The Future of Work: Lessons from the dinner table

5 min

– Article in partnership with Swiss Re –

With young talent, the gut feeling that their basic needs are being met is increasingly important for them to commit to a role. Two technology experts with an appreciation for culinary pleasures, Antonio Grasso and Pravina Ladva, reflect upon how skill-hungry organizations can attract and retain talent. They find vivid parallels between the desire for good food, which is about more than calories, and the need for a fulfilling job, which is not just about a paycheck but also about purpose.

Future job prospects

Against the backdrop of an ongoing pandemic, a war in Ukraine, rising inflation rates, and sociopolitical upheavals, our choices are becoming inextricably tied to our feelings and emotions. Increasingly, we are motivated to choose what makes us feel good, what attracts us, and what satisfies our basic human needs; real nourishment and sense of life.

On the cusp of a digital transformation, talented professionals wield an incredible power: they play a key role in determining the success or failure of organizations — not least because they have become a rare resource with an abundance of options at their disposal.

This keeps business leaders up at night: How to attract and retain the best talent after the pandemic has revolutionized our workplace culture? Antonio Grasso and Pravina Ladva discuss what we can learn from our culinary preferences that informs how we can approach attracting and keeping talent.

Just as eating is more than caloric intake and nourishment of the body, work is more than a salary. Share on X

Antonio Grasso’s reflections from Naples

As an Italian who loves food, it will come as no surprise that I see the solution at the heart of my culture. But my insights hold irrespective of place and time because they are based on universal, human needs.

Let me start by saying that equating food with mere subsistence is unthinkable to me. Fueling my body is only one part of what I choose to eat. The sensory experience and pleasure that I feel when I eat a delicious meal — combined with the social aspect of dining with my friends and family — is what nourishes me and what leaves me coming back for more.

In fact, whenever I choose our weekly restaurant, I start by creating a mental list of the ones where I’ve had good experiences. But if I want to discover a new place, in addition to reading the menu, I read the restaurant’s reviews so that I can be confident in knowing that we will have a similar experience.

Granted, like many of you, I have a favourite restaurant — the one I’ve returned to countless times over the years and that gets me excited each time I think about it. Beyond the quality of the food and the impeccable service, I am drawn in by the breathtaking views of the Sorrento Coast, the reception I get when I step into the door, and the warmth I feel when I reflect on my time there.

The main takeaway is that I want the best possible experience, and I feel fulfilled in knowing that someone is ready, willing, and able to provide me with it.

With that being said, I want to return to the question of how skill-hungry organizations can attract and retain incredible talent. Conveniently, everything that I said above, about food, applies here:

  • Just as eating is about more than caloric intake and fueling the body, work is about more than a paycheck. We work to give our lives meaning, to contribute to society, and to take pride in our accomplishments and efforts.
  • The more appealing our work is and the better it aligns with our values and the vision that we have of our lives, the more likely we will be to excel in our role and view it as our vocation.
  • Other peoples’ honest, unbiased reviews can reassure us, make us feel like we are part of a larger community, and foster reciprocity.
  • Being respected makes us feel special, esteemed, and encourages us to keep showing up.

These same principles, life lessons, and values extend into the contemporary workplace.

Respect for the dignity of work, ensuring that staff have a positive overall experience, and providing them with a sense of gratification and importance are the no-fail recipe to attract and retain talent.

future work

Pravina Ladva’s thoughts from London

My favourite restaurants do not have a view of the Sorrento Coast but after a busy week I enjoy a good meal with friends — either at home or in a lively restaurant in town.

I can very much relate to the parallels Antonio draws between the experience that attracts you to a restaurant and that attracts talent to a company. In addition to the needs of guests he describes, I am really inspired by the authenticity of a place. I tend to enjoy dining at restaurants where the focus is on seasonality and regionality of products rather than on fancy imports and decoration to distract.

For me and even more so younger generations that have the privilege of choosing from hundreds of great restaurants in London, we’re looking for an authentic experience which is customised to our individual requirements. Especially when I go out with younger relatives or colleagues, in many cases I notice that they expect the host to offer various options — whether it’s vegan, lactose-free dishes or other requests.

Taking this to the working environment, I want employees to feel fully nurtured in their job — for them to have the freedom to be creative and access to information and experts to nourish their minds. They should feel welcome in an atmosphere that gives them the confidence for trial and error and the conviction that their employer can adopt the environment to their needs, such as with flexible work options.

Just as a restaurant cannot survive by offering the same dishes, we as employers have to evolve and rethink what we offer. Particularly since the onset of the pandemic, we have to be adaptable as many people rethink their lives and how they work. Talent is sparse, and many organisations are after the same skill sets and people.

One thing that strikes me again and again is that a clear purpose and development perspectives have become much more important for individuals. At Swiss Re, our teams are motivated by our vision to make the world more resilient. We pursue this in a sincere and consistent way, and I often get comments from talents who say they really identify with our purpose.

Of course, there is a lot of data out there on the needs and requirements of talent. But when you boil it down, empathy is what helps us understand how humans think, feel and act. If we can appreciate another person’s point of view, we are much better at catering to their needs — whether as a host or as an employer. The lessons about human characteristics Antonio and I learn at the dinner table transcend culture, time and place.

– Co-author Pravina Ladva, Swiss Re Group Chief Digital & Technology Officer –

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