From shorter workweeks to high marks for employee happiness, many Scandinavian companies seem to have figured something out about work culture that others haven’t. Unfortunately, those successes haven’t always translated elsewhere around the world.
But as a Finnish company with 500 employees across four countries and three continents, we’ve been trying to change that–and so far, it seems to be working. Here at Reaktor, our current turnover rate is less than 1%, and that includes the more than 40 employees in our New York office, where we’re working within the city’s super-competitive talent pool. In reality, hiring and keeping great talent doesn’t require lavish benefits. Here are five things that we’ve found work just about everywhere.
1. Don’t Leave The Interview Process Just To HR
Don’t get me wrong; I think HR is great. But to hire the best people, you need candidates’ prospective colleagues to do the interviewing. No matter what, we always interview in teams, pulling in people who might not otherwise be involved in the hiring process. This means that everyone gets interviewing experience, and when we mix and match our interviewers, we can get fresh sets of eyes and perspective on our job applicants.
And in our experience, it’s important to cross-pollinate. We have designers interviewing engineers and engineers interviewing designers. That way, we make sure that all of our new hires get along with people from across the company, not just the boss and HR. We’ve also found that this approach brings up more interesting questions. As a result, the whole interview experience better resembles what it’s really like to work at our company.
To be fair, this might not work for everyone. At Reaktor, we have a flat hierarchy and build digital products from start to finish, which means we hire generalists who can execute with precision. When it comes to hiring decisions, everyone gets an equal say in who gets hired. But even if your business isn’t set up this way, it’s worth considering what somebody in another department might have to say about candidates for a role that they’ll have to work with–even if not on the exact same team.
2. Treat Interviews Like Discussions
The best people don’t want or need to be interviewed. They want to have a genuine, interesting discussion with people they can respect as equals and would enjoy working for.
We never want to make the recruitment process feel like an interrogation, which means letting go of some of the traditional formality. Hiring managers typically approach with a mind-set of, “now’s your one shot–impress me!” But this can create a stiff, uncomfortable exchange. Interviewers have to let go of their ego and treat the other person as their counterpart.
In our experience, a more informal discussion-style interview eliminates stress. If we sense that an interviewee is in the middle of a bad day or just too nervous, we usually invite that person in for another chat later. Too often in American culture, applicants only get one shot at an opportunity. It may sound inefficient to give people multiple chances, but it’s more than made up for in the smart, long-lasting hires you’ll make by being more patient.
3. Be Honest About The Downsides Of The Job
Being honest and upfront is the only way to build trust. And it has to go both ways: as an interviewer, you can’t pull tricks and expect the candidate to be frank with you. Many companies want to portray an overly positive image to applicants, but this isn’t going to help anyone in the long run. When we’re candid about the challenges our employees face on the job, we’re better able to find people who will enjoy (and grow from) those challenges.
This creates a whole new level of openness in discussions with our applicants. Often we’ll ask things like, “What makes you nervous?” or, “What would a previous coworker say about you?” to see if the person will stop bullshitting and get real with us. We even ask the applicants to interview the interviewer, and their own questions to us can be non-work related too–we’re willing to get personal (within legal and ethical bounds, of course.)
4. Invest In New Hires’ Long-Term Well-Being
Even in our New York City office, we still offer the same Nordic working culture with generous benefits. All our employees work eight-hour days, and everyone gets four weeks of vacation a year. And unlike at glossy startups and tech giants–where the vacation days are technically endless but everyone is too afraid of getting fired to use them–we require everyone to rest up and use their vacation days.
And it isn’t just about fending off resentment between employees on either side of the Atlantic. It’s because we genuinely believe that work-life balance leads to greater creativity, productivity, and loyalty than pushing people to the brink of burnout. In other words, it’s a strategic means of attracting people who are not only curious about the things they’re good at–the work they do for a living–but also about the world around them. That makes for great employees, who actually want to stick around.
Ian Fosbery is a senior software engineer and architect at Reaktor in New York City, where he spends a lot of time on recruitment.