Be More Podcast: The Two Most Impactful HR Trends with Dan Schawbel

Dan Schawbel, best-selling author and partner at Workplace Intelligence, discusses safeguarding employees working from home.

Be More is a weekly one-on-one podcast about how everyone can thrive in the new world of work, hosted by Workday’s Patrick Cournoyer. This week: Dan Schawbel, on safeguarding employees working from home.

What will be the biggest work-related topic over the next ten years? Mental health.

That’s according to Dan Schawbel, New York Times bestselling author and managing partner of Workplace Intelligence. Why? Mental health truly affects everyone in the world.

“This trend impacts everything,” says Schawbel. “450 million people globally suffered from mental health issues before the pandemic. You can only imagine what that number is now.”

Left untreated, it can be as costly as heart disease. In the U.S., major depression alone can cost employers $31 billion to $51 billion per year in lost productivity according to Mental Health America. The World Economic Forum reports that by 2030, the global costs of mental health problems will total more than $6 trillion. 

Besides mental health, COVID-19 has also thrown us all into the world’s largest workplace experiment, one in which many of us are working remotely and trying to maintain a work-life balance when working at home is starting to feel like “living at work.” And if we do go into work, we are experiencing a range of new and restrictive safety procedures.

In this episode, Patrick and Dan Schawbel discuss the impact of the remote workplace and the need for companies to focus on the health and wellbeing of their employees.

"The people we work with are more important than the work we do."

Dan Schawbel Managing Partner Workplace Intelligence LLC

Key Takeaways:

  • Working Remotely: the Biggest Workplace Shift in the Past Decade. Remote work is one of the key aspects of workplace flexibility. For employees, it offers both benefits and challenges. You can now apply to a wider variety of jobs without having to relocate, but you are competing with more people than before. Equally, companies now have access to a larger global talent pool, but they also need to invest more in technology to be able to filter through this huge number of applications.

  • Trust Is the Most Important Asset Right Now. Safety is among the top three things that employees are seeking out now. Prospective employees now evaluate whether a workplace is safe before applying. Safety is one of the key pillars that creates trust. Lack of safety means that there is no trust. Safety needs to be the entryway into starting a conversation about workplace trust.

  • The “Human” Aspect of Human Resources Will Be Amplified. Dan anticipates that over the next 10 years, the biggest topic will undoubtedly be mental health because it truly affects every single person in the world. And he sees HR evolving in two separate branches—machine and human. Some things will become more automated, but the human part in HR will be amplified. One way in which he sees this happening is through promoting mental health assistance. 


Patrick Cournoyer: Dan Schawbel is a New York Times best selling author. He’s the managing partner of Workplace Intelligence, which is a research and advisory firm working with some of the largest organizations across the globe with a focus on helping organizations adapt. With the pace of change that we’re experiencing today, adapting is really the only way forward for us all. Dan and I are going to talk about a few trends that he is seeing and how they are directly impacting business for today and for the future. Dan, thanks for spending some time with me today.

Dan: So happy to be here with you.

Patrick: Perfect. Let’s jump into the conversation and start with some of these trends that you’re seeing. You specifically work with these organizations around the world to help them with their HR functions. There are some very specific trends that are happening in the world of work today, and there’s a couple that we can talk about. Let’s dig into the first one, which is around the remote workplace and all of the implications that come with it. How do you see remote work having changed over the past couple of months and what it looks like for the foreseeable future?

Dan: Great question. I do think that remote work is the biggest workplace trend and shift over the past six-plus months. I say this because, in March, a fourth of the global workforce work remote for the first time ever, whereas I’ve been working remote for over 10 years. When I say remote work, I mean you can work anywhere you want. You don’t need to go to a physical office space, and this is one degree of workplace flexibility. In fact, a lot of people think that workplace flexibility is remote work. It’s synonymous with remote work, but flexibility is much more broad than that.

The reason why people work remote is mostly due to safety, but we could always work remote. Back when I worked for a Fortune 200 technology company, I created the first social media position for them in 2007, and I wanted to work remote. I’m an introvert. I like working remote. It lowers my commute time. There’s a lot of flexibility. A lot of benefits that a lot of people are grasping right now and experiencing is what I was looking for back then, and my manager explicitly said, “You can’t work remote because you’ll get your colleagues jealous.” Now, that company is one of the pioneers or early adopters when it comes to remote work.

Now, of course, you have over 60% or about two-thirds of the entire global workforce who are working remote. The ones that are not are typically in essential work positions or are unemployed for the most part, but a lot of companies are bringing percentage of employees back into their offices too, and that’s been a shift over maybe the past two months.

Remote work is one of the three economies. It’s usually the people who get to work remote are knowledge workers who don’t have to be in a physical office to be able to do their work. They can use all this technology at their fingertips. Part of the reason why they can work remote is because technology has enabled the remote workplace. Without this technology, you wouldn’t be able to do it.

My parents, when they were growing up, if they experienced a pandemic like the one that we are right now, they wouldn’t be able to work remote. The amount of layoffs would be tremendous. The economy would be so much worse. Then people who are essential workers are mostly hourly workers and people who are unemployed are unemployed. There’s three different economies, and we have to recognize that.

For remote work, it’s such a big trend. It’s been accelerated so much due to COVID that now the things that companies could have taken advantage of many years ago, they now are realizing that they need to take advantage of because we have a massive global talent pool and one of the coolest, most interesting and fascinating shifts is let’s say you lived in Idaho and you always dreamed at working at Google or Facebook or one of these remarkable technology companies that is changing the way we work and live, now you can apply for a job at those companies and not have to relocate. Now, this is key, and here are both perspectives. Companies can choose from a lot more people because they can hire someone who can work remote from anywhere in the world, for a lot of different positions that they have. From the worker perspective, they can apply for jobs all around the world and not have to relocate. Of course, there’s many reasons why people wouldn’t want to relocate. A lot of them have to do with family and just enjoying where they were brought up.

That is seismic, but it also creates new challenges. From the worker perspective, now they’re competing with so many more people, and from the employer perspective, now they need to invest way more in technology to be able to filter through all these applications. Google gets millions of applications a year, what if they get 10, 20 million now because everyone can apply and potentially get a job there? I think that’s a huge shift.

Then what goes along with this shift is localized compensation. Mark Zuckerberg, about three or four months ago, announced that, yes, their employees will be able to work remote up until maybe end of next year, and that you might be getting paid based on zip code. Then there’s a whole uproar about that because, of course, if you’re working in Idaho versus San Francisco, your cost of living significantly declines, and Facebook wants to therefore pay you less.

This has always existed, like if you work for a New York employer, you’re probably going to be paid more because it was more expensive to live there. It’s still very expensive to live there. It’s created all of these opportunities but all these new challenges as well, like any other trend.

Patrick: Do you see organizations starting to look at the total pay package that they have for potential new talent? We talk about pay, and I think that’s a very complex point for so many organizations. With this, now there’s big focus that employees and people have on making personal connections to their organizations, having similar values fit, cultures fit, the team that they work on. Do you find that organizations are starting to focus in on the more broad aspects of what could be looked at as a compensation package, and all these amazing aspects of businesses that go far beyond pay and starting to double down on some of that?

It just seems that the conversation is going to have to turn a little bit more away from just what get in your paycheck to what you’re gaining from the organization as a whole.

Dan: I’d say the compensation and benefits, for about a decade and through all the research I’ve done, compensation is still number one above any employee benefit. That’s been forever, and it’s for all generations. It’s the same for men versus women. It’s universal globally, especially in the United States. When it comes to benefits though, things have really changed over the past six months. One of the benefits that was never really a priority and is now in the top three of what job seekers are looking for is safety.

If you are a company that promotes workplace safety, for instance, let’s say you have a restaurant. On Yelp, if you’ve taken all these necessary precautions, it lists all the precautions you’ve taken and how you’ve created a COVID-safe restaurant environment for customers and employees by the way. You’re more likely to go to that restaurant because they’re saying that they have invested in making sure that you’ll be safe there. You’re more likely to purchase from them and work for them.

That’s really what people are looking for now because, at the end of the day, if the workplace isn’t safe, you’re going to have people who are just not going to want to apply for a job. It’s not worth getting sick and losing their lives or losing one of their family members’ lives, so safety has been moved up.

When it comes to the younger generations, I’ve done a lot of work with Randstad over what employee benefits they had looked for. What’s really interesting about them is flexibility, between 2014 and 2016, became the number one employee benefit over healthcare coverage and learning and development opportunities. Learning and development opportunities has always been up there for younger people. The older you get, the less you’ll see that in the top three or five. Then, it starts to move more to maternal, paternal leave as you get older and then retirement benefit as you get in the upper echelon.

That’s how I think a lot of these things are consistent. The thing that’s mostly changed is not the importance of compensation and the emphasis that workers put on it, it’s the prioritization of safety and not becoming a competitive advantage, especially if it’s documented such that people can just verify how safe your workplace is online, using their mobile phone or computer. I think the thread that ties everything together right now, and the leadership quality and environment that needs to be created is one around trust. Trust is the most important asset right now and forever, but definitely during COVID, and safety is one pillar of creating that trust. The lack of safety means that there’s no trust. Safety is really the entryway into starting a conversation with a worker right now. Leaders should create and cultivate a workplace that promotes safety and security are going to be the ones that build trust.

Now what’s really fascinating is entity of John Mackey, recently from my last podcast episode, is the CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods. What he said, which is fascinating, was that Whole Foods had been building trust for so many years, it’s like putting deposits in a bank, but now with remote work and through the study I recently did with UKG, which is Kronos and Ultimate Software, they just combined, the study I did with them, which’s really interesting, is we found that if you work remote, you’re trusted less. What John said, with all his remote workers now, is that is starting to chip away at the trust, people working remote, is chipping away the trust, it’s like cashing out on those deposits. Thus, eventually, the trust is going to suffer greatly and then there’s going to be a whole rebuilding period.

I thought the way he described it was really interesting and it makes a lot of sense because study after study shows that the best way to convey trust is being in person with someone. Technology right now cannot replace that and potentially might never replace it. At the same time, again going back to what I was saying before, technology has enabled all of the economy to even somewhat operate right now. I think we have to be thankful that this technology exists and the bandwidth is high enough. I think there should be a big router and modem at the center of the earth giving every single human being WiFi. I think it should be as common as water.

Patrick: I think we may eventually get there, right? because everybody is so dependant on it right now. To your point, economy is dependant on broadband right now because that’s how businesses are running. You were talking about this fast trend around remote work and the remote workplace, and that is just the way how business is operating today and for the foreseeable future. You talked about trust and businesses that are doing well right now are the ones that are focused on trust or one element of that is being focused on creating a strong trust bond with their employees.

What are some other examples that you’re seeing in the businesses that you work with that are handling this shift to remote work well? Where else do you see positive examples of this working really well for an organization?

Dan: The one that comes to mind first, I don’t work with them, but my friend just got a job with them at the start of the pandemic, and he’s been very happy. One of the big disruptions when it comes to hiring has been onboarding. You get them in the company, but normal onboarding is you’re actually meeting your colleagues in person and getting acquainted to the physical environment which’s a co-part of company culture. You get to see and feel when you’re in an office, which is some of the senses that give us an employee experience that is memorable and that reinforces culture. That’s been difficult for a lot of companies.

He says that his onboarding experience at his company has been really great because a lot of the unnecessary things that happened in physical onboarding at an office is cut out completely. It’s almost like onboarding during COVID has forced companies to be more efficient with onboarding and remove a lot of the bottlenecks that extended and complicated for new employees.

Using all this technology, a lot of them have given like as well, they’ve given an allowance so that their workers can buy this technology equipment and then leverage the equipment to create their home office. In fact, I saw one study that said half of remote workers had a room designated as a home office right now. That’s becoming more common, but these office suppliers and this technology can be expensive. He said, and I’ve heard this from many other companies, is that they get a stipend for that. That should be more common as people work remote.

He said that everything is seamless through a corporate portal where it gives you all the information you need and then all of that information is reinforced through corporate happy hours using Zoom and just casual conversations with employees calling other employees. I think that’s really important because when you’re not with someone, you have to overextend on communication and collaboration. If you only communicate with someone once a day, you have to at least double that. I think the other thing that’s been a trend between March and more recently is people are getting sick of Zoom video. At the beginning, people saw it as necessary. People enjoyed it. They thought it was cool. Zoom stock went through the roof. Now, I think people are realizing that you can get fatigued from it, that with all these nonverbal cues, it can really exhaust you. There’s been a little bit of pushback, but at the same time, if you’re not seeing and hearing from colleagues for an extended period of time, that can be a huge issue too.

I studied for my last book, Back to Human, I studied work relationships and connectivity at work, and people who work remote globally are much less likely to want a long-term career at their company because of a lack of connection, because people anchor you to a company. Of course, if you’re in person, if you’re within a physical space, you’re able to develop deeper relationships with people because you’re getting more of their energy and personality and things that are harder to convey using technology.

Patrick: The really interesting statistic or statement around, remote workers are less likely to have a long-term career with one organization. I definitely agree with you on that. That’s going to be a significant challenge for so many organizations for the future because remote work, or at least hybrid working or some sort of fragmented work experience is here for the foreseeable future.

That focus on connection and how organizations evolve to maintain or even increase that level of connection when we’re all not going into offices, that seems to be a very significant focus area that every organization is going to have to think about because interpersonal connection is so important, as you said. It’s also how people measure their happiness or what they like at work is the people that they work with.

Dan: 100%. Yes, because they age all saying you don’t leave a job, you leave a boss. I think the core work experience is the work you do, and the people you do it with. That’s the core. Then you have all these other elements, like eventually for more people being in a physical space and interacting in that respect.

I would argue that the people we work with are more important than the work we do, and here’s why, is because if you’re not passionate and excited about the work you’re doing, it’s bearable with the support of your colleagues, they can help you become more efficient or add in maybe new projects that you could enjoy in the future or you could get promotions that could or you could move within the company. There’s the rise of internal mobility, and that could be useful.

If your colleagues are toxic and they spread gossip and they make your life very tough and you don’t feel like you can get ahead at work, then that’s the ultimate deal-breaker. You only going to be able to handle that for so long before you start looking for another job. That’s why knowing and appreciating and connecting with people you work with is so important, especially because we spend a third of our day working, we spend a third of our day not working, and a third of our day sleeping.

Then now our work is our home and our home is our work, so the work-life is so blended now that if you are suffering in some capacity for mental health problems or your colleagues are bullying you, let’s say, virtually, that’s going to hurt your home life. It’s going to hurt the relationships you have with maybe your wife or your husband, your children, friends, family, could make it harder to sleep, could affect every aspect of your life. We have to look at work-life in a more holistic way.

The reason why I got into doing what I do, in many respects is I saw the impact of work on home or overall life. If you have a great work experience, your entire life improves. That’s really my philosophy, and that’s why I focus so much on work-life topics because I see the connection and that connection is deeper and tighter than ever before because of this world we live in where people are working from home.

Patrick: That’s great. Move into the second trend, which is around the need for companies to focus on health, wellbeing, mental health of their employees, and their workforces. Why do you think this trend is even more significant today than it was just six months ago?

Dan: There’s no question that the biggest topic, even above remote working over the next 10 years is mental health. 100% agree, bought in. Will probably write a book on this. This is the biggest topic. It’s the biggest topic because it affects every single person in the world, different from remote work that affects at least temporarily two-thirds of the global working population. This trend impacts everything. 450 million people globally suffered from mental health issues before the pandemic. You can only imagine what that number is now. It affects everyone in a sense where you’ve either suffered from mental health issues in the past, you’re currently suffering, or you interact with someone who does. It’s inescapable, and it should be treated much like physical health.

You’re seeing the rise in employee assistance programs, that’s what they call them within organizations. It’s deemed an employee benefit, and I believe that over the next several years, it’s going to become one of the most important employee benefits. In fact, I think part of how HR will evolve, they’ll evolve in two ways. One is machine, one is human. I think the machine part is a lot of these traditional HR positions will be automated, like I would say maybe compensation and administrative tasks will be gone, but like more of an emphasis on– and then just more technology to make HR more seamless and functional.

It will create new, more human-based jobs, so the human and in human resources is going to be amplified because there’ll be more of the connecting tissue between employees and wellbeing programs and mental health counselors. I think that you already have Starbucks, Suppotley, the MBA, Ernst & Young, all these organizations, JPMorgan Chase, we could go on and on, they all have employee assistance programs that specifically promote mental health assistance, offering– For instance, Starbucks gives 23 hours of virtual or in normal times in-person therapy, and then they give access to all these apps like Headspace, these mindfulness these apps too.

I think this is where we’re headed because it’s impossible to fully realize your potential at work and be as productive as possible if you’re constantly worrying about and stressed out about how you’re going to pay your bills and you’re burned out because you’ve been working too hard and people have been working even harder during this pandemic, right? Because even though you might be saving an hour on commute time, you’re re-investing or reallocating that hour in terms of working more.

People are working upwards of maybe 10 hours more per week, and all that time, it just wears you down and it becomes counterproductive, so the quality of your work starts to decline. It’s not like people are taking so many vacation days right now, where are you going to go? That adds into the whole burnout crisis, and I did a whole huge study with Kronos on burnout years ago and it’s very relatable. It’s relatable because there’s more pressure on the workforce more than ever before.

We are in a culture of permanent. I wouldn’t say permanent, but permanent uncertainty, right? Like who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow? Who knows what’s going to happen in six months? It makes planning harder. It makes us have to react more. I’ve done studies earlier in my career about what are you asking managers? What are you looking for when promoting? Asking recruiters what soft skills they’re they looking for when recruiting?

Adaptability was never that high in the list. I think it’s going to get way higher. I think you’re going to just have to always adapt. You’re just constantly a work in progress and adapting to the changes in your environment. I’ve talked a lot about organizations and what they’re doing and remote working and mental health programs, but as an individual standpoint, you’re going to have to be able to be comfortable with change because it’s constant and things are just so uncertain, and this uncertainty is never going to go away.

The most important thing that I’ve told all of my peers and friends and colleagues and clients is accept our current conditions as the new normal, and then as that new normal evolves and changes, then adapt to that. That’s the best way of looking at it instead of saying, “Oh, in eight months, it’ll be like this or two years things will be like that.” We need to stop doing that. People don’t even know everything about coronavirus [laughs]. How are you supposed to know how it’s going to play out? For the flu, there’s just too much we don’t know still, even though we’ve been in this for over six months.

Accept this as the new normal, wear a mask, and then as things change, adapt to those environmental changes and a new normal will be perpetually changing.

Patrick: I fully agree with you, Dan. If there’s one thing that we can all focus on and focus on it in a positive way, to be adapting to something new can be extremely positive. I think it’s all in how we look at the perspective of adapting and that’s it from an individual perspective, but also I think organizations have a great opportunity to build a future that is right for the time and the place and the people that they have. It’s just there’s a lot of unintended outcomes of this past year that I believe that a lot of organizations are going to not only have they learned from it, but they’re going to be able to utilize that to build a stronger organization, build stronger cultures, build stronger connections between employees, more focus on employees. Focusing on the things that really matter, like you said mental health and well-being and their employees because I remember hearing a while ago about if you focus on your employees, your business will follow. I’m sure that’s been said by many people, but I think that’s could not be more relevant than it is today.

These trends that you’re talking about are very relevant and real for every organization. I know everybody listening is fueling this angst on what the future’s going to hold, but I think you summed it up really well with we need to accept where we’re at and adapt and that’s how we’ll be able to move forward. It’s just realizing that we have no control over what the future is, but we just have to go with that.

Dan: Good summary.

Patrick: [chuckles] Dan, I very much appreciate your insights, your time. I’m excited to read your next book, and thank you for spending some time with me today. I appreciate it.

Dan: Thank you. I appreciate it.

More Reading