"Ten years ago, if you said there’s a way to hire people, with no questions asked, I’d look at you like you were crazy!" says Joseph Kenner, the President and CEO of Greyston Bakery – the social enterprise pioneer of open hiring in the United States.
A 14-year veteran of corporate America – with global heavyweights such as Pepsi, Lehman Brothers and Chubb dotted throughout his stacked resume – Kenner explains his motivation for transitioning to the social enterprise sector.
"I wanted connection to a purpose," he says. "To be part of something bigger than myself, the company and any product we were making or service we were providing.
"It’s a travesty when people want to work, but they’re prevented from doing so. At Greyston, our purpose is to provide work opportunities, particularly to people who have traditionally been excluded from employment."
Kenner’s purpose-driven approach to doing business reflects a wider trend he’s observed over the past few years.
"Research shows that employees and consumers are drawn to companies that stand for something," he says. "People don’t just want to buy a product. They want to contribute to a cause that adds a net positive to society."
His observation is borne out by various studies.
For instance, according to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, 57 percent of gen Z consumers expect a brand’s position on pressing social issues to be highly visible at the point of transaction.
Greyston’s near-evangelical stance on open hiring fits the bill perfectly.
You’ll find its open hiring messaging emblazoned across the advertising content of its most famous distribution partner, Ben & Jerry’s, to which the company has sold several million pounds of chocolate fudge brownies every year since the inception of its partnership in 1987.
What is Greyston’s open hiring policy?
Greyston’s open hiring policy is to recruit individuals who face significant barriers to employment – for example, ex-offenders, the homeless, recovering alcoholics or substance abusers and even people with gaps in their resumes.
Each candidate is viewed as the person they are today – and what they may become tomorrow – rather than being defined by their past.
As such, the usual salvo of resumes, interviews and background checks plays no part in the company’s recruitment process. But that doesn’t mean candidates aren’t asked any questions.
After all, Greyston is a bakery, so candidates are asked three simple eligibility questions:
- Are you authorized to work in the United States?
- Can you stand for up to eight hours?
- Can you lift over 50 pounds?
If a candidate answers "yes" to these questions, they will undertake a paid apprenticeship at Greyston in its manufacturing plant in Yonkers, New York. And if they successfully complete the apprenticeship, they will be offered full-time employment.
How does open hiring work?
Open hiring operates on a first-come, first-served basis.
Candidates put their name on a waiting list and, when a vacancy arises, they will be presented with a job opportunity. All candidates need is the will to work.
When describing the principle of open hiring, three adjectives immediately roll off Kenner’s tongue: "inclusive, innovative and revolutionary".
And when asked to sell open hiring in a 10-second elevator pitch, he goes one better and delivers it in just 10 words. "Giving the job to the next willing person in line."
It’s this will to work that Bernie Glassman – a former aeronautical engineer turned Buddhist monk – was looking for when he founded Greyston in 1982.
Some 41 years later, a candidate’s will to work is still the only precondition for gainful employment at the company.
Which sectors is open hiring suitable for?
Kenner insists that open hiring isn’t a program, but a business model, and one he readily admits isn’t appropriate for every occupation, company or industry.
"Open hiring relates to entry-level positions where you can learn the job, on the job."
He pinpoints the ‘sweet spot’ of the open hiring model: "Open hiring relates to entry-level positions where you can learn the job, on the job."
Although background checks, for example, aren’t always necessary in industries that predominantly rely on entry-level frontline workers – such as manufacturing, distribution, retail and food services where candidates can be trained on the job – the education, government, healthcare and finance sectors are wholly dependent on them.
Who are Greyston’s open hiring ‘replication partners’?
Greyston counts more than 30 open hiring ‘replication partners’, which have adapted its model to their business operations. The most prominent practitioners include The Body Shop and, most recently, IKEA.
Six reasons to consider open hiring
Citing Greyston’s example and that of The Body Shop, Kenner outlines six reasons for companies to consider implementing open hiring.
Lower recruitment costs
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the average cost-per-hire in the United States is approximately US$4,700.
But this figure may well be a conservative one.
Some employers estimate that it can cost three to four times the position’s salary to fill the vacancy. This estimation includes screening resumes, conducting interviews, running background checks and administering drug tests.
Shortly after adopting open hiring in 2019, The Body Shop made savings in recruitment costs which it then redirected to training and development, employee programs and benefits to support staff with transportation issues, for example, which make it challenging to arrive at work on time.
Faster recruitment process
Kenner notes that open hiring at The Body Shop saw the company’s time-to-hire fall from 30 days, which is about average, to roughly five to 10 days – a reduction of up to 84 percent.
In some cases, candidates secured a job as a customer consultant at the cosmetics company in as little as 24 hours.
Higher employee retention and productivity
Open hiring prompted a dramatic reduction in staff turnover at The Body Shop.
"In The Body Shop’s first year of integrating open hiring [at its Raleigh warehouse in North Carolina], the company saw turnover among seasonal workers drop 60 percent over the previous year," says Kenner. "And warehouse productivity increased by 13 percent."
Improved diversity, equity and inclusion
Kenner recommends open hiring as a diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) strategy. "You’re admitting people who have traditionally been excluded from employment – whether that’s due to the AI in our recruitment strategy or our personal biases," he explains.
When it comes to assessing the efficacy of corporate DE&I strategies, his mantra is to "look at the data and let the data lead you".
Kenner points out that "The Body Shop’s employee pipeline – entry-level positions, distribution centers and retail outlets – consists of 60 percent people of color and 60 percent women." He rubber-stamps these statistics as a measure of "true DEI".
Greyston, too, has seen open hiring diversify its leadership and rank-and-file alike.
"Ninety-eight percent of our bakers are people of color and 30 percent are women," he says. "People of color make up 30 percent of my board and 75 percent of my executive team."
Positive economic impact
In 2020, Greyston delivered approximately US$11 million of positive economic impact to its local community in Yonkers, one of the largest cities in New York.
On average, the company generates almost US$7 million per year of local economic impact through public assistance savings, increased tax revenue and reduced incarceration costs.
"Our vision is to see our open hiring model replicated. If we fill at least 40,000 jobs through open hiring by 2030, it will unlock about US$3 billion of economic impact in the United States."
"Our vision is to see our open hiring model replicated. If we fill at least 40,000 jobs through open hiring by 2030, it will unlock about US$3 billion of economic impact in the United States," says Kenner.
Positive social impact
Whilst Greyston boasts some impressive open hiring financials, it's the organization’s human interest stories that win hearts and minds – including its chief executive’s.
Kenner recalls the heartfelt story of a mother-of-five named Shawna who was on the brink of relinquishing custody of her children because she couldn’t get a job.
Then, along came Greyston. Fast-forward four years and Shawna is a supervisor at the bakery – with all her children in tow.
"Aiming to make a great product is a given. But truly, our North Star is people like Shawna. They are the real product," says Kenner.
In this respect, Greyston’s slogan is particularly apt: "We don’t hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people."
The company’s efforts aren’t going unnoticed. On 17 January 2023, Greyston won the World Economic Forum/Schwab Foundation Outstanding Social Innovator of the Year Award.
Is open hiring safe and secure?
What would Kenner say to business leaders who remain skeptical about open hiring, particularly those who contend that employment vetting practices exist for a reason and to abandon them altogether puts the safety and security of customers and staff at risk?
He anticipates the question well and responds candidly.
"I come from corporate America, so I get it," says Kenner. "But what I would say is, we’re just removing the barriers to entering employment. One misconception about open hiring is that we’re removing standards, too. The reality is, we’re keeping standards of performance and professionalism. If our workers can’t rise to this challenge then, unfortunately, we’ll have to part ways."
And what is next for Greyston? "We’re going to have other large companies join the coalition and secure jobs for people who need them most."
With its products having been served everywhere from skid row to the White House, Greyston is well on the way to fulfilling its mission to show how "business can be a force for good," one baked good at a time.