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Transcript: Future of Work: Leadership & Employee Well-Being

MS. ABRIL: Hello, and welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Danielle Abril, a reporter who covers technology and its impact on work for The Washington Post. Today we have two segments on the future of work, so I encourage you to stick around.

First up, we have Tim Ryan. He’s the U.S. chair and senior partner at PwC, and he joins us to discuss leadership and employee well-being in a changing workplace. Welcome, Tim.

MR. RYAN: Hi, Danielle. Thank you for having me. It’s great to see you.

MS. ABRIL: Yeah, great to see you as well.

And remember, we always want to hear from you, our audience. You can share your thoughts and questions for guests on Washington Post Live by tweeting at @PostLive.

So, let’s go ahead and get started. I’d love to pick up, Tim, on where the video left off. A company-wide vacation may sound intriguing to some folks. Can you tell us a little bit more about when it started, where it came from, and what the expectations are moving forward?

MR. RYAN: Yeah, absolutely, Danielle. Something we've done for the last 10 years is we've given the week in--the holiday week in December. We've done that and we've always taken that off. It's 10-plus years old. Feedback from our people has been tremendous. While we--while we get a generous vacation package, what they've told us around that holiday shut down is it's incredibly valuable to them because we all take it off, so email traffic goes down, the pressure of connecting with each other goes down, and people can really enjoy the time off without being interrupted, because vacation isn't just about being away from work. It's actually not being interrupted and having time to refresh and re-energize.

So, as we listened to our people, we said we should do this again, because, while, we encourage everybody to take their individual weeks or sabbaticals, what we really found out is that is the most valuable time. So listening to our people, getting feedback on how we can evolve the firm, we tried it this July 4 week, and it was a homerun. We not only got formal feedback from our people around--were they able to take the time off uninterrupted--we also qualitatively--we heard from thousands it was the best week of the year because we were all off and they got to enjoy the Fourth of July holiday.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. And so, is there an evolution of that here, and are others following in your footsteps? Are you seeing a lot more companies now trying to do this as well?

MR. RYAN: So, Danielle, the answer is yes. But I'll actually take a step backwards if I can, because as I travel the country and the globe, what I'm hearing from CEO after CEO, board after board, executive after executive, is something's changing here. What's clearly happening is workers have a different value proposition, expectations for their employers, like, are you going to do things differently? Work is evolving. Frankly, the debate around physical versus virtual, that is really yesterday's conversation. And what CEOs and leaders all across the world are saying is, our employees are asking for something different. So, I do see it evolving.

I see protected time off, and we see it at PwC as just one element. The reality is the world has changed, and I think it's for the better and we think it's for the better. At the end of the day, when you look at the major trends that are out there, the worker shortage, the power that workers have today is stronger than ever, and we don't see it going away. Some have said to me, Tim, are we one good recession from having the power go back to the employer, and we don't believe that. And the trends would support our view that we don't see it changing.

Some of the trends, Danielle, the reality is for the last 15 years, the U.S. has been an aging workforce. We're seeing full time workers decrease. We've also seen for the last 15 years that the contracting work or the gig workforce is increasing. We're an aging population. We saw 5 million people leave the workforce in the pandemic. We've closed our borders from an immigration perspective, which all points to workers having more power. Whether we hit a recession or not, we don't see it changing, especially when we see new business formation.

So, the question then becomes, what are we going to do change? Protected time off is just one element. And what I'm encouraged by as I'm seeing the dialogue in the C-suite shift from are we going to get the power back, physical versus virtual, to a more holistic approach of which protected time is just one element.

MS. ABRIL: So just to clarify something you just said, which is really interesting in that power dynamic, so the power that employees have now, that's something that won't go away, despite economic conditions. Like that's here to stay. Do I--do I have that correct?

MR. RYAN: Absolutely. I--when I look at--I always tell people we don't need to be the smartest people in the world. We copy our best clients. Our leading clients have said--and they've studied it; we've studied it--it's not going away. Anybody who thinks the power dynamics are going go back, honestly and humbly, I think they're making a mistake. The reality is, every trend would point in the same direction. All of us, whether we're leading a professional services firm, whether we're running the largest manufacturing operation in the world, whether we're a startup organization, we are only as good as our talent, and top talent is going to have their pick. So, we don't see those dynamics changing.

And the real question is, strategically, how do we change. One of the big topics of this show is leadership. And there's a saying which is there’s a different time for a different leader in any organization's history. There was a time where we needed technology visionaries in the C-suite. There's a time where we needed finance people, we needed marketing people. From our perspective, the leaders of the future are going to be the ones who are in touch with their workforce, are visionaries around what work is going to look like going forward. And frankly, how do you inspire, motivate, excite people to achieve the organization's mission? That skill set, given what's happening with the workforce, is at a premium in the C-suite today more than ever.

MS. ABRIL: So, given that dynamic, I'm curious how you view this idea or emerging idea of the four-day work week. Is that something that you guys are considering or looking at? Where do you land on that?

MR. RYAN: I think that is one element of it. From PwC’s perspective, we have taken a holistic approach. We have--with support from our partners, our board, and most importantly from our people--we are going big. We launched last spring an effort called My+. Well, My+ is a three-year digital transformation of how our 60,000 people work. It will change every element of work. It’ll change wellbeing, rewards, development in every element of the employee experience. Think of it as a complete digital transformation of our business.

If I were to keep it simple, Danielle, what it is, is our people will control their careers by their phone. Our people will steer, and it's all about their choice. They will decide when they work, where they work, how they work, the type of work they want to engage in. They'll decide how they want to develop their careers. It is a complete turning upside down the corporate paradigm of employers in charge and we tell employees what to do. What we're doing is giving them a choice.

I'll give you an example. What we realized talking to our 60,000 people is every human is different. We gave up trying to figure out what people want, because it's too complicated, because everyone has a different thing that makes them tick. And so, what we decided to do is leverage the power of digital, leverage the power of power of AI, leverage the power of the cloud, to give our people choice. And it causes us to run our business differently.

For example, we may have somebody who says, you know what, the benefits package, I'd rather choose a la carte. We should be able to accommodate that. So, as we go on this transformation, our people will choose their benefits a la carte, not high deductible, medium deductible, and low deductible, but actually choose the benefits that are right for them.

Hours worked. Somebody might say, in January, February, March, I choose 30 hours. Somebody else might say I choose 80 hours, and that's what I want. We should be able to run our business differently to allow them to choose while at the same time not only meeting our client's needs, but because people are happier and more fulfilled about work, exceeding our client's needs, because they're more engaged, energized, and inspired in what they're doing.

Some of them might say, I've grown up, and I've worked on pharma life science companies, and I'd really like to try consumer banking. We should let them choose, and then link it with their learning development program to say, Tim, in order to meet that need, here's what we have in this supply chain from a client opportunity standpoint; but also, here's what your development journey needs to look like, and you decide you go on that journey, the development that you want to do.

When we talk about choice, we're talking about not only what I'll say a great speech from the top, but changing every business process in our firm to give our people the work environment that they want as individuals, not as a homogeneous population.

MS. ABRIL: So, I actually wanted to go into this later. But since we're already in it, I might as well clarify a few things, because I find this so fascinating. How exactly are you doing that? Like in terms of the flexibility that you guys are giving, let's say I use the My+, and I'm now saying, you know what, it works better if I work different hours than what was traditionally expected of me. Maybe there--as you mentioned, maybe they’re 30 hours, and maybe I start at 11 o'clock instead of 8 a.m., and maybe whatever it may be. How does that work? Does that affect my pay? Does that affect your goals? I mean, it just seems like a lot of puzzle pieces to put together to make sure all the work gets done the same way or at the same deadlines, if everybody's sort of working in a different manner than they were before.

MR. RYAN: Yeah. So, Danielle, thank you. And I'm going to start from the client perspective. We not only want work done the same way; we want work done better. We want our clients to be even more satisfied. We want to meet and exceed their expectations to quality, meet and exceed their expectations and values. And the only way to do that is to have the most inspired, most excited, most engaged workforce ever. Like that's where we start from.

The question is, how do you do that? And what you what you do is, you allow for more choice. And it requires us to leverage the power of technology to have our--have the courage to run our business differently. The reality is, like, our clients don't necessarily care how the sausage is made. What our clients care is about the outcome. They care about the quality of the work that we do in every element of our business. Did we help them achieve their business goals? Did we help them drive a different ROI? Did we help them on their digital transformation? Did we help them grow their business? And that's what they care about. How that work gets done is really up to us around how do we leverage the power of technology to do it.

So, use your example. You talked about maybe I don't want to work a traditional nine-to-five day. That's fine. Like it requires teams to leverage technology differently, to put a cohesive team together. We all talk about the power of inclusive leadership. What we're talking about is taking inclusive leadership to a fundamentally different level. Inclusive leadership just isn't about skin color, or gender. Inclusive leadership are about--is taking many different skills and many different ways people want to work and putting together.

Now that's easy to do if you're a team or a firm of 5, or 50. But when you’re a team in a firm of 60,000, it requires leveraging the power of technology. If we look at what the cloud and AI has allowed companies to do to deliver packages, take manual work out of the system, to drive cars automatically, it's the same technology that we're using to run our business differently. And so that's how it’ll work. You'll put in your own requests. We'll match it up against the needs that we have from a client perspective, skill sets, et cetera, and you'll get fully transparently what does it mean to you from a can we meet that demand, what does it mean to you from a compensation standpoint, what does it mean to you from a development standpoint, what have your peers said about that path you went on? You may say I want to try working on Tim's jobs. And you can sit there and know how your peers have rated Tim jobs. Is Tim a good person to work with or a not so good person? What is his style, his preferences? How have people been promoted? How have they succeeded. All of that will be done leveraging the cloud and leveraging AI to give our people that experience.

MS. ABRIL: Very interesting idea here, especially with the use of technology sort of driving this. I want to ask you in terms of since you opened this up and you started this--allowing people to work remotely and being a lot more flexible in how people work, what worker trends are you seeing? Is there a consistent idea of what workers want right now, and what does that tell you about the future?

MR. RYAN: Yeah, so, Danielle, it is--I’ll maybe go back and tell your audience a story. So, a year ago, just about just a little less than a year ago, we made the decision to offer all of our people the ability to work remote if they wanted to. Now, look, we believe in culture. We believe in development and teaming, but we also know that the old way of doing that is not the only way to do that. And so, what we did is we gave our people the choice, and what was remarkable when we gave our people the choice, 22 percent grabbed it. And they, in grabbing it, they were telling us, this is important to us. Like, where I work is important to us. By the way, 78 percent of our people said they wanted some type of hybrid model. They didn't want to go back to five days in the week and commuting, but they wanted more of the client and the office experience physically. That's what they were looking for and it caused us to change the way we run our business, and we've been able to accommodate that. And by the way, we surveyed our people this year, and 20 percent still want that option. So, it's about the same.

But what we learned, Danielle, is that it is really about personal choice. As a consumer, we don't want to be treated homogeneously. As a consumer, we want to choose when we shop, where we shop, how we buy. We're trying--what we're seeing the trend is, it's more and more about personal choice. And what our people and workers are telling us is the more fulfilled I feel, the more I get the experience at work that I'm looking for, the more engaged, the happier, and the better position I am to add value.

So, to me, the big trend isn't about whether workers want to work virtually or physically. The big trend is about I want to be treated as the unique human being that I am. It causes managers and leaders to really think differently. Frankly, it causes us to be in touch. It causes us to have the courage to reimagine the way we're going to run our businesses, and that is what we see leading companies do.

MS. ABRIL: And that sounds like a challenge, though, right? To rethink everything. And I think one of the pushbacks I'm hearing from leaders is, you know, this idea around culture. And you mentioned that a little bit. You've got a much more distributed workforce. Some are going fully remote. Some are doing hybrid. Maybe some are still coming in five days. I don't know.

But, you know, the question about how do we maintain or even build a culture and bring people into that culture if we're working in this new manner where you may not even see some of your co-workers. How would you respond to that criticism?

MR. RYAN: I would say we're all in good company. We're all struggling with it. We've grown up--people of my vintage, we grew up knowing how to build culture one way, and that one way was physical in person-experiences, walking down the hallway coaching, developing, showing on the job. And that's how I learned, and that's how most of my generation learned. And all of a sudden, our world is turned upside down. Culture is really important. On the job training is important. But how it gets delivered is changing for some. And we're all on that journey trying to figure it out. I would tell you at PwC, have we fully figured that out? Heck no. Are we evolving? Yes.

I'll give you one example. Are we spending less on our physical real estate footprint today than we did a year ago and two years ago? Absolutely. But what we're spending way more on is getting people together within a quarter, within a month, and doing things differently, in large in-person sessions, we’re using more hotel space or large gathering space. So, we're redeploying our capital and our spends in a different way so we can develop culturally and the on the job training the way our people want to, not the way that we want to. So we're shifting and we're learning and we're figuring out. We're measuring it. We're adjusting. And that's the journey that we're on. And whether we're--whether we like it or not, that's the journey the top talent is saying they want us to go on, and therefore we think it's worth it.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. And you know, another trend that's happening among the workforce right now, you talked about that shift of power to the employee and employees are really demanding that their employers be a lot more vocal and take a stance on political issues or issues that may be politicized. I'm curious how PwC sees navigating the post-Roe landscape.

MR. RYAN: Yep, sorry about that. It's my energy-saving lights. What I--what I--one of the big things almost every CEO is struggling with is, I want to treat my workforce well, when do I engage and when I don't engage. I can tell you again, almost every leader I meet with is struggling with that. It is a big topic of discussion in the boardroom of C-suites.

From my perspective, a big job, a big role that I play is to make sure our people feel safe, to make sure our people feel heard, and also to make sure we're attracting the best talent to serve our clients. The only way I know how to do that is we lead with transparency, we talk openly about the issues that we're struggling with, we encourage an environment where people can talk. But we also know that many people have many different views in creating the safe space in a way--in a way that people can talk about, whether it be issues such as abortion and Roe versus Wade, whether it be other issues that our people are passionate about. What our job and my job is not to tell someone what their politics are, what their beliefs should be but to create an environment where everybody is respected, and everybody has the chance to speak their view.

One of the big things I try to do with our people is make sure they know that I care and make sure that I know, however they feel about a particular issue, that they care. A big thing that we try to do is create those safe spaces, Danielle. And I think, frankly, in this world, we're going to find ourselves more and more pulled in that different direction. As a CEO who's charged with serving our clients and making sure we're creating that environment with the best talent, it's not necessarily agreeing with everybody on their point of view but making sure we know they know their view is respected but asking them to respect that there are other views as well.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. Yeah, I think that's a really great point to leave it on. But unfortunately, we're actually out of time. So, I'm going to leave us on that last thought which I think was a really good one. Tim Ryan, thank you so much for joining us here on Washington Post Live.

MR. RYAN: Thank you, Danielle. Take care. Bye-bye.

MS. ABRIL: And thanks to all of you for joining us here today. Please stay with us for our next segment of this conversation with Ian Siegel. He is the CEO and co-founder of ZipRecruiter.

[Video plays]

MS. KOCH: Hi, I’m Kathleen Koch. Businesses of all sizes are facing well-being and productivity challenges. But we're hearing that incorporating health and well-being programs can help address and overcome those difficulties. I'm here in conversation today with Cindy Ryan, Cigna’s Executive vice president and chief human resources officer. Hi, Cindy.

MS. RYAN: Hi, Kathleen.

MS. KOCH: Cindy, there's a lot of talk right now about the concept of whole person health. It's something Cigna and most health experts promote. What does that mean to Cigna, and what steps have you taken over the past two years to address how the pandemic has impacted whole person health?

MS. RYAN: That's a great question. And when we think about whole person health here at Cigna, we think about the individual. So most people equate health with physical health, and that's certainly an important component. But it means other things such as emotional health, financial health, the physical environment, as well as family health. And so our approach has been to really focus on that through the pandemic.

I would argue, too, that during the pandemic, the needs for our employees and what we see from our customers in terms of supporting whole person health has never been greater. So, some of the steps that we've taken with our own workforce here at Cigna include offering emergency time off during the pandemic so they could care for themselves and their loved ones. Secondly, was financial support and benefits. And then the third was really providing that emotional support through expanded mental health benefits and increase the frequency of visits that people could have and offered virtual mechanisms for accessing mental health resources.

HR leaders right now are faced with so many different challenges. But one of the most important things that HR leaders can do is focus on that whole person health, because at the end of the day a healthy workforce will lead to a productive workforce.

MS. KOCH: What can HR leaders do to improve employee engagement and then evolve that engagement into an overall healthy work culture?

MS. RYAN: Well, I think there's a number of things that HR leaders can do. The first is to focus on things that are reducing stress and burnout, because so many people are facing challenges today with everything that they're carrying. There's a lot of weight on people's shoulders right now. So, if you reduce stress and burnout, and also focus on boosting productivity, engagement, and retention, it will lead to better business results.

And at Cigna, we've recently partnered with the economist, because we wanted to better understand what we and other employers could do. And that study showed that 89 percent of employees will recommend their place of employment to others, if they feel that there are healthy initiatives that are supporting their whole person health. Secondly, 86 percent said that they had better work performance and lower absenteeism, if and when they needed to access mental health benefits, that those benefits were there.

The other few things I would offer in terms of suggestions in terms of the work environment right now, is it's never--more important than ever right now to survey the workforce, to understand what's on the minds of employees, both through formal and informal mechanisms, because the needs are constantly evolving. And so it's important for the employer to know that. It's important for their leaders to know that, and then for the leaders in turn to start to lead by example, in terms of exercising those behaviors that we're seeking employees to do--so things like mindfulness, using paid time off, and also leading by example with work-life balance.

And then finally, I would say, employers have an opportunity to work with their health plan to make sure that they're offering the broadest array of benefits that will meet the needs of their workforce as those needs continue to change.

MS. KOCH: You know, you just mentioned work-life balance. What can employers do today to help their employees with work-life integration, and how do health benefits play a role in that?

MS. RYAN: Oh, it's ever changing. I would argue that the pandemic has changed the way that work is done dramatically, both in terms of how, when, and where. And so employers have an opportunity to think about how to provide that work-life balance, that flexibility, and different things in terms of their benefits such as caregiver leave and providing those flexible arrangements.

At Cigna, we've adopted a practice called purposeful presence. We have not mandated that people come back in the office on a set number of days per week. Rather, we've provided that flexibility and encourage people to do their work where it's best delivered to drive the right business outcomes. So, for some, that may mean that they come to the office where there's times to celebrate, to collaborate, to brainstorm. Other times work may be best done in their home office environment where they need to focus and there's analytical work, et cetera. And so that flexibility for the employee, and where leaders can set norms, have really served us well. So, I think it's important for employers to be super adaptable and resilient during this time. The needs are ever changing. And so trying those programs and listening to the workforce and putting programs in place that allows that flexibility is going to be super important for productivity, engagement, and retention.

MS. KOCH: Just really briefly, there's so much uncertainty today about the pandemic, the economy, the workplace. What can be done to help employees during these hard times and also keep businesses productive and growing?

MS. RYAN: Yeah, I would argue that right now, a healthy workforce is the key to a successful business and to driving the right business results. So, a number of ways to do that is leaders staying connected with their employees. As people are working in a more distributed way, that ongoing communication, the connections, collaboration is more important than ever before. I think having well-rounded benefit programs is incredibly important as well to make sure that the employee needs are being met. As I said before, surveying and listening is super important.

And then the final thing I would offer is for mission-based companies to stay true to their purpose. At Cigna, we're focused on improving the health, well-being, and peace of mind of those we serve. And so for us that connection, our mission has been our anchor point. And it's really improved the vitality, the well-being of our workforce, and in turn has allowed us to stay quite productive and meet our business outcomes and in turn meet the needs of our customers.

MS. KOCH: Thank you so much, Cindy, Cigna’s executive vice president and chief human resource officer.

And now I'll hand it back to The Washington Post.

[Video plays]

MS. ABRIL: Welcome back. For those of you just joining us, I'm Danielle Abril, a reporter covering technology and the future of work for The Washington Post. I'm pleased to now be joined by Ian Siegel. He's the co-founder and CEO of ZipRecruiter.

Ian, welcome.

MR. SIEGEL: Thanks for having me.

MS. ABRIL: Absolutely.

And remember, we always want to hear from you, our audience. You can share your thoughts and questions for guests on Washington Post Live by tweeting @PostLive.

So, Ian, I want to start off with just a brief explanation of ZipRecruiter for our viewers who may not be as familiar with you. Can you tell us a little bit about its origins and what it exists for?

MR. SIEGEL: Sure. Well, for those unfamiliar with ZipRecruiter, who apparently have never listened to a podcast, let me tell you what ZipRecruiter does. ZipRecruiter is what I would describe as a modern jobs marketplace. And the reason I don't call it a job search site is, unlike traditional job sites, we don't leave anything to chance. On ZipRecruiter, we use modern matching algorithms to make sure that you as a job seeker are introduced to the just right employers for someone with your skills, employers who are going to be interested in talking to you, and who have a need for your specific skills.

We also do the opposite for the employers in that we curate hard to find candidates or just right candidates for the jobs that they have open, and we use modern matching technology to perform this task. So, on ZipRecruiter, think of us more like a full-service matching marketplace where we introduce you to opportunities, whether you’re an employer who's looking for talent or a job seeker who's looking for work.

MS. ABRIL: So, the dating app for Jobs. Got it.

MR. SIEGEL: Yeah. Thanks for that.

MS. ABRIL: Yeah, I want to actually just jump into the great resignation, Ian, and get your thoughts here. First of all, there's a lot of debate on the actual term "the great resignation." I've heard several different terms of what it should be called. And I'm curious if you think that that's a term that accurately represents the labor market as it stands, and if not what you would actually call what we're seeing now.

MR. SIEGEL: That's a good question. Well, let's put some numbers behind the great resignation, which is pre-COVID in a normal month in the economy, somewhere between one and a half million and 2 million people would change jobs or leave their job without having certainty of their next job. Since the COVID recovery began, for 13 months in a row, 4 million people have been quitting their jobs. That's basically double. And that's what everybody's talking about when they talk about the great resignation. I don't actually think that what we're seeing is, in fact, a protest from job seekers. What I think we're seeing is job seekers who are having a conversation with employers about what they want to see from work. And COVID was a really interesting mass social experiment we all participated in, because for a lot of people, they found a higher quality of life by working remotely full time, or even stopping whatever job they were doing. And so that left them with a taste for this higher flexibility lifestyle and/or a different type of work, and that's what they’re goal seeking right now.

To be very clear, when you have 4 million people quitting every month, you would think that the unemployment rate would be going up. But it turns out that the unemployment rate is actually going down. So, in fact, what we're seeing is 4 million people a month changing jobs. So, what they're really doing is voting with their feet. They're going to jobs that offer two things. And these are the real drivers behind all these resignations. Over 60 percent of them are going to jobs that have higher salaries, and often significantly higher salaries than they were being offered at their last job. That one's obvious, and that's always been true. But over 40 percent are changing jobs because they want more flexibility. And that's this key word in modern recruiting that really wasn't as prevalent if you go back even just two years ago. But right now, more than 60 percent of job seekers are looking for hybrid or fully remote work, and that is a radical change from where we were pre-COVID, when basically less than 2 percent of jobs were done either remotely or in a hybrid form.

MS. ABRIL: Yeah, I actually wondered what kind of trends you might be seeing on that spectrum. Are you seeing sort of this flexibility element as sort of a make-or-break deal in a lot of cases? Or how much does that play into the job hunt, and are some employers more attractive because of it?

MR. SIEGEL: Well, I mean, whether we like it or not, there's no going back to the way we used to work. And when I say whether we like it or not, there are some CEOs at some very famous companies who are insisting that their employees return to work. And one of them, a very famous large bank in America, ordered all of its employees back and said they had a you had to be in the office policy, and they've had less than half their employees return. And I won't name the bank. I’m not sure this is public yet. But it just demonstrates that the power is--the power that the workforce has in this modern discussion, which is by simply not showing up, there is no recourse for the employer if they want to keep business continuity steady. And so as a result of that, that bank is now a hybrid office. Twenty-five percent of all jobs are now being done remotely. If you compare that to the pre-COVID period, it was is basically less than 5 percent, and they measured it in number of days that somebody was working remotely. So, this does encapsulate hybrid as well. But this is a sea change, like I said earlier, and this is a fundamental shift in the future of work.

And clearly, jobseekers know what they want, because that's why you're getting the 4 million quits a month. And clearly employers are rapidly adapting to it because you just saw over 500,000 new jobs get filled last month, if you looked at the BLS report, and unemployment fall to below three and a half percent. So, it feels like the conversation is actually moving towards resolution where both sides of the market have just fundamentally agreed this is the way we're going to work going forward.

MS. ABRIL: Yeah, I want to return actually to those numbers that you just mentioned. You know, unemployment, as you mentioned, kind of coming down to historic lows and more than 500,000 new jobs created last month. Are those numbers surprising to you? Or, again, is this sort of just an evolution of this new working style and the future of work?

MR. SIEGEL: Well, I'm going to say those numbers were surprising to everyone. Nobody saw 500,000 jobs last month coming. And I think what it speaks to is a couple of things. Number one, employers are rapidly adapting to speak to job seekers and candidates they're trying to pry away from other companies where they're currently employed. Employers are learning to speak to them the right way. And that is rapidly happening, whether it's in job descriptions or in the recruiting process.

On top of that, there has been so many gloom and doom headlines in the newspapers and online and on TV that I think a lot of job seekers are scared. And you see that we do a monthly job seeker sentiment index, and what we're finding is that job seeker confidence is rapidly waning. And so they are more likely to take a job that is offered. They're more likely to take the first salary offer that they receive without negotiating. And so the combination of these two factors is leading to an elevated level of hiring, but it cannot be sustained.

And clearly, now that we have fully recovered--I mean, effectively over 20 million people lost their jobs during COVID and now more than 20 million people have been hired back into the workforce--so I think we're going to see a period of more pre-COVID normal as we go forward. But it's going to be defined by these new expectations around quality of life, work-life balance, and what sorts of benefits and amenities that businesses are now going to be expected to offer to their workforce.

MS. ABRIL: And in terms of the job growth, are there specific industries where most of this is happening? And to be frank, are these good jobs, or are these jobs that, you know, not a lot of people want?

MR. SIEGEL: Well, the reality is that the biggest growth, the most successful hires, so the biggest growth categories for jobs, have been in job opportunities that offer flexible work or some form of hybrid work. And in fact, it's jobs that require you to interact with the public at high velocity. Those are the ones that are still really struggling to hire. So, you look at categories like leisure and hospitality, where they're having a lot of trouble both attracting new hires and retaining the talent that they have. And the same thing goes for a lot of the retail districts where you have restaurants and movie theaters and clothing apparel shops and so forth. Those places are really struggling to bring in talent.

And it's really interesting, because the way employers have been responding over the last few months was with signing bonuses. So, when we survey people, the thousands of people hired over the last six months, we found that 22 percent of people received a signing bonus, which is just unheard of. And more to the point, 33 percent of people who are taking their first job got a signing bonus for taking that job. And that just speaks to those sort of lower skills required category where those employers have been incentivizing people to take work. But I think we're now seeing more of a shift towards longer-term solutions. And there's a variety of techniques that even those jobs that require regular interaction with the public, those companies are now deploying tactics that really are unprecedented. We've never seen businesses compete this way. And it's all sorts of fun stuff related to burnout and mental health, where they're taking measures and offering, I'm going to call them benefits, but they're really like a different style of work that wasn't even considered two years ago.

MS. ABRIL: So from the worker side, somebody looking for a job, I guess what advice would you give a candidate? And I also want to just briefly stick this question in there because I'm starting to see this, and I'm not sure if it's a trend or if it's a one-off. Video resumes. Are they a thing?

MR. SIEGEL: Well, first off, if you're a job seeker, or you are someone currently employed and you are unsatisfied with either your environment or your compensation, let me be very clear. Let me make this as simple as I can. This is a golden age for job seekers. All of the leverage in the labor market has tilted towards the employees. We’re at three and a half percent unemployment, which means there's a shortage of unemployed people who are talented who are looking for work, and so employers are forced to try and pry talent away from each other. This gives you incredible advantage when you are out there looking for work. You do have the power to take your time and go speak to multiple companies. You do have the power to negotiate whatever compensation offer it is that they make as their initial offer. I strongly encourage anyone who's even has had the remotest thought of going to look for work to do it right now, because the world is tilting. And a couple years from now, it's not going to look anything like this.

MS. ABRIL: So, on that train of thought, you talked about now is the time, you have the power. The power shift that we're seeing move to employees, is that a temporary thing? You mentioned things might look different in two years. Can you give us a sense of, you know, will employees ultimately always have this power?

MR. SIEGEL: It's a really good question. And what I think we've experienced over the last two years has effectively been not a resumption of the--of the economy, but a reopening of the economy, and a hiring up. So there has been a frothy, high volume of opportunity across every industry, across every experience level for two years. And what just became true as of this month is that suddenly, we might be very close to peak employment, which means that the number of opportunities that are available for you to go interview for are going to start to dwindle. And that in and of itself is going to create more competition and start to reduce the leverage that you have.

So, you still have a long runway, you still have many months where it's going to be heavily tilted towards job seekers. But the idea that this is going to last forever, probably not. And how it's going to change and what employers are going to do, a really interesting open question. So, we don't know how the market will morph in terms of what employers will do when they get the power back. But we do know that right now, you're still heavily advantaged.

MS. ABRIL: That makes a lot of sense. I want to talk a little bit more about flexibility. You talked about sort of that being an advantage if you're an employer. Do you think flexible work, you know, options for remote work is becoming more standard at this point? And what does that mean for the future of work?

MR. SIEGEL: I think unquestionably, fundamentally, capitalism drives most of our decisions. And the incentives that employers have in terms of the style of work they'll allow is going to be a capitalism-driven decision. And so if you're in a battle for talent, if you're in any of the high-skilled categories, whether it's pharma, or technology, or even things like accounting, and you're fighting to try and just get qualified quality people onto your team, if you aren't recruiting nationwide and allowing remote work, you are at a significant disadvantage today already. And the winners who were successfully hiring over the last year, when all the headlines were reading about war for talent, were those that more quickly adopted either fully remote or hybrid options.

And so undoubtedly, that is going to be here to stay. Undoubtedly, businesses are going to continue to leverage whatever advantage they can in recruiting. And this is something that's played out multiple times over the last several decades, where you can see companies experimenting a small percentage with some novel way to attract talent. And then once it catches on, everyone's got a 401(k). So, it becomes standard that this is an option. So, there is a first mover advantage and an early market opportunity to be an early adopter and gain a recruiting advantage.

And also, you're skating to where the puck is going, because 60 percent of job seekers are looking for that style of work. So, it massively widens your pool, potentially also reduces your cost depending on where you hire those individuals. So again, capitalism is going to drive a lot of this decisioning. So almost certainly remote work is here to stay.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. And in terms of candidates looking for jobs, I'm curious if you've seen any trends in technologies or ways that they're trying to make themselves more attractive. I know I said the video resume, but are you seeing any interesting emerging ways that candidates are positioning themselves to get a job?

MR. SIEGEL: It's a really great question, because it's something that a lot of people are thinking about right now. But the truth about how the labor market works, especially today, is 75 percent of applications are read by a robot or a piece of software before they're ever read by a human, and that robot tries to interpolate the data that it sees on that resume about a person and create a simple summary that it will then present to a human which that human will review before they ever see the complete resume. So all of the work being done to make resumes fancier or resume stand out or resumes cooler, all it's doing is disadvantaging today the individuals who deploy those sorts of tactics.

In reality, what you want as a job seeker is the most boring, simple template you can possibly find using basic, non-trumped-up language to describe what you did, with a clear list of exactly what your skills are and your level of experience with each of those skills, because that's what's going to make it easy for the robots to know who you are and move you to the top of the list.

MS. ABRIL: So write for the robots. Got it.

MR. SIEGEL: Write for the robots.

MS. ABRIL: Ian, I do want to ask you for some final thoughts here. And you know, we know you look at a lot of data. You have a lot of insights to the labor market. Can you give us any kind of surprising or unexpected learning or insight that you have identified from your own trends and data?

MR. SIEGEL: Yeah, I mean, I think--and this isn't something just internal to ZipRecruiter, but it's something we're really seeing start to play out across the market, which is nearly 40 percent of the people who have changed jobs over the last six months, did so because they were recruited. They didn't initiate the action first. The employer initiated. And that's a huge step up. It's more than double what was going on pre-COVID.

And so it speaks to a fundamental shift that we see playing out in the labor market, and it's something that plays out on ZipRecruiter every single day, which is simply that employers are going first. On ZipRecruiter, as soon as you post a job as an employer, our algorithms identify a shortlist of candidates in market who are the best fit for that job, and you can literally directly invite them to apply. That is not only our most popular feature with employers, but it is our highest response rate from job seekers. They love being recruited. When you have not spent your whole career getting outreach from employers, having them tell you that you would be great for their job is intoxicating.

And so it's leading to both accelerated hiring; it's leading to satisfaction with both job seekers and the employers, because they're getting response at such high volume and so quickly. And this is a trend that we're seeing play out really across the country and across all job categories, which is the labor market, which has always been sort of an employer posts a job and then job seekers go first, they initiate by applying, is flipping on its head. And more and more, we see that as employers who are compelled to go first because that's how they get the best outcome, and that seems very much where the labor market is moving.

MS. ABRIL: Well, this has been a super fascinating conversation, Ian. I really appreciate your time and sharing all your insights with us. Thank you so much for being here.

MR. SIEGEL: It's been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

MS. ABRIL: And thanks to all of you for joining us here today as well. To check out what interviews we have coming up, please head to WashingtonPostLive.com to register and find more information about all of our upcoming programs. I’m Danielle Abril. Thanks again for joining us.

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