plenty of job security.  

Industries in decline

McKinsey found that the job categories most in decline are customer service and sales professions. Factory and warehouse jobs are also disappearing, as advancements in automation continue to eliminate tasks that used to be done by humans. 

Food service is another industry seeing a significant decline in demand, due in large part to the pandemic. People not going into the office are eating at home more and the decrease in business travel means fewer meals on the road — which is a big driver of business for many restaurants, especially in metro areas. 

Leading through change

Changing workplace conditions, the emergence of new processes and innovations, and the evolution of industry in our country are all converging to create completely new fields and new skill-set needs. The successful business leaders of today (and tomorrow) must be prepared to lead us into this new future of work.

Today’s business leaders must learn how to navigate unpredictable and often turbulent waters. As Jeff Schwartz, the U.S. Leader for the Future of Work at Deloitte Consulting, writes: “Like a whitewater kayaker, business leaders must learn to skillfully read the currents and disturbances of the context around them… interpreting the surface flows, ripples, and rapids for what they reveal about what lies beneath the surface.”

Key mindset shifts for business leaders

According to Schwartz, creating value and moving beyond cost reduction and efficiency to instead focus on meaning and impact should be the main goal for organizations today. He recommends leaders:

  • Make work outcomes less about efficiency and more about the value and impact delivered to customers, employees, and their communities.
  • Redefine work from executing routine tasks to creatively addressing problems and identifying new growth opportunities.
  • Build personal relationships and cultivate work that emphasizes what makes us human.
  • Focus on output and impact, rather than just workflows and tactics. 
  • Normalize a culture that embraces outside-the-box thinking and risk-taking.

Upskilling & reskilling

In their study, McKinsey found that 25% more workers than previously estimated may need to switch occupations, as the need for certain skills disappear and the need for new and different skills emerge. And according to the World Economic Forum (the Forum), nearly 50% of companies expect automation will lead to some reduction in their full-time workforce, and more than half of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling. 

Being forced to make a career change or learn new skills can be frustrating or intimidating for some — especially those who have been doing the same job for years. Luckily, many large employers are creating upward career paths in the form of manager or digital training, to keep employees from getting left behind. Educational institutions and governments can also step in to provide programs for upskilling and reskilling workers. 

The Forum has developed a “Preparing for the Future of Work” initiative aimed at promoting “a positive and proactive approach to navigating the future employment and skills landscape.” With this program, they’re focused on bringing together businesses, civil society, and education partners to develop reskilling and upskilling initiatives — building new talent pipelines and providing better jobs, education, and skills to one billion people by 2030.

Unlock the next level

Whether your job is at risk of disruption or you just want to learn a new skill, there are resources available for all kinds of training and upskilling programs. The Aspen Institute’s Upskill America website has many helpful resources for business leaders and anyone who wants to learn more about upskilling and the types of programs that different companies offer. 

For individuals looking to develop a new skill — or sharpen an existing one — there are also several online learning platforms (some free and some that require a paid subscription) that cater to a wide variety of disciplines, like Udemy, Coursera, and Skillshare.

5 Professional Development Books to Read This Summer

Summer is in full swing, and whether you’re planning to do some traveling or just spend time relaxing at home, there’s nothing like a good book to keep you company. If it’s a book that might also provide some professional guidance or personal inspiration, even better. 

We recently shared 5 Great Business Podcasts for Your Summer Vacation, so now, let’s get into a little something for the readers out there. (Most of these books come in an audio version, so you could still pop on those headphones if that’s more your speed.) So whether you’re laying by the pool, sitting out on your deck with the squirrels, or pretending to pay attention at your kid’s next soccer game, here are five (not-boring) professional development books to check out.

 

#1) Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Brené Brown has written over a dozen bestselling books based on her studies of the emotions and experiences that give meaning to our lives, both personally and professionally. Her most recent book, Dare to Lead, digs deep into what leadership truly means. (Spoiler: It’s not about title, status, or power; it’s about empathy and courage.)

According to Brown, daring leaders don’t pretend to have all the right answers and don’t avoid difficult conversations. Instead, they lean into vulnerability and empower others to do the same.

(Dare to Lead is now also a podcast, for all you audiophiles.)

 

#2) Allies and Advocates: Creating an Inclusive and Equitable Culture by Amber Cabral

As present and future business leaders, we should all be thinking about how to create and influence more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Author Amber Cabral is an inclusion strategist and thought leader, who teaches individuals and teams how to build meaningful connections with people across diverse backgrounds and identities.  

The best thing about this book is Cabral’s straightforward and approachable style; she shares real examples of inclusion best practices and provides helpful takeaways and action items you can really implement at work or any (and every) area of your life, as you learn to become a stronger ally and advocate.

 

#3) The First-Time Manager by Jim McCormick

Now in its 7th edition, this book has become a classic, must-read manual for anyone new to a management role or considering a path to management in the future. Even for individuals who are the best-of-the-best in their field, managing people adds its own host of challenges and can require an entirely new set of skills. 

The First-Time Manager dives deep into the art of motivating others, becoming an active listener, and overcoming resistance, along with many others skills that are essential to great leadership. McCormick’s lessons throughout the book also include helpful examples and action steps, to help you become the best manager you can be. (You’ll be getting that “World’s Best Boss” mug in no time.)

 

#4) Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

While not a professional development book per se, this autobiographical account of Elon Musk’s life and career is sure to hold your interest — and perhaps make you think a little differently about your own goals and ambitions. Love him or hate him, you can’t say there’s anything boring about this brilliant (and sometimes bizarre) tech billionaire.

Written by veteran tech journalist Ashlee Vance, this book gives you a deep look into the past, present, and future vision of the entrepreneur behind Tesla and SpaceX. From his childhood in South Africa to selling PayPal for $1.5 billion to launching rockets into space, this book explores what motivates Musk and how he hopes to (continue to) change the world.

 

#5) Atomic Habits by James Clear

We’ve all got a few bad habits we’d like to break — no judgment. Luckily, help is out there in the form of James Clear’s bestselling book. Clear is a leading expert on habit formation, and in Atomic Habits, he reveals practical strategies for forming good habits and breaking bad ones.

He shares his system for change, informed by biology, psychology, and neuroscience. The book helps you understand how actions become habits and acts as a guide to making good habits a regular part of your life. With true stories from Olympians, artists, and other professionals at the top of their game, this book is sure to inspire you and give you the tools to develop better habits, personally and professionally. 

Taking Care of Your Mental Health at Work

While workplace stress is nothing new, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated it for all types of workers. From the added stress of working from home (and now for some, anxiety around returning to the office again) to the millions of essential workers who had to put their own health at risk during the pandemic — everyone has been impacted in some way and to varying degrees. If there is one silver lining though, it’s that these challenges have brought mental health to the forefront of the national conversation and shone a light on existing problems.

A recent Household Pulse Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 37% of people surveyed reported feeling anxious or depressed. (That number was just 11% in 2019.) On top of that, in their 2021 report: Mind the Workplace, Mental Health America (MHA) found that nearly 9 out of 10 employees report workplace stress that impacts their mental health.

Overcoming burnout

Burnout had become a hot topic of conversation long before the events of 2020, and has become even more prevalent over the last year. In their survey, MHA found that nearly 83% of respondents felt emotionally drained from their work, and nearly 1 in 4 employees experienced severe signs of burnout, including reduced professional efficacy and cynicism towards coworkers and their jobs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has even added burnout to its International Classification of Diseases. According to the WHO, burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, and is characterized by three dimensions: 

 

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  2. Reduced professional efficacy
  3. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job

 

Aside from factors related specifically to the pandemic, other common factors that contribute to burnout include overwhelming workload, long working hours, staff shortages, an aggressive environment, and lack of support from management. If left unaddressed, burnout can cause lower productivity and quality of work, job dissatisfaction, low organizational commitment, absenteeism, and ultimately, turnover. 

While any employee in any company can experience burnout, there are some jobs that are at higher risk. Even pre-pandemic, employees in the medical field were at higher risk for mental health challenges. A 2019 study by Medscape found that 44% of physicians reported feeling burned out. Many physicians pointed to long hours and increased administrative tasks as a major source of burnout. One family physician even said, “All that paperwork sucks all of the enjoyment out of being a doctor.”

People in other types of high-pressure jobs, like sales, are also at risk of burnout and other mental health challenges. According to Sales Health Alliance, dealing with constant worries about hitting sales goals and dealing with constant rejection can make the sales environment a very difficult place to maintain mental well-being. Their latest survey of sales professionals showed that 43% struggle with their mental health.

Managing Zoom fatigue

For people working from home (and even many who don’t) video conferencing has become a huge part of our lives. While the ability to connect with colleagues, friends, and family members from the safety of our own homes has been invaluable in many ways, constant use of tools like Zoom has also caused very real mental health challenges for many.

Stanford communications professor Jeremy Bailenson recently shared with CNN Business the four causes of Zoom fatigue:

 

  1. ‘Fight or flight’ survival. A video call “smothers everyone with gaze,” so though your just staring at a camera, it simulates a confrontation and triggers your fight-or-flight instincts.

 

  1. Non-verbal internet cues. We’re not used to socializing in a virtual environment and our brains don’t know how to pick up non-verbal cues in the same way.

 

  1. Constant mirror and self-evaluation. The self-evaluation that happens when seeing yourself on video can make you stressed, and the effects are even worse for women. Bailenson mentions a study that shows long periods of self-focusing can “prime women to experience depression.”

 

  1. Stuck in the box. Zoom fatigue traps us in a box, which can limit our mental ability and cause our minds to act differently than when we’re able to move around.

 

Video conferencing may become less necessary as the world opens up, but it’s not likely to go away completely. But according to Bailenson, we’re not sentenced to Zoom fatigue and there are some things we can do to combat it.

“Collapse that self-image box so it’s out of view… it will be like a weight taken off your shoulders. Use an external webcam or opt for more phone call meetings — so you can get up and think out of that Zoom box,” he says.

Create boundaries and take mental breaks

Dr. Jessi Gold, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis, told NPR there are ways to spot the signs of burnout and regain some control. One of these ways is to tune into how you’re feeling at work each day.

“It can even be helpful to sort of note your mood throughout the day,” says Gold. “Like, ‘Every time I have a meeting with so-and-so, I feel horrible, and then every time I’m with this person or doing this thing, that’s where I find the most meaning.'”

Ron Friedman, author of the book, The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, tells Harvard Business Review that burnout often stems from a lack of understanding about what it takes to achieve peak workplace performance. “We tend to assume that it requires trying harder or outworking others,” he says, “which may get you short-term results but is physiologically unsustainable.” 

Friedman recommends taking regular breaks to restock your mental energy. “Take a walk or go for a run. Have lunch away from your desk. Stepping away from your computer gets you out of the weeds and prompts you to reexamine the big picture.”

Speak up and ask for help

As more people speak up and speak out about mental health, more employers are starting to pay attention. A 2020 Business Group on Health survey found that nearly half of large employers now train their managers to recognize mental health issues and an additional 18% plan to start in 2021. Plus, 54% of employers will offer free or low-cost virtual mental health visits this year. 

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of burnout or a more serious mental health condition, you are not alone and help is out there. Many employers offer an employee assistance program (EAP), that provides you with free resources, many of which include access to virtual counseling or therapy. You can also talk to your primary care doctor or ask them for a referral to a mental health professional. Or, you can search for qualified therapists in your area on the Psychology Today website.

Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are also available for help and guidance. (You can also call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.)

To learn more about strategies for managing your mental health at work, you can also download Mental Health America’s Workplace Mental Health Employee Support Guide: https://mhanational.org/employeesupportguide.

 

*Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and not intended to provide any clinical advice. It is only intended to provide general education and research around mental health in the workplace and provide links to available resources.

Making a Safe Return to the Office Post-Pandemic

For millions of professionals around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we experience work. Many non-essential employees began working remotely for the first time ever, and on top of that, working parents had to (somehow) get things done with kids at home doing virtual learning.

Now, with vaccines available to every American 12 years old and up, many businesses are starting to reopen their offices and invite employees back to their desks. Some are giving employees a choice between coming in or remaining remote, some are creating hybrid schedules allowing employees to come in just a few days a week, and some are asking their teams to return to the office for a full 40-hour workweek. There are even some companies that have chosen to close their offices for good, and will be keeping their workforces entirely virtual. 

No matter the scenario, there are still many things for both employers and employees to consider.

An anxious return to office life

Some people can’t wait to get back to a traditional office environment, and the mere thought of returning to conference rooms and watercooler chats is thrilling. But for some, the thought of returning to work — especially with COVID-19 still not completely under control — is stressful, and for some, even scary.

Cleveland Clinic psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD, shares that many people are experiencing what she calls “reentry anxiety” — a form of anxiety that spurs from apprehension about returning to work after socially distancing at home for an extended period. According to Dr. Albers, there are two forms of reentry anxiety.

“The first form concerns safety. People are anxious that when they leave their house, they may unknowingly contract COVID-19 or possibly spread it. The second type is around social interactions. Over the past year, we have been social distancing and lost practice of how to meet with people in person, look them in the eyes, and engage in everyday chitchat.”

Experiencing a bit of trepidation in this situation is normal, but for some people, the fear can be paralyzing, making the return to work that much more difficult.

Keeping yourself and your colleagues safe

As of July 2021, not quite half of all Americans are fully vaccinated. So the CDC recommends that businesses continue to follow certain guidelines that limit the spread of COVID-19 and help keep workers and the public safe. 

See the latest CDC recommendations here >

As new data is being evaluated and recommendations change regularly, it’s important for business leaders to communicate clearly and consistently with their employees on what to expect with their return to the office. 

“With your work environment, be sure to spell out what your expectations are and ask for your employer’s COVID-19 safety policy. Be sure to thoroughly read the policy. Your employer must follow the established safety protocols. If they don’t, you can point to the document and say, ‘Here it specifies that cleaning will take place,’ and ask any question you may have. Keep in mind that you don’t want to be combative when you have this conversation. Just make it clear that safety on the job is very important to you. Your safety is key and you don’t have to apologize for that,” says Dr. Albers.

What to expect with a hybrid work model

Employers and researchers alike have found over the last year that employees are just as (or more) productive when working from home. Because of that, many companies are transitioning to hybrid work models, in which employees can split their time between the office and home.

In a recent study, McKinsey & Company found that 9 out of 10 business executives expect to continue a hybrid model for roles within the company that aren’t essential to work on-site — with those employees working on-site 21-80% of the time, or one to four days per week. Yet, 68% of the companies surveyed do not have a detailed plan or vision in place for hybrid work.

So while it seems like hybrid work could become the new norm, there is still work to be done to implement it properly. Mark Mortensen, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior, writes in the Harvard Business Review that there are three things to consider when it comes to hybrid work:

 

  • Productivity. The ability to collaborate effectively when some (or all) employees are working remotely can vary by team, company, and industry. It’s important for leaders to determine their optimal mix of work arrangements that allows the organization and its employees to thrive.

 

  • Staffing. The pandemic has changed people’s expectations of how they should be allowed to work. Companies that don’t offer employees some level of flexibility may find they have a harder time retaining and recruiting top talent.

 

  • Culture. Company values, beliefs, and norms have historically been experienced firsthand, in person. As companies add more hybrid or fully remote positions, it will be critical to find ways to translate these cultural beliefs and experiences to the virtual world.

Adjusting to the new normal

We’re all adjusting to life after lockdown, and while many things will likely go back to the way they were, some things — like how we work — could see long-lasting change. The shift to more remote work opportunities, for example, can make jobs more accessible for people with disabilities, as well as the primary caregivers (most often women) of children or aging parents. This is good for businesses too, as they can recruit great talent from anywhere in the world.

If you’re returning to partial or full-time work in person and are having a hard time adjusting, be sure to prioritize not only your physical health but your mental health too. It’s important to keep your body and mind healthy as you deal with these changes.  

“This year has been traumatic for everyone. It’s no surprise that returning to work may trigger preexisting conditions such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. If you’re struggling, be sure to reach out to a mental health professional,” recommends Dr. Albers.

5 Great Business Podcasts for Your Summer Vacation

Summer is here and after a long (looong) year, many of us are ready to get out and take a roadtrip, visit family, or plan a vacation that involves relaxing near some body of water. But while you’re driving, flying, or lounging by the pool, there’s nothing better than throwing on a great podcast to pass the time. 

So we decided to compile a list of shows perfect for those who want to continue learning and growing professionally, while still enjoying some summer R&R. Here’s a quick list of five popular options for your listening pleasure.

#1 WorkLife with Adam Grant

This TED original podcast is hosted by organizational psychologist Adam Grant, who explores the science of making work “not suck.” Each week, Adam sits down to interview an industry expert, health professional, or celebrity about their experiences at work. Adam brings his own expertise and observations to the conversations and reveals deep insights in a friendly, accessible way. His list of past guests includes Daily Show host Trevor Noah, billionaire Richard Branson, Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood, and even the talented team at Pixar. 

#2 Brown Ambition

For over five years running, the popular Brown Ambition podcast has been helping listeners unapologetically build wealth by saving, investing, and making smarter career choices. Co-hosted by personal finance expert and journalist Mandi Woodruff and Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche, a financial educator and author of the bestselling book, Get Good With Money, this insightful and relatable show addresses everything from diversity and inclusion issues to wealth-building to getting a promotion at work.

#3 Business Edge

This list wouldn’t be complete without what we consider the best business podcast out there — Alpha Kappa Psi’s own Business Edge podcast! Co-hosted by the brilliant duo of Desiree Williams and Chrissy Vasquez, this show is dedicated to young professionals everywhere who are seeking career development and advice. In each episode, Desiree and Chrissy interview a new guest who shares their own personal and professional experiences and stories. Check it out and join us every other Tuesday on this professional development journey. 

 

#4 HBR: Women at Work

Hosted by Amy Bernstein, editor of the Harvard Business Review, along with Amy Gallo, author of HBR’s Guide to Dealing with Conflict, and Emily Caulfield, a senior designer at Harvard Business Review, the Women at Work podcast is true to its name and focuses on the issues women face in the workplace. From dealing with difficult (interrupting) male colleagues to more serious topics like narrowing the wage gap and gender discrimination, the ladies discuss it all. They interview experts on gender, share their own experiences and personal stories, and provide practical career advice for women. Guys should listen in as well, to better understand the issues women face, and for tips on being an advocate and ally in your own workplace.

#5 Side Hustle School

Looking to start a side hustle? Then this is the perfect daily podcast for you. The show is geared toward anyone who works a regular job but also wants to start earning some additional income on the side. In each episode, you’ll hear a different story from someone who has started their own side hustle. They’ll share what went well, the challenges they had to overcome, and where they’re at now in their career. The show is written and hosted by bestselling author Chris Guillebeau, and each episode is just 10 minutes long, making it easy to get a daily dose of hustlin’ inspiration, or, to binge multiple episodes while you’re laying at the beach this summer.

 

What great business podcasts do you recommend? Share with the community and tag us on LinkedIn!