The Changing Nature of work

Robert Chandis, Retired Human Resources Executive, Savannah, Georgia

Article | 12 June 2023
After graduating with an undergraduate degree in economics, Chandis began his career at General Electric and took part in their employee relations management training program. He would go to class at night and put his learnings to work during the day as he performed his work tasks. While upskilling and reskilling programs for employees were common before, they are not as prevalent as they once were. ILO Photo/Robert Chandis
“I’ve spent all my time in Human Resources, and I really enjoyed it. I like the exchanging of ideas and being able to influence and mentor other people. I am very happy to be able to do that in my career,” proudly shares Robert Chandis.

For the entirety of his professional life, Robert Chandis, currently a retired senior human resources executive based in the Savannah area, has worked in human resources for a variety of well-known multinational companies. Coming out of school he started working at General Electric (GE), on their employee relations management training program. He also worked at Hoffman -La Roche, Corning, and Exxon Mobil to name a few, where he spent 15 years watching the lives of 200 people and preparing them for CEO positions. and to name a few.

With a degree in Economics and a chance opportunity to work with an encouraging director at the school’s career services department, Chandis started his long and rewarding career.

“The director there was great and upon her suggestion and encouragement, I signed up for an interview with GE. Even though they were looking for human resources talent and I was an economics major, my director believed that they would consider me, so she literally got me involved with GE,” he recalls.

“Out of about 300 people interviewed across the US, my roommate and I were selected as part of 27 people that were hired that year, so we were very fortunate. So that’s how my career started.”

At GE, Chandis was part of the employee relations management training program and there he got involved in HR areas such as labour relations, compensation, recruiting, and selection. He recalls how he and his colleagues would work during the day and at night go for classroom training on Human Resources 101 in Crotonville, New York.

Now retired and living in Savannah, Georgia, Chandis spent his entire career life working in human resources and executive search for a number of multinational companies in the United States and in the Asia Pacific Region. ILO Photo/ Robert Chandis
The managers taught us at night and then they would reinforce everything to us during the day on the job. They had these training programs for the finance and engineering folks too, and I believe they still offer these fantastic programs,” he adds.

According to Chandis, companies today do not offer many of the competitive benefits they once did. “An awful lot has changed over the years,” he admits. “The companies I worked with back then had wonderful benefits including a pension and a savings program, continuing education which I took full advantage of. For example, my master’s degree tuition was fully paid for by Exxon when I worked there. Not many companies offer that incentive or benefits today, which means that individuals have to personally invest in their own development if they want to excel,” Chandis emphasizes.

In speaking about how companies recruit and how people get in touch with opportunities, Chandis says that has changed tremendously. “Everything is through technology these days,” he highlights . “Many jobs search and recruitment companies are relying on technology to screen candidates and narrow them down to the final few applicants and put them into some kind of a system. It’s very analytical but it lacks the personal touch aspect and in the soft skills area which I think is a huge challenge for applicants and employers in the marketplace.”

When asked to speak about the impacts of COVID-19 in the executive market, Chandis points out that selection is the biggest challenge. “It’s very difficult to do interviews via Zoom and figure out if people have the soft skills or not, and if it’s a good fit.”

For Chandis, the workplace today is very challenging, especially for managers and people in human resources. “How do you help an organization come together as a team if everybody is all over the place and you are only connected through a screen? For managers, it’s really tough to assess performance,” he points out.

“Personally I need to be in an office talking to people and be more social. I think that is what’s missing today. I personally don’t think people are as productive remotely as they are in the office because things can happen, and you need to shift your emphasis and your priorities.”

According to Chandis, technology has contributed to significant changes in work. Everything from how employees are hired, to how they communicate and perform their work tasks are impacted by technology. While there are great contributions technology has brought to the workplace, there is also a great disconnect and that has been created amongst employees through the use of messaging and video platforms, as well as remote work. ILO Photo/ Katherine Arntzen
A day at work for Chandis entails meeting with current or prospective clients, identifying their needs, and then mapping out strategy proposals on the best approach to conducting the search. The second half of his day would usually be more on the execution side working with his team in Shanghai.

As far as skills “Finding a match for a role is easy when you look at somebody’s background and experience. The tougher part is finding the chemistry, that you think the client would look for in terms of the organization fit,” he says.

“Understanding and knowing the client and the type of soft and cognitive skills they are looking for in a person are key,” underscores Chandis. “Employers are looking for leadership and strategy skills,” he adds. “They are looking for people that understand the customer, the market, and where it’s going. The candidate needs to have a network of contacts and be able to put a reasonable business plan forward.”

In terms of gender diversity in senior positions, Chandis highlights the progress in women’s leadership in research and development. “Women have done tremendously well in terms of their abilities and innate leadership skills.” He adds that women are getting more involved with operations and manufacturing processes. Nowadays, there is a growing presence of women in engineering. “In the old days, when I was recruiting for Exxon, it was very difficult to find a woman chemical engineer. I think women in the future will do very well,” he states.

Having witnessed and experienced so many changes in the world of work, for Chandis, the biggest lesson learned is, “to take ownership.” “Take ownership of yourself because nobody else is going to do it for you. Be sure to plan for yourself on a personal and career side- find what you want and like to do in terms of a profession and really go after it. Think not about the job you’re in but think ahead to the two jobs you want. That’s how you build a career.”