Although the Genesis of Covid was several years ago and many have adjusted to a new era of life, the true impact of the pandemic and how it will affect the future of work has yet to be discovered. This week we are joined by Heather E. McGowan – keynote speaker, thought leader, researcher, and author of the new book, “The Empathy Advantage: Leading the Empowered Workforce.” Heather and host John Hollon dive into topics such as acknowledging the impact of the pandemic, the future battle of remote work, reskilling vs layoffs, and the importance of promoting empathy in today’s era of work. Check out this exciting episode today!
Connect with Heather through her LinkedIn, her website, or Twitter @heathermcgowan, and for more insightful conversations visit www.talentexperiencepodcast.com. We hope you enjoy this episode of the Talent Experience Podcast!
John Hollon 00:25
Hello, I'm John Hollon, and welcome to the Talent Experience Podcast. Today's guest is Heather McGowan. Heather is a future of work strategist who helps leaders prepare their people and organizations for the post pandemic world of work. She's co-author of a new book, The Empathy Advantage: Leading the Empowered Workforce that will be published by Wiley next month. Heather works to transform mindsets and entire organizations around the globe, with her message about how the next phase of work will focus on continuous learning, rather than simply learning once in order to work. Exciting stuff, lots of changes going on! So Heather, welcome to the Talent Experience Podcast, we're so happy to have you here!
Heather E. McGowan 01:12
Thanks so much for having me, it's my honor to be here.
John Hollon 01:15
Great. You know, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out about your book. And the title of it really grabbed me because around this time last year, in March of 22, I was at the HR Transform conference in Las Vegas. This is probably the first conference I've been to, after the lockdowns started to open things up. And what surprised me when I came back and told all the people at Fuel50 about was how much discussion at that conference was about empathy. There was a tremendous amount about it. And it was all centered around how leadership needs to be more empathetic. And I'm sure this happened to be predicated on, you know, people had been working at home, or in some cases in a hybrid situation, but boy, everybody thought empathy, was like a really big deal. So that's why I wasn't surprised when I saw your book, because it seemed like, "Aha, somebody else heard that too!" So, talk a little bit of what made you want to write a book about empathy in the workplace?
Heather E. McGowan 02:29
Well, there's a few different things going on. So first of all, empathy is the underpinning of all innovation. So, you understand what a customer needs based upon understanding something they possibly can't even articulate themselves. So that's one level, empathy after a pandemic is understanding what people have gone through and frankly, I don't think we've been processed what we've been through. And then third, and this is where we're really the book comes in is, most leaders are leading teams of people who have skills and knowledge they don't have. That wasn't the case not that long ago, that is definitely the case today. So, if that's the situation, how do you lead that workforce? Because it's not by making decisions in certainty. It's not by command and control. It's how do I inspire these people? How do I help them connect to each other and collaborate? Because not only do they have unique knowledge from the leader, they have unique knowledge from each other. So, they need to work together collectively in order to do that. I think empathy is the key to unlocking that.
John Hollon 03:30
At the conference, there was a lot of discussion around empathy, and sort of the vibe I got was that leaders need to be more empathetic given what workers and employees have gone through over the last couple of years. Because it was a particularly trying time. I mean, even if people were happy working at home, everybody was still kind of up in the air on what's coming next and such, and they felt there was this leadership gap when it came to empathy. People at the top in management positions they were dealing with, didn't seem to have a whole lot of empathy for what people were going through, in many cases, not all, of course. But did that play into your book and into your thinking and what you write about in the book?
Heather E. McGowan 04:21
Yes, absolutely. So, we've lost, you know, over a million people in the United States, somewhere around one out of every 300 children have lost a primary caregiver in this country. So, it's going to impact not just this generation, but the next one. So, when I said we have not even processed it, I'm being sincere. I don't think we've even understood the magnitude of what we've been through. So, it wasn't the empathy we needed the last 1000 days. It's probably the empathy we're going to need the next 1000 because we have unprecedented levels of burnout, depression, and anxiety and it's particularly acute in Gen Z. The generation is just entering the workforce that will be at 30% of the workforce by 2030, that we haven't wrapped our heads around. So, it's certainly for the things they've been through. But it's also to connect and motivate them for the much larger, larger than this moment future.
John Hollon 05:13
Where do you think that leaders stand when it comes to empathy and being more empathetic with the people who work for them? What's your take on that? I know that you talked about, I was reading leaders today must acknowledge and respond to the fundamental shifts that lay the foundation for effective leadership. How are leaders buying on into that? Is this flowing from them? Is it flowing from the workers? Is it flowing from a combination of both? What did you find about this?
Heather E. McGowan 05:49
So, it's not necessarily flowing for the workers in there, it's a mixed bag, in terms of how they're doing. It is the part of the overall Zeitgeist. I mean, the workforce is empowered, we have a labor shortage, so the workers are feeling that power. And it's, you know, the pendulum may have swung a little too far to the workers. And so, but it's not going to go all the way back to the employers where it was before, where they could just dictate the terms of everything. You once exchanged your loyalty for security, that security hasn't been there for a very long time. And so now folks are saying, I want not just work life balance, work life integration. And for that, you need to understand what I've been through who I am, empathy also works to understand your consumers. It's incredibly powerful, but it's a massive shift in how we pick leaders. So, we used to pick the leader who was the unquestioned expert who could make decisions in certainty, who could drive productivity with domination, fear, and sometimes humiliation. Now that all backfires because you can't make those decisions in certainty, you don't have all that information, you have to understand your people, what they've been through and what they can contribute that you don't even understand. So, it's a massive shift that's beyond just the trauma of the pandemic. The trauma of the pandemic is very important, but it's bigger than that.
John Hollon 07:06
Do you think it's possible for leaders who weren't particularly empathetic before the lockdown to embrace empathy? Now, do you think that that's possible, and are you seeing it?
Heather E. McGowan 07:24
It's sort of like asking me, could I run a marathon? I mean, not today. But with some training, you know, we all have the potential we have a certain amount of potential. So certain managers will become more empathetic. Some may become very empathetic. It's just sort of like what's your potential, and how willing are you to work at it?
John Hollon 07:44
You know, I saw that one of the things that's in the book are these five interlocking trends, that you say brought us the empowered workforce, the great resignation, the great refusal, which was a new one to me, I have not heard of that one, the great reshuffle, the great retirement, and the great relocation which collectively delivered the great reset, can you talk about those a little bit?
Heather E. McGowan 08:10
Sure. So, the great resignation is one that people sort of understand and that some people see that as encompassing everything. I think that's a very big movement, but it's not new. Churn has been increasing an organization since 2009. Since the last recession, it's been building in increasing and so we've sort of understood the great resignation has been something that was 2021 to 2022. Till it turned out that more people quit their jobs in 2022 to 2023 than 2021 to 2022, so it continues to increase. And that jobs report we had the other day 517,000 jobs, we didn't see that coming at all. So, we definitely have an empowered workforce. (Inaudible) is going to increase. Gartner says it's going to be up about 20%. So that means the great resignation means your talent is mobile, the great retirement, I don't know why this was a surprise to anybody, we've been talking about the boomers as long as I think I can remember. We knew there was going to be a big wave of Boomer retirement, but we seem to be caught off guard with it. We also haven't done a good job of retaining some of the knowledge from the boomers and creating jobs sharing and fractional jobs to engage more boomers in the workforce, because we need the knowledge that they have, and we also have a labor shortage. The great refusal was folks saying, you know what, I'm not getting punched in the face for $7.50 an hour anymore. If we had kept minimum wage on pace with pre pandemic inflation, it would be in the neighborhood of $22 to $23 an hour so we're way off base. The great relocation approx is about 19 million people in the US are looking to change locations based upon where they want to live in, they'll figure out how work fits with that. And then the great shuffle or the great reskilling, both words are used as half, 53% of people who left their jobs between 2021 and 2020 to change careers or industries. So that's people working to their potential. That's a lot of movement. And collectively, that gives you the great reset. It's almost like you have to meet your workforce a new today.
John Hollon 10:11
Do you see companies or organizations that are doing that that you can point to? Or is it just sort of happening in bits and pieces here and there?
Heather E. McGowan 10:24
It's happening in bits and pieces here and there. There’re some organizations that are doing a better job at it than others. I think the tech, largely tech driven layoffs are getting all the attention right now. But they're a small percentage of what's going on. I think there are some great leaders out there that are doing a really good job trying to engage the workforce.
John Hollon 10:42
Well, you know, one of the things too, about the tech layoffs, which I agree with you there, they're getting a lot of attention as a lot of the tech things seem to, but they also have jobs posted, I saw some place that Microsoft, which just laid off 10,000 has 1000 job postings up. And it makes me scratch my head, you know, they're laying off people on the one hand, yet they're also hiring. And I know that there's always to think, well these are positions where the people who we had couldn't fill, I don't buy that completely. You would think that some of these people could have been maybe reskilled, which is what you keep hearing that companies need to be doing. So yeah, that's very strange.
Heather E. McGowan 11:32
Yeah, I can't wait till we're done with the fill and spill model. I mean, it's never ever been a good idea. Because you lose an incredible amount of tacit knowledge to gain a small fraction of explicit knowledge you think you don't have, and you don't know that the potential is in there in your organization. I mean, I love what Fuel50 does in terms of your talent, mobile organization, talent mobility, you try to help people find and develop the talent within the organization that you already have, and then you get loyalty, then you get trust, then you get the real fuel behind an organization is when you retain and you help people grow to the next best version of themselves.
John Hollon 12:08
That's the whole retention part of it, which you don't hear a lot about, although there's a little bit of, I'm finding on LinkedIn skirmishing between recruiters and managers pushing retention more than recruiting, which I sort of think maybe that recruiters are feeling threatened a little bit, that if there's more retention, there's less people that they have to find. I don't particularly think that that's like a big problem in the long term because there's always going to be a need for more people, you know, we've got this shortage of workers. But it's just sort of funny that there's this push and pull between retention and recruiting now.
Heather E. McGowan 12:51
John Hollon 12:54
If you had one thing that you think that you tried to write the book for and you want people to get out of it, what would that be?
Heather E. McGowan 13:03
I want the folks to understand that we have never, in my opinion, unleashed the potential of (inaudible) possible. We've picked people with special skills, we've trained them, and we put them in positions of power to have incredible impact in (inaudible). But we have not unleashed our human potential in mass. And I think, if we focus on developing people in your organization, you think about your goal in an organization is to develop your people to their highest level of capacity, if that was a mission of an organization, I think the value we create would be unprecedented. And so, in the book, we say that we got to make four shifts. First, a mindset from managing processes to enabling success, and that's developing people. Second, is a cultural change from peers as competitors, we pit them against each other, like they have redundant knowledge, who really now they all have unique knowledge and you need them as integral collaborators, with peers as collaborators. There is a shift in approach, extrinsic (inaudible) that work to learn and adapt at the speed, scale, and scope we're going to need. So, punishments, threats and wars are insufficient. You need to help people connect with their own internal drive that motivates them to learn and adapt on their own. And empathy is really an important part of that. And then finally, it's changing behavior. We do not need the unquestioned experts to drive productivity with domination or fear. We need humble curious learners who can inspire, create inspiration and effectiveness without burnout, and that takes knowing your people.
John Hollon 14:39
How much of a challenge will it be to get leadership in general and managers specifically to buy on into this kind of thinking? Because it's very new. It's very new, you know, I've been in the workplace for like a long time. And the thing that jumped out at me at HR transform last year, I had never heard empathy talked about. In 40 years of work, and then suddenly I'm at a conference coming out of the pandemic, and everybody's talking about it. So clearly people, the term resonated with people at the conference, which are mainly mid-level HR professionals. But still, those are those are people who drive a lot of what happens within companies. So, do you think this is going to be something that leaders buy into that they get that they're going to do? Or is it going to be one of these things that we've seen in the past where they're sort of dragged kicking and screaming, into this?
Heather E. McGowan 15:39
Some have already embraced it, some are embracing it, some HR leaders have long been waiting for this when they look across the organization. Some will resist it at their peril, in my opinion, because if you don't focus on unleashing the potential of your people, you're not focused on unleashing the potential of your organization. It's that simple. Human activity, human ingenuity is the driver of 90% of the value plus in an organization based upon a recalculation of the s&p 500. So, people are the greatest assets in your organization. If you focus on unleashing their potential, you will realize the potential of your organization.
John Hollon 16:17
Do you think empathy flowed out of so many people working remotely, and now in many cases in a hybrid manner?
Heather E. McGowan 16:26
I think it's a combination. I think the working from home, you know, you might see my dog run behind me or, you know, my wife walked into the room, and you started to see my whole life. So, you see more of someone's life or their kid come into the room, or their husband sick, or what have you, you see the reality of how they live, it's not something they leave behind anymore. So, on one hand, I think some empathy came out of that. I also think some empathy, and this is where we still have work to do, came out of what we've been through, I don't think we've processed what we've been through this has been really profound. Plagues reorder society. The Bubonic Plague gave us the Renaissance, the 1918 Flu gave us the Roaring 20's, I think the COVID pandemic is giving us a completely new era in work, and I think it does begin with empathy.
John Hollon 17:10
Well, it would be wonderful if, if a new Renaissance or a new Roaring 20's flowed on out of this. But I think you are right is that we don't really even know, you know, how bad it was and how it affected so many people. Although I did just see a story today that something like you know, 50% of like offices don't have people. And so, I think right now the next big battle is going to be over whether remote work is a viable thing moving ahead. Certainly, there are certain jobs that can't be done that way, but a lot of jobs can be and there are a lot of managers I know before the lockdown who didn't want people to work remotely and had to sort of swallow that, now they're starting to think twice about it.
Heather E. McGowan 18:03
Yeah, and you know, I think that's it's the wrong fight. I think what happened in the pandemic is people got agency, not just over their personal lives, but the integration of their personal and professional lives, and some of that came from where work took place, but also came from the ability to do work around your life. Pick up your kids at soccer practice, you know, drop your mom off somewhere, see your father to a doctor's appointment, you know, suddenly we realized that we wanted our lives, that they're really important, that we're not just living for our resume, but we're also living for a eulogy. And that 1000 days made us really think about the preciousness of life and the fragility of it and how we make meaning. So, I think the fights over where work takes place really is sort of just a symptom of something much bigger.
John Hollon 18:49
Well, that is a great note to end this on, and as always, these discussions go really quickly, and I wish we had time to talk about a lot more things. But we really appreciate being here. Heather, thank you for taking the time to be with us. It's been a great conversation, we wish you great success with the book, when exactly is it out again? Is it the first week in March?
Heather E. McGowan 19:13
Yeah, March 8th the book comes out, it's available of course on Amazon, try to support your independent booksellers, I like to say that as well. Any of your local places, but it can be found in a number of places. Pre-orders we can take now, there'll be an audio book in a couple months, Kindle should be available for preorder and our soon.
John Hollon 19:31
Great and again, the title of the book is the Empathy Advantage: Leading the Empowered Workforce. I gotta get myself a copy because that's right up with what I like to like to read about. So, thanks again, for Fuel50's Talent Experience Podcast, this is John Hollan. Thanks for listening!