As of November 2021, there were 10.5 million monthly jobs available in the US, yet many employers still say they’re seeing mass labor shortages. This is being further complicated by what many are referring to as The Great Resignation—masses of people leaving their jobs in search of better pay, better treatment at work, their passions. In September 2021, the rate of resignation rose to an all-time high of 4.4 million people.
So, despite the availability of jobs, and aside from accessibility issues with becoming employed at all, willing workers are now also holding higher standards for themselves.
But what if while employees demand better treatment, at the same time, employers also started seeing employees as whole humans?
This is the core of Open Hiring, a practice based on a simple premise: radical empathy.
What Is Open Hiring?
Picture this: You sign up for a job on a first-come, first-served waiting list. When your name gets to the top of the list, you’re offered an apprenticeship at above minimum wage—no questions asked. Once the apprenticeship is completed, you’re offered a permanent position.
It all began with the American Zen Buddhist and social enterprise pioneer Bernie Glassman.
In 1982, Glassman opened Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York, creating a variety of baked goods and eventually becoming the main brownie supplier for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. The company’s main goals remain hiring people who face employment barriers and donating profits to the Greyston Foundation for community projects like low-income housing, day care, a medical center for HIV/AIDS, and more.
As current Greyston Bakery CEO and President Joe Kenner tells me, however, Glassman’s original goal was not open hire.
“What he wanted to answer was: ‘How do we create a thriving community?’’ Kenner explains. “It didn’t start with, ‘Hey, I want to bake brownies for Ben and Jerry’s,’ or ‘I want to do open hiring,’ he just wanted to get people jobs.”
He understood creating a thriving community meant focusing on the whole community, and people previously left behind by the system, by simply offering a hand.
"There Is a Second Chance Shortage”
When Leah Farrington made this tweet on February 1, it received tens of thousands of likes, thousands of retweets and engagements, clearly striking a chord.
Farrington explained receiving her 24th job rejection—after having already gotten an offer—once her potential employer ran a background check.
A background check can reveal various information, from a person’s medical history, credit report, legal history, housing record, and more, all of which can affect a hiring decision. Several of the so-called “red flags” in background checks, namely legal history and housing record, are steeped in racism and other notions built on white supremacy.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Black Americans make up 40% of the incarcerated population, despite only making up 14.2% of the US population. This statistic reflects other intersecting issues in the US that disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and LGBTQ communities, including a lack of housing, mental health, access to education, and more.
When these subjects come up in the hiring process, Loranger has one question for employers: “What are you committed to as an organization by shielding your hiring managers from information that might bias them against somebody, not based on their potential, not based on what they can bring to your organization, but what might have happened in the past?”
For those released, however, the white supremacist system remains stacked against them. The US has one of the highest rates of recidivism (the chance for a convicted person to reoffend) at 76.6%, writes Liz Benecchi for the Harvard Political Review.
Across the ocean, Norway boasts one of the lowest recidivism rates at 20%. One key difference? People unemployed prior to their incarceration in Norway saw a 40% increase in their employment rate following release.
In the US, the current hiring system completely neglects millions of people. And it goes beyond a background check.
“They might have transportation issues, they might have care issues at home, they might have school or can’t get daycare,” notes Alina Sanchez, founder of Accelerating Purpose.
“It’s reframing how you support your employees.”
A Shift of Thought Towards Empathy
Implementing open hire at your company doesn’t need to be difficult change—and there are people who want to help.
Mark Loranger is the President and CEO of Chrysalis, a non-profit which helps people who face employment barriers, including those who have experienced incarceration or who may be unhoused.
Getting employers to consider these people requires a shift of thought and prioritizing empathy.
“We have to have the conversation about the intrinsic advantages of hiring folks with lived experience that have been in the community,” explains Loranger of his experience getting employers to consider Chrysalis’ clients.
“Our lead with strategy, always when we're talking with employers is: ‘You are in business to create a product, provide a service, whatever it happens to be, and you need great people to do that. We've got great people, let's talk about how we can match them to the needs you have.’”
It comes down to intentionality and not being afraid of failing.
Kenner notes that fear of mistakes and failure can be paralyzing, but it can also stop real progress from happening. Implementing open hire needs to be done with purpose and commitment.
Chrysalis is not the only organization out there willing to help, either.
“If there's an organization that wants to do open hire and they haven't done it before, I would help support them to develop that program,” Sanchez says.
Especially for small businesses who don’t have the resources or a program in place like Greyston Bakery to start open hire, she notes.
How to Make Open Hiring Work
But it’s not just about employing people—it's about retaining their employment. This means committing to a constant process of investing in people holistically, including their mental and physical health, their work-life balance, their education, and beyond.
For Loranger, a key part of this is being realistic.
“You have to understand people facing employment barriers, such as housing insecurity or the criminal justice system, they’ve got complicated lives and may not have a good support system,” he explains.
Loranger also suggests a few ways to help, including implementing a buddy system, providing informal networking opportunities, and always being willing to educate and never assume.
Providing help for people is key, especially mental health care, childcare, transportation, and education resources.
In the same Harvard Political Review article, Benecchi notes 37% of incarcerated people have mental health struggles, but 66% say they never received medical attention or care during their full sentence. Incarcerated people who have education opportunities, either while incarcerated or after, also have a lower chance of being reincarcerated.
Taking care of one another is a win for everyone.
Kenner concludes: “When we address these issues, when your employees are doing well personally, they’re going to be doing well professionally because they're not worried about the family being in crisis, they're not worried about getting evicted.”