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The Great Resignation & The Future Of Work: Lindsay McCutchen Of Career Start On How Employers and Employees Are Reworking Work Together

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Work to Live. I truly believe there is a mass cultural shift underway where people’s careers are taking a second (or third or fourth) chair to their home lives. Employers will need to increasingly understand sentiment and preferences regarding childcare, elder care, personal health, hobbies, etc.

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 Lindsay McCutchen.

Lindsay McCutchen is founder and CEO of Career Start, a staffing and workforce management firm headquartered in Rochester, NY, that provides service throughout the Northeast. Lindsay founded Career Start shortly after graduating from college and leading a county government job placement program, which inspired her to continue working in the industry through her own company. Since founding Career Start in 2007, she’s led her team in placing thousands of qualified candidates across the country and has grown the internal team to over 60 employees.

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.

The first was managing to graduate from college while working three jobs; the second was piloting a job placement program through the Monroe County Department of Social Services. I had the firsthand opportunity to understand the needs of workers and to see the experience of vulnerable populations. I wanted to translate my experiences into meaningful opportunities for anyone seeking employment. I’m extremely grateful that I’ve been able to materialize my mission into something that’s helped thousands of people find work with dozens of top-tier companies. In many cases, the people we help find jobs are going to work for the very first time.

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?

People will still desire fair pay, opportunities to grow and environments filled with mutual respect. Workplaces will still grapple with finding and keeping talent and navigating constantly changing economic conditions. What will be different is the cultural imperative. Benefits packages will be wildly different than what’s available today; it’s easy to see that employee offerings in 2022 are far different versus 1990 versus 1950. There’s now so much additional emphasis on the core components of work-life balance, with new focuses on family togetherness, in-office wellness and exercise, accessible and healthy meals… the next 10 years will likely see a significant uptick in consideration for hobbies, volunteer time off (VTO) and other currently “fringe” perks.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

Be ready to be flexible. The days of information asymmetry, where people stayed at a single employer for decades due to a lack of awareness of better options, is long over. Your organization is your people, and you must constantly reevaluate your culture. Staying competitive on employee retention is just as critical as staying competitive on pricing or product features.

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?

There are two main gaps: compensation and environment.

In terms of pay, between social media and workplace platforms like Glassdoor, there’s never been more insight into what you could be making. One thing I see some employers (mistakenly) do is to try and control intra-office discussions between employees regarding salary. No SOP will ever confine watercooler talk; be proactive, and if your people need more than cost-of-living adjustments, you need to be prepared to address that. It’s expensive, of course — but it’s not as expensive as having to pay for onboarding time at an elevated market rate because you need to backfill your former star employee you were keeping at a discount.

It’s harder to fix your actual work environment. It’s necessary to ask with any change — is this “benefit” catering to my company’s needs, or is it truly for my people? Employees are craving more, and they’re getting it from companies with leveled-up awareness. Pay is important, but once it’s addressed, it’s important to validate the magic behind pay. If you can figure out the formula for a higher level of intrinsic happiness and positive energy, that will win. It requires investment, but if your people live in a space of happiness, learning and growth, you can assign a multiplier on every dollar of wage or salary they receive.

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

I’m not sure anyone can predict the long-term impacts. We do know that you can’t uncross the Rubicon. Now that employees have collectively experienced this new dynamic, they’ll never forget, and most will never want to go back to the exact state of the world that was February 2020. With that in mind, I think the opportunity cost assessment of every employee considering a career has become far more complex. It’s more than just Salary+Insurance+401(k)=Package; it’s now factoring in time saved commuting, money saved in gas and professional clothes, hours saved in sleeping in, etc.

Ultimately, it’s about energy — we’ve seen businesses that shifted to full WFH and completely forfeited their organizational culture and unity in the process. Many people need to demarcate their home and work lives using spaces. The pendulum will likely swing back to on-prem for collaboration, but long-term, I truly see the need for both on-prem and WFH. The option is what’s key.

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?

Anything that supports individual flexibility. The pandemic raised so many impossible-to-answer questions that required real-time navigation. What do I do if I have work but my child is attending school from home? How can I afford to take care of myself and my parent who can’t work due to comorbidities? If I’m a prior offender, how can I reenter a workforce that’s desperate for workers? I believe Congress is exploring several initiatives that support flexibility, everything from UBI-like programs to a standard 32-hour workweek. It’s hard to say what will materialize long-term, but I’m confident employees will discover an increased ability to determine their own schedules.

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

There was a two-year reflection period where people could actively discover what was important to them as it related to their individual careers. There’s new focus on living well while working, as opposed to working hard with minimal consideration on life outside of work. We’re rapidly migrating away from the cookie-cutter corporate model that existed for the better part of a century; there’s a real-time explosion in the diversity of thought and preferences, and I think that will birth all kinds of awesome innovations and offerings that are tailored to make people’s relationships with their vocations far healthier.

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?

For us personally at Career Start, we’re taking innovation in our team’s wellbeing extremely seriously. We saw the sheer expense (and health impact) of people buying lunch every day, so we hired a private chef to cook everyone free healthy breakfast and lunch. We knew people wanted to stay fit but struggled with a concrete gym schedule, so we built an on-premises gym and bring in a yoga instructor twice a week. We set up a dedicated meditation/privacy room, we started leadership courses focused on self-development, we run annual walking challenge with prizes, we began offering an additional paid holiday (Juneteenth); all of this has paid dividends, not just in reducing attrition or making folks come into the office, but just making our people happier. Enable people to help themselves first and those benefits will percolate through the organization.

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?

Companies need to listen. Any good business will make significant investments in understanding market and consumer sentiment, but sometimes those same businesses ignore direct feedback from people in their own buildings. Culture needs to be driven from the top down, but it can’t be built in a vacuum and dropped on teams. Every employee is reevaluating their circumstances right now. If you want the end product of those reevaluations to be retention and long-term satisfaction, ask your people directly: What can we do better for you and your work?

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

  1. The Modified Workweek. You’ve potentially seen this as 4 10s, 4/9/4, Fridays off, etc.; I think various models will become very competitive and popular over the next several years as employers leverage sub-40-hour weeks or alternative day structures as benefits.
  2. Distributed Teams. This is specifically relevant for knowledge economy workers, but the proliferation of cloud-based productivity platforms has made it insanely easy to work across geographic boundaries. Expect to see more SaaS offerings that seek to replace or disrupt standard office practices become even more commonplace (e.g., Zoom’s explosive growth during the pandemic).
  3. Hybrid Model. This is already becoming standard fare, but the concept of choice of where to work — home or office — will only increase over the next several years. We at Career Start have already adopted “Hot Desks” (daily rentable desks and offices), but we’re also cognizant of folks on both sides of the spectrum — those who want to be in the office every day and those who NEVER want to be in an office again.
  4. Strategic Urban Attraction. In some cases, you’ll see smaller cities paying workers to relocate to their areas while they work 100% remote. After all, why not get paid a San Francisco or NYC salary while enjoying the cost of living in Bentonville or New Haven or Topeka?
  5. Work to Live. I truly believe there is a mass cultural shift underway where people’s careers are taking a second (or third or fourth) chair to their home lives. Employers will need to increasingly understand sentiment and preferences regarding childcare, elder care, personal health, hobbies, etc.

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?

Voltaire — “Be bold, proclaim it everywhere: They only live who dare.” I encourage every business leader who is facing a crisis of culture — whatever you do, be intentional, take no half measures, and take pride in any course of action done for the betterment of your people. Now is the time to take risks, to make hard decisions and show your team that they actually matter.

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.

Authority just did a fantastic piece with Sly Phifer from Disney, “The Five Things You Need to Shake Up Your Industry.” One of my core values at my companies is to “Disrupt the Drift,” and I have a tremendous amount of respect for leaders who are proven innovators and disruptors. Constantly evaluating your business, your industry, your day-to-day work, and choosing to reject complacency — it’s hard to do, but I challenge myself and my team to prioritize it.

So in addition to Sly, I always want to talk to anyone who is great at shaking things up (even when it’s uncomfortable).

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?

I love to connect with folks on LinkedIn, and I share/interact with content I find interesting almost every day. Follow me at linkedin.com/in/lindsay-m-2b962730

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

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