When it comes to fair hiring practices, America is a little confused about exactly what it wants. While three quarters of Americans maintain that workplaces should promote racial and ethnic diversity, for example, only a quarter believe that race and ethnicity should be taken into account while hiring to increase diversity. That might help explain why hiring discrimination against black Americans hasn’t declined in the past quarter century.
It’s not just on the race front that America remains lost in the interview process. Despite laws banning it in its most direct forms, hiring discrimination based on age, family status, criminal record and more is still rampant and insidious. In fact, studies show that even “fair chance” or “ban the box” policies that prohibit employers from asking applicants if they have ever been convicted of a crime can have the opposite of their intended effect.
Perhaps that’s why it felt like breaking news when The Body Shop recently announced its radical decision to move to an “open hiring” practice for all of its retail positions. In practice, that means that starting this summer, the multinational cosmetic supplier is ditching the interview process and background checks and considering only the most basic requirements: can the applicant legally and physically do the job? If the answer is yes, the applicant is hired on the spot on a first-come, first-serve basis. No resume, no references, no interview.
The Body Shop made this decision based on its own evidence: according to Fast Company, it piloted the unusual hiring practice in 2019 in its North Carolina distribution center by asking applicants three simple questions: Are you authorized to work in the United States? Can you stand for up to eight hours? And can you lift over 50 pounds?
From Fast Company:
“The results were striking: Monthly turnover in the distribution center dropped by 60 percent. In 2018, The Body Shop’s distribution center saw turnover rates of 38 percent in November and 43 percent in December. In 2019, after they began using open hiring, that decreased to 14 percent in November and 16 percent in December. The company only had to work with one temp agency instead of three.”
But the evidence for open hiring had been pouring in long before The Body Shop hopped on board. In fact, the retailer’s HR staff was trained by the team that runs the brownie baking company Greyston Bakery, who have been using open hiring for so long that they’ve opened an entire training center to promote the practice.
According to Greyston’s Center for Open Hiring, U.S. employers spend an average of over $4,000 trying to find the right candidate for a single job — money that could be saved by considering only whether applicants meet the basic requirements. Open hiring could also provide a win for populations that otherwise struggle to find work. For example, 75 percent of formerly incarcerated Americans remain unemployed a year after their release from prison, despite the fact that they are statistically more likely to remain in their job longer than those who haven’t served time.
Greyston has been using an open hiring model for over 35 years. “Anyone who comes to the front door of the bakery gets a job. We don’t ask them any questions, we don’t ask for references, we don’t try to interview them. We’re only interested in what they’re capable of doing in the future,” Greyston president and CEO Mike Brady said in his 2014 TED Talk.
Brady makes clear that at Greyston, open hiring is equally about better business and social justice — at the end of the day, it is a choice the company made based on their values. “We need to look back at the business model, and we need to update it. We need to say, ‘Okay, how can business, this great force, be used to solve some of the social problems we have going on right now?’” Greyston’s website is full of stories about workers whose lives have changed thanks to the company’s multitude of other programs that provide housing, job training and even on-site social workers to help employees navigate the complex logistics of staying on their feet — offerings far exceeding the kind of support most companies offer, open hiring or not.
But The Body Shop’s data show that businesses’ motivations don’t need to be quite so altruistic for the practice to make sense: screening applicants for a multitude of factors irrelevant to the job doesn’t get you better employees.
Greyston is the first to admit that open hiring doesn’t always work out. It’s not a silver bullet for human resource retention — the company still has a 12 percent turnover rate. And there are few examples of the practice being used for positions higher up the chain (let’s just say, we’ve yet to hear about a company hiring the first CEO that applies). But open hiring’s champions don’t purport to be solving all of the world’s job inequality in one fell swoop. The goal, according to the Center for Open Hiring’s website, is much simpler than that: “It gives people who want to work an opportunity to do that by replacing scrutiny with trust.”