Almost all retailers run background checks on prospective employees—one of the many obstacles for people who were formerly incarcerated and are now trying to find a job. For other job seekers, a drug screening for marijuana might cost them a position even in states where recreational use is legal. This summer, the Body Shop will become the first large retailer to embrace a different approach, called “open hiring.” When there’s an opening, nearly anyone who applies and meets the most basic requirements will be able to get a job, on a first-come, first-served basis.
The company piloted the practice, which was pioneered by the New York social enterprise Greyston Bakery, in its North Carolina distribution center at the end of 2019. “We’re not asking for your background check,” says Andrea Blieden, the general manager of the Body Shop for the U.S. “We’re not asking for you to be drug screened. And there’s only three questions to get a job. It’s, ‘Are you authorized to work in the U.S.? Can you stand for up to eight hours? And can you lift over 50 pounds?’ If those three questions are answered, then we will give you a chance to come work in our distribution center.”
At Greyston, this approach to hiring is a fundamental part of the business, which sells baked goods to customers such as Whole Foods and Ben & Jerry’s. “At the heart of it, Greyston’s mission is to impact people facing barriers to employment,” says CEO Mike Brady. The social enterprise’s slogan reads, “We don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people.” When there’s an opening, the job is filled from a list of people looking for work. New hires start as apprentices and get training in both how to do the job and basic life skills; those who decide to stay after the apprenticeship get an entry-level job and the opportunity to advance. The system works well enough that the company sold 8 million pounds of brownies in 2019, making $22 million. This year, Greyston launched a nonprofit, the Center for Open Hiring, in 2018 to help other businesses implement the same process.
“There was then a lot of momentum around business as a force for good, and we were leveraging that momentum and began to work on a strategy to scale open hiring,” Brady says. “And there’s now, as we all know, a ton of tailwind around just finding employees and getting talented people in the organization. Thankfully, people are thinking differently about how to bring good people into their business.”
Roughly a year ago, the Body Shop learned about the approach, when Greyston gave the company a presentation along with other social enterprises and activists who were invited to an internal launch of a new brand purpose—”We exist to fight for a fairer, more beautiful world.” Greyston’s talk resonated. “It really ignited all of us to think about how we can become a more inclusive employer and how we can implement open hiring practices in our business,” says Blieden.
By June, the retailer’s entire HR team in the U.S. had flown to the bakery’s manufacturing plant to see, firsthand, how the bakery hired staff and helped its employees build careers. The team visited again in September and then began meeting with supervisors at its own distribution center, saying that they wanted to move quickly and pilot the new approach by the time the center was hiring seasonal staff for the holidays. The distribution center hires more than 200 people as seasonal staff.
The results were striking: Monthly turnover in the distribution center dropped by 60%. In 2018, the Body Shop’s distribution center saw turnover rates of 38% in November and 43% in December. In 2019, after they began using open hiring, that decreased to 14% in November and 16% in December. The company only had to work with one temp agency instead of three.
Supervisors told Blieden that seasonal staff were approaching them to share their stories. “They said things like, ‘I’ve been struggling to find a job. This is one of the only places that would hire me, and I’m not going to mess this up,'” she says. “When you give people access to something that they’re struggling to find, they’re very committed to working hard and keeping it.”
Greyston has seen similar benefits with retention rates. A Johns Hopkins study also found that employers who “banned the box” and stopped asking applicants if they had a criminal record also had less turnover. The Body Shop also saw increases in productivity—likely not solely due to the change in staff, it says, but a sign that both internal processes and staff were improving. “That’s just a demonstration that we have these biases in our recruiting system that are preventing good people from getting into the workforce,” Brady says. At the Body Shop, the money saved in recruiting, screening résumés, interviews, and background checks will be redirected into training, employee benefits, and programs to support new employees with challenges such as transportation issues that can make it difficult for employees to get to work on time.
The Body Shop plans to expand the practice to all of its retail stores this summer, where it employs around 800 people, and as many as 1,000 during the holidays. It’s not a pilot, but a permanent shift in how it handles hiring. “I think for us, it was, if you believe in it, just go ahead and do it,” says Blieden. “The more time that you spend trying to figure out how you’re going to do it—and what is it going to look like, and what do people need to be worried about, and what do you have to prepare for—the more you hinder your company’s ability to do something like open hiring. Because you create the bias and you create the barrier. So for us, in our distribution center, the biggest learning was do it. Go fast. Try it and see what happens.”
It’s something that Greyston hopes will inspire more companies to follow. “The Body Shop acted with urgency because they saw the need,” Brady says. “And I hope other businesses that learn about this model can learn from the Body Shop’s example and act with the same level of urgency, because our community needs change. And businesses need to adopt good new business models that work for them.”