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The Honest Future of Work: Jill Felska on Creative Mornings

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

Sometimes things just fall into place.

Giving October 2018's CreativeMornings San Diego talk was definitely one of those moments.

While speakers are usually picked months in advance, I was so drawn to the group's October theme of honesty that I reached out to my friend Nate letting him know I'd love to speak, if he needed someone.

I knew it was a long shot, but in the words of my dear friend Rachel, "You don't get what you don't ask for."

And boy am I glad I asked.

A few weeks after sending the original email, Nate reached out to see if I'd still be willing to speak. His original speaker had to drop out and he was looking for someone to take the spot. I think you can guess what I responded.

Fast forward ten days and I was up on stage in front of a crowd of 650+ people. It was literally standing and sitting room only:

Jill Felska speaks to the Creative Mornings audience on the future of work

While my heart was pounding before I hit the stage, the second I got going I felt right at home in front of the crowd. I'm not sure if it was watching my dad preach for all those years, the many Saturdays I spent at speech meets during high school, or some natural storytelling ability that was gifted to me at birth, but there are few things I love more than giving a talk on something I really believe in.

I hope you enjoy watching it, as much as I enjoyed giving it! I'm also leaving my full talking points here for you to follow while you watch.

To happier employees,


Jill Felska on the Honest Future of Work

In my 32 years of life, I’ve come to three pretty strong conclusions.

California sunshine is WAY better than midwest snow.

There is no more powerful force than community - and the one in this room is one of my absolute favorites.

And last, but certainly not least, I strongly believe that life is absolutely way too short to do work you hate… and that’s the one I’m going to focus on today.

Now let me just start off by saying this is not a talk about how you should quit your day job and follow your passion for knitting kitten mittens – although there’s nothing wrong with that, and I will definitely be your first customer.

No, this is a talk about improving the work environments that most of us spend a giant chunk of our lives in.

Think about it. Most of us spend more time with our coworkers and computers than we do with our friends and family. Feels like something we should give a little thought and attention to, yeah?

I’m glad you agree! The question becomes how in the heck do we make companies a better place to work?

As I’m sure you can imagine, I have a lot thoughts, actions, and ideas around this - but if I shared them all, we’d be here all week. Instead, I’m going to focus on one aspect that is incredibly important: HONESTY

How can we use honest conversations to help create better work environments?

This past June I launched a new company called Want To Work There, with the mission of helping companies attract, engage, and retain employees by improving their work experience.

Since launching, there’s one statement I hear over and over again from leaders who’re disappointed someone on their team resigned.

"I had no idea they were so unhappy. I really wish they would have told me!”

Seems simple - yes? In an ideal world sure, but in reality it’s SO HARD!

Show of hands, how many of you have been unhappy in a job before? OK, now keep your hands raised if INSTEAD OF QUITTING you proactively had an honest conversation with your boss in the hopes that things would improve?

Jill Felska is a leading speaker and thought leader on the future of work

Unfortunately, having honest conversations in the workplace is one of the hardest things we have to do. Not only are honest, productive conversations difficult to have in general, but now you throw a layer of politics, busy schedules, and a concern for your actual livelihood on top.

Heck, it’s no wonder we all end up complaining to our co-workers over drinks instead!

I have some good news for you

  1. Most bosses aren’t intentionally trying to make your life miserable. It’s not like they wake up in the morning and start brainstorming ways to make your life suck - although I know it can feel that way some time. Sure there are some masochistic crazies out there, but for the most part toxic cultures and bad management stem from three things, A lack of training, the use of management as a promotional tool, the trickle down of intense stress and pressure they’re feeling at work.

  2. The power dynamics in business are changing. More than ever, companies need you more than you need them. What do I mean by this? Well, it’s easier than ever for you to make a living wage freelancing, consulting, or even driving uber. Employees have more leverage than they’ve ever had - leverage that we can use to make change. The average cost of losing an employee can range from tens of thousands of dollars to 1.5-2xs that employees annual salary.

As you can see, this isn’t just happy workplaces being a “nice to have” it’s about their impact on a business and it’s bottom line.

So back to how we start having more honest dialogue in the workplace. For practical purposes, I’m going to divide the actions into two categories.

First I’ll cover three things you can do as a manager to encourage more honest feedback from team members.

Then we’ll cover three conversations you can start as an employee that will improve your experience at work.

Jill Felska is a speaker on the topic of people and culture, and founder of Want to Work There

Ask the right questions

  • This one seems so obvious! But the truth is we just get so caught up in the day to day that it’s hard! Our questions focus on getting projects updates and finding out what happened on that client call. And that’s TOTALLY normal! It’s also what makes intentional questions SO powerful!

  • These are five of my favorite, but there are so many you can ask.

  • I do recommend using open ended questions. There’s such a big difference between asking “Do you like your job?” and “What do you enjoy most about the work you do?"

  • It’s also important where and when you ask the questions. Last month Danny Kim talked about how distracting our technology is. Anyone else been thinking about how much time they spend on their phone since then?

  • Multitasking can kill honesty so quickly! I’m on a soapbox lately about shorter, technology free meetings - block out less time, but give it ALL your attention. Nothing makes someone open up like feeling like they’re really being heard.

Create an environment of psychological safety

  • So this next suggestion is by far the hardest to do, but also the most important. Who has heard the term psychological safety? Here’s the definition that is most clear to me.

  • PS got put back on people’s radars about two years back when google released the results from a study they did on high performing teams. Of all the things they measured the one that most consistently led to high performing team was an environment of psychological safety.

  • It’s a topic that deserves at least it’s own hour, but I wanted to at least put it on your radar. I definitely encourage you to learn more!

  • It’s something that doesn’t happen overnight, but the first step I would encourage is being the first to volunteer some vulnerability. We’ve all learned lessons as we’ve gone through our career. Instead of hiding them in shame, there is such power in sharing them and the lesson. Doing so not only makes you human, but also shows others on the team that it’s OK to make mistakes.

Follow Through

  • Nothing kills honest feedback like a lack of action.

  • In work environments, this happens more often than you would think. So often companies have really great intentions and send out an employee survey - but then never do anything with the results. Or even let you know what the results were. If it happens consistently, it becomes more harmful than not asking in the first place.

  • This doesn’t mean you have to take every suggestion though. It’s about hearing, acknowledging, and then letting the team know what is feasible at the moment and what things you could work towards.

  • For instance, maybe your survey unveiled the fact that newer managers are in need of some support and coaching to navigate their difficult new role. If you can’t afford bringing in someone to do executive coaching or team building, you could instead start a book club - purchasing each month’s title for the entire management team and carving out time in the calendar to host guided discussions.

  • What’s important is follow-up of some sort - even if that’s just ensuring they were heard and laying out a plan for the future.

Now some of you are sitting there thinking, that’s all great and fine - but I just started at a new company in a mid-level role a month ago. I can’t really do any of this.

Jill Felska gives a keynote speech on the honest future of work for Creative Mornings San Diego

Fear not! There are so many ways you can create a better working environment for yourself - regardless of your role or the current company atmosphere!

Share your personality profile

  • Sometime last year there was a Buzzfeed video floating around about "that friend" who takes all the personality tests – I am totally that friend! It never takes people long for me to ask if they know what their Myers Briggs or Enneagram type is.

  • While these are definitely generalizations, there is a reason they resonate and are so powerful. They give language to things that come naturally to us. It gives us a peek into triggers, behavior patterns, and communication preferences.

  • These are all great things you can pass along to your boss! Knowing yourself and being able to share these insights with your boss and team can only improve your interactions.

Consider your strengths

  • It was a popular management technique to focus on improving your weaknesses for many years. This changed when Dr. Donald Clifton dared to ask, “What would happen if we focused on what was right with people instead of what was wrong?”

  • SF helps you identify your talents or things that come naturally to you. When you invest in growing your talents, they become strengths because you can perform them to near perfection every time.

  • Gallup analysis reveals that people who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit their jobs.

Set boundaries early

  • Every time a friend starts a new job, I give them the same advice. Think about what boundaries are important to you and set them early. It’s easier to enforce them from the start then to implement later.

  • Example: not answering emails on weekends.

  • Of course, it is absolutely still possible to set boundaries anytime in your career - you just may get a little more pushback. But remember - you are a valuable company asset! It would be just as rough for them to lose you as it would be for you to lose them. I personally burnt out in my last role. As I look back and reflect, I wish I would have set better boundaries because without them I’m flamed out.

To close out my talk, I wanted to share a nugget that has stuck with me since I interviewed Simon Sinek a few years back. We talked about a lot of things, but this one really resonated. In true Simon nature it’s a little controversial, but so spot on.

HR for the most part, especially in large companies, is a waste of skin. And the reason is very simple. It’s because the directors of the human resources departments are not accountable to the employees, they’re accountable to the management. This means that their bonus structure, their own compensation, their own career paths are determined not by the peer reviews of the people they’re supporting - it’s determined by the person they’re supporting above them.

In other words, most HR professionals are doing the right thing for their boss, not the right thing for their people. And so most people don’t trust HR, because everyone knows that they don’t have our interest in mind. They have themselves and the management’s best interests in mind instead.

When we set up systems where loyalty to those higher in the food chain is rewarded over loyalty to the teams we serve, we’re automatically removing the opportunity for open, honest conversation. It’s time for this dynamic to change and the people in this room are the ones who are going to make this change.

Each and every one of us has the opportunity to do things differently as we step into leadership roles. The future of work is up to us and I personally can’t wait to tackle it together.

Thank you!

The audience cheers as Jill Felska thanks them after her talk on the honest future of work for Creative Mornings San Diego

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All images are courtesy of Creative Mornings.

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