If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past two years, it’s that people have higher standards for work.
Only the most exploited (read: desperate for income, or in jobs where the rate doesn’t meet the cost of living) find themselves having to put up with subpar working conditions. Whether those “conditions” have to do with how they’re treated by customers, how their performance is measured, how far they have to commute, opportunities for promotion, etc. is irrelevant.
Because it’s never been more possible to work in nontraditional ways. It’s possible to work completely remotely, expanding job horizons to at least nationwide. It’s possible to launch your own e-commerce small business. It’s possible to freelance, live in a van, live in Bali, etc. etc. People have evolved to believe that how they spend their day-to-day is just as important, if not more important, than the traditional security of nine-to-five salaries and benefits.
It’s not that “people don’t want to work.” It’s that “people don’t want to work for you” (if you’re the type to exploit them).
So if you’re a business leader, it’s important that you are not the type to exploit your people or attempt to get free labor—right from the hiring stage. Employers need to be mindful not to even inadvertently exploit talent–especially underrepresented candidates (racial minorities, those with disabilities, LGBTQ+, women, etc.), who are systematically already exploited in a multitude of ways.
What does that mean?
Not asking for free labor. No test assignments. No trial periods.
The only free labor candidates should be providing is the time they spend filling out applications and interviewing with you.
Now, some leaders may have just taken that to mean you cannot ask for test assignments and trial periods and will wonder how you know if they’re the right fit for the job. But what it actually means is that you must pay your candidates for that labor.
As a business, you don’t want candidates that take shortcuts, cheat, put Band-Aids on issues that need stitches, and so forth. So as a business, you shouldn’t be wanting or needing shortcuts and Band-Aids such as cheap or free labor to fill some immediate need. Any successful business in 2022 should be able to recognize that the return on investment of an appreciated employee is greater than the ROI of a temp they brought in to get something done quick.
So instead, here’s the answer you’ve been looking for: get creative.
You need a candidate who can prove they have the verbal communication skills to make a sale. Get creative and have the initial application be in video format, where candidates can showcase (and you can find out right away) if they have the personality to fit the gig.
You need a candidate who can somehow juggle the schedules of 20 executives, get them to their meetings on time, and send followup recaps. Pay them an appropriate hourly rate to have them do a test assignment where they must explain how they’d go about finding a meeting time that works for all 20 sample executives/schedules.
You need a candidate who can handle a fast-paced startup environment where they’ll have to wear multiple hats. Have the interview involve back-to-back questions from various team leaders on differing subjects, and get their feedback on how comfortable they were at the end of the interview.
And further down the line, when measuring performance and setting KPIs, stay creative. Studies show time and again that:
Collaboration between employee and manager (at any level) in setting outcomes (that is, not standardizing every aspect of a role) has measurable positive impacts on productivity and engagement, according to a global study by ADPRI.
Helping your employees find joy (through things like nontraditional benefits and bonuses) in just 20% of what they do every day boosts engagement and loyalty.
For a long time, business leaders have been calling the shots, and they still are in a lot of ways. But employees, with the very real option of working for anybody at all, including themselves, now have the upper hand in demanding what they want (really, what they deserve) from an employer.
You may be reading articles left and right about how cynical the future can look, how younger employees just aren’t loyal anymore, or how the Great Resignation is simply a trend. But in reality, employees have been deserving of more, and even then, this is still asking for just the bare minimum: to not be exploited for free labor.
You want the right candidate? You want loyalty? You want someone that really fits, will stick around, will be an evangelist for your brand, will be passionate about solving problems for you?
Show them who you are from the very beginning: that you’re against exploitation, especially of underrepresented communities, and will reward people genuinely for what they are worth.
I’ve been where you are. I’ve had seven-figure businesses and I’ve also been at those moments of flatline and heart-wrenching bottom lines. That’s how I know being a good person, keeping that humanness at the forefront of leadership, is worth it.
Annie Liao Jones is the founder of Royal Malady, a lifestyle brand, Bag the Format, a sponsorship marketing disruptor, and Rock Candy Media, an advertising agency in Austin.