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On this episode of The RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks with Kevin Collins about why the Great Resignation should really be called the Great Disengagement.
Kevin is CEO and founder of Charli AI and an expert in talent acquisition and organization. Listen in and let us know your thoughts!
Listening Time: 24 minutes
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This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen, is William Tincup. You are listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today we have Kevin on from Charli, and we’re going to be talking about the topic of why the great resignation should really be called the great disengagement. And I love this. Absolutely love this topic, and I can’t wait to get into it with Kevin. Kevin, why don’t you do us a favor and introduce yourself and Charli to the audience?
Yeah, definitely. Hi William. Thanks for having me on. So my background is 30 years in the high tech sector. I’ve been a software engineer and I still get into the deep dark levels of code even today. But I am the founder and CEO of a company called Charli AI. And Charli’s really a lot of passion for us because we created Charli simply to eliminate a lot of work about work that we find in our daily lives. And to take off a lot of that administrative that really does bog people down so they can get a better work life balance, hopefully appropriate for the topic.
First of all, I love the disengagement, because I think that from the 13th of March of last year, we’ve had the opportunity of engaging folks and then kind of a slightly different way or massively different way, and that’s candidates, employees, alumni, et cetera. And in some cases we’ve done well and in some cases we haven’t done well. So take us into kind of the wonderful world of disengagement from your perspective.
I think the way you phrased it about disengagement is definitely good. I think the resignation is just a symptom of a deeper rooted problem, and that’s the disengagement factor that’s happening. The pandemic has created a situation where people are getting into remote and hybrid work. There’s a lot more blending of personal lives and business lives. A lot more people are likely getting disengaged with those personal relationships because the way they have to work is a lot different now than what it was before. No longer people going into the office and having water cooler chats, or even going to coffee and having real coffee and sit down. So it’s now having to be done remotely. So that’s creating a bigger level of disengagement across corporate America.
So how do we know someone’s engaged, faking engaged, completely disengaged, spending eight hours a day looking for a job on indeed, like hey. I’m really kidding aside. I’m looking for that level of insight. How do we know? And once we know how do we change course?
It’s interesting you’re bringing it up because this is hitting close to home. Even at Charli we’ve had to figure out the remote work, hybrid work aspects. And at the beginning of this pandemic last year, we were doing really well, but the longer it dragged on the harder it became. So the whole thing about are they engaged? Even for me, personally, reading body language on a Zoom call is difficult.
It’s extremely difficult. And body language is one of the keys that we always got with people when we’re doing personal interactions, but you can’t gauge that. Then a lot of people may turn their camera off for certain reasons. They might be having lunch as they’re doing their Zoom call, so they’re turning it off, but you can’t read them at that point. You don’t know if they’re remaining engaged or not, and that’s become hard.
We have made a pretty concerted effort within a company to do what we refer as more of that soft touch. No longer do we want people going on Zoom calls just to talk work. It’s, let’s talk about what’s going on in our personal lives. Let’s do a little bit more personal engagement, and that’s been a bit of a training exercise. I’d love to say we’re good at it, but we’re learning like everyone else of how to adapt, to figuring out if people are really fully committed to the company or they’re looking for new jobs. And how to do that over phone calls and Zoom calls is hard, but we’re making progress. We believe we’re making progress.
Well taking out that administrative, some of that, again, no one really loves the minutia or very few people I should say, love the minutia. So eliminating that gets them to probably some of the higher value, but even more intellectually challenging or fun parts of the job. So some of that I can see be that helping, but I want to ask the question of who’s responsible for disengagement? And what I mean by this is, is it co-owned? Is it the employee that’s also has some shared responsibility here? Or is it the employer? Who actually owns disengagement?
Yeah. You made a good point. And it actually goes to something I mentioned last week to our team. Teamwork is a two way street. And in our case, I know from behind the scenes, our leadership team is actually fully committed to figuring out the people and culture aspects in making sure that we are providing the right work environment. There’s good work life balance aspects. They’re going full organ to making sure that’s the case. But last week it really dawned on us that this is a two-way street. There has to be some personal accountability. We can only meet the team so far and employees so far, they have to actually come the rest of the way. And that’s part of what we’re educating them on is that, you have to remain engaged, you have to ask the questions. You can’t be blind siting people.
So if you are going to be looking for a job and all of a sudden up and quit, when we’re being putting a lot of effort and the blind siding just isn’t a good way to conduct oneself. We want to be forthcoming. So the other flip side of that is establishing trust. And that’s the one thing we’ve been spending a lot of time on is, how do we get to the point where the employees can trust us enough, that there is this two way engagement and that they can be open, and they can ask questions, and they can work with us rather than just being an employer, employee type relationship.
I’d say that that’s been hard, but there does have to be some personal accountability on the employee side of it. But the same token, I do believe that the leadership team within a company and that for me, includes myself and my direct reports, are ultimately accountable. We just can’t hand it off to an HR organization to go figure it out. We’re trying to figure it out together. And we do have somebody that’s identified as people and culture that’s really helping us navigate the waters.
So the relationship between resignation and disengagement, there’s probably a lot of ways to think about this, but one, generally speaking, doesn’t just wake up and resign. There were several things that kind of led to this and some of them, they could have been really engaged and loving their job, love the company, loved the values, all that stuff, and someone just gave them a better offer, a better gig, higher pay, all of these, some of this other stuff. So I don’t think it’s a hundred percent that someone is disengaged, employees disengaged, then they start to kind of falter and then they start looking elsewhere and then there’s resignation. I think that happens for sure.
But there’s also, someone comes out of nowhere and says, “Hey, we’ve always wanted to work with you. We’ll pay you $30,000 more a year.” That’s hard for most people to turn down, even if they were engaged. So what’s your take? Because I think most of the great resignation is hype anyhow, just to get us to talk about something else. But there is an element of disengagement and so there’s a treatment for that. But what happens if you’re doing everything well and you’re still losing people or you’re still having attrition or retention problems?
Yeah. And it’s a very real one. So the market is quite healthy depending on the sector that you’re in.
And for us, we’re in the high tech sector and it’s a very healthy market. There’s a lot of people, a lot of money out there for a lot of different companies, including startups. So it becomes a very competitive market. And even with ourselves, because we’re in the AI space, our team is brilliant, but we know that they’re brilliant, we know that they’re creating a market for themselves and they’ll be attractive for others to come in and offer much more money in equity. And we have to remain competitive, which has been an ongoing battle for years. It’s not new for us. We’ve had to remain competitive. One: we want the team to be fully committed to us. So we know that there is a salary element to that as well.
Everyone’s got to put a roof on their they head. They’ve got to survive. They’ve got to pay mortgages. Even here in Vancouver, the mortgages are expensive. So we know that the salary has to be commensurate. But then there’s also making the stock options valuable for them so that they can commit to the company and can see the benefit as they see the company through. I’ve talked to a lot of different startups, tech companies, they are losing people because new offers are coming. If you’re in the DevOps world, it’s high demand. And it’s a bit of the money game. And some companies can afford to do that, others can’t because they’ve got to look at their entire payroll. But this has been an ongoing game, I think, for a number of years. And I think it’s going to continue.
Yeah. It’s scarcity and surplus. Right?
So whenever there’s scarcity, especially that you mentioned DevOps, data scientists, software engineers, there’s a bunch of things that we just don’t make enough of them in the world to then deal with the demand that we have. And so they got options. I get that. And so that part of the resignation, that’s almost, I can look at that as an employer and say, “Yeah, you know what, fair enough. We had them for a couple years. They were great. They’ve got a great opportunity. We’re going to keep in touch with them. Maybe they boomerang back to us, let’s keep a good relationship with them and make sure that they exit on good terms.” And it’s the line of sight into who is disengaged. It’s really fascinating for me in, especially from a leadership perspective. So you said the C-suite and board members care about this too.
How do they interact and how do they have some type of knowledge and then care enough to then put people process money, whatever it takes to then take that disengagement and flip it and make it into engagement? Because if someone’s disengaged, you can find out why. Right. Generally speaking, again, you can find out why, and then you can generally speaking, fix it.
Right. And again, these are generalizations. But it takes a leadership team and a board and a manager, et cetera, to care enough to find out what’s going on.
A hundred percent. And I do participate on several boards. This is a board level topic today. Pretty much every company I’ve talked to, the boards are talking about this. It’s a high risk for the company and they want to know that the management team’s on top of it. So from a governance perspective, they want the management team to know this acutely and to actually have plans in place. Some companies are going to the point of doing anonymous studies within the company to find out what employees you’re looking for. If they’re coming out of the pandemic and they want remote hybrid work, how often do they want to be in the office? What type of environment do they want see when they’re in the office versus them working from private when they’re at home? They’re looking at different ways of giving the employee some of the things that they’re looking for.
Flexibility. Even for us as well, one of the things that we’re talking about with people is, we know your home, we know you might have kids, so your work flexibility is important to them and it’s important to us. And we know for a certain group of our employees, they value that a lot more than a lot of other things, because they actually like the fact that we’re allowing the flexibility to be around their family, schooling, when they’re at home, when they might be going to bed. Those type of things we accommodate and we’re very open about it.
I love that you’ve tackled fix because essentially, you’ve given the audience some things to think about in terms of fixing disengagement. And is it people throwing people at the problem? Is it throwing money at the problem? Is it throwing technology or process at the problem to figure out both what is going on in terms of disengagement from a by and by person basis? And then what to do to fix it. because fixing something for Emily and her disengagement might be something completely different than Tommy’s disengagement. And so triaging those could be completely different. She’s got to have line of side, you’ve got to have insight, then you’ve got to be able to do something about it.
Yeah. A hundred percent agree. Because even in the case that you talked about with Emily versus Tommy, we’ve got those situations ourselves. And the case of Tommy; Tommy is very career motivated and we know that Tommy’s very are career motivated. So we’re investing into his career path, which is quite a bit different than maybe Emily and George, because I’m using fake names here, but they’re very real situations where they’re very family focused and we have to be aware of that. But in the case of Tommy, very career focused. And what it gets down to for me is that that leadership team has to be hands on. They can’t be seagull managers. They just can’t fly above it all command, make a lot of noise and fly out. I think the board is requiring the management team to be very hands on and to make sure they’re intimate and acutely aware of the problem, and the solutions in a lot of cases at the individual level.
What I love about that is focusing on transparency and accountability and communication, which is basic, great leadership. And it’s good that we’re here now. We don’t have to talk about how we got here. Two questions before we run out. One is, did you perceive, or do you think people perceive disengagement as kind of a long tail? Like something happened and then just through time a person just becomes more and more disengaged over kind of a longer tail? Or do you perceive disengagement as more of a moment by moment, day by day, week by week, as I’m engaged in this project, take on a new project, not as engaged or is it more [inaudible 00:18:11] or do you feel like it’s more longer tail?
Good question. I’m more leaning towards that it’s more the long tail aspects. And it goes back to one of the things that you mentioned before is that, there’s a lot of things that kind of to the disengagement. It just isn’t one thing. I think if somebody gets-
That’s a great point.
Yeah. If somebody gets hit by one thing, I think there’s always a recovery. If they’re constantly bombarded, then that becomes another situation that they really do become disengaged at that point.
Yeah. That’s famous. That’s humanity, right?
I mean, it’s just if you fool me once. If you find yourself in a situation as an employee where you’re disappointed, which is again, disengagement and disappointed, but there’s a relationship, right? So if you’re disengaged, something happened. There was, again, a promise unfulfilled, whatever it was, there was that moment. And by and large, you give the company another shot or two. And some people give the company another 10 shots. They’re more on the glutton punishment scale. That’s fine. But they give the company a chance to kind of write the wrong and then the company disappoints them again.
Yeah. And I’ve actually been, I think, the glutton for punishment [inaudible 00:19:39] one of my jobs in the past.
Why do I keep running into this wall? I don’t understand.
At some point you do have to kind of give up, stop beating the dead horse and move on.
But I think another one from an employer perspective, you have to make a genuine, sincere effort to listen.
Oh, great point
And react. And I don’t think that happens enough. And it probably is seagull management.
They’re not genuine in their effort to address this.
Right. Which again, the boards are closing ranks on that style of management and not just desiring more transparency and accountability, but basically tying compensation to it. So hopefully, we see less of that. We used to have this thing in HR, called stay interviews, which is the opposite of exit interviews. Right. So exit interview is someone’s already resigned and I don’t really believe the data that comes out of exit interview are anything. So I’m a bit opinionated about that, but I do, I have historically liked the idea of stay interviews in the sense of why are you here? Why do you continue to stay? What are we doing right? What’s your take on stay interviews?
I’ve a hundred percent agree with the stay interviews. I mean, it goes along the lines of, I’m not a big fan of the annual.
Yeah, of course.
For me, there has to be engagement throughout the entire year. As a manager, you don’t want to be blindsided with employees performance. So you need to know right up front why are you here, what’s keeping you here. And we are actually having those conversations with our team. What do you like about being here? What don’t you like? What would you like to see changed? But the other thing is that we’re asking, are you committed? It’s that bit of that two-way street is, we want to open them up to, we’re committed. We’re going to be genuine and sincere about this, but we also want you to be fully committed as well.
Yeah. And again, you can reverse that out. I think you said teamwork is a two-way street, which it is a beautiful way of thinking of it. And again, employees can ask the same questions of managers, hey, what am I doing well? What do you like about me? Where am I thriving? Where am I faltering? What can I do to be better? And I think if you’ve got that type of dialogue and both sides are listening, they got their ears up, and then they got some type of action behind it, I think you got a pretty good chance of engaging people which leads to and can lead to retention. You still might lose through attrition for other reasons that you couldn’t control, but of the things that you can control, I love the two way street and thinking of stay interviews is not an annual thing, but just bespoke when do you want to do one? When do you need to do one? Always be in the know, have your finger on the pulse. Love it.
Kevin, I could talk to you forever about this. It’s just such a great way of thinking of the great resignation, and thinking of it really is, we should probably rethink this as more of what led and what’s leading to resignation, and disengagement being one of those things. Thank you’s so much for coming on the RecruitingDaily Podcast.
Oh, thanks William. That was a lot of fun.
Awesome. And thanks for everyone for listening to RecruitingDaily Podcast. Until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.
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