Jackie Cohen
Chief People Officer Topia

Jacky leads People and Culture, overseeing the employee experience and people operations from the moment a candidate applies and throughout their journey as a Topia employee. She brings experience leading teams and scaling People functions at both Lyft and Pandora to the Topia organization. Jacky is passionate about embedding the People function into the organization as a strategic partner and building a values-driven culture.

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On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Jacky from Topia about what’s really driving The Great Resignation.

Some Conversation Highlights:

I love what’s happening as far as the great resignation, to be honest. Yeah. It’s shifted from a mentality of, you should be lucky to have a job to an employee’s market, right?

And it’s forcing all of us at every level, in every role of the company to rethink, “Why should people work here? What is our value proposition and what are we doing for the people that we’re surrounded by and creating experiences and building environments that people want to work rather than people feel stuck in.”

Yeah. And so this focus on health and wellbeing and what people are actually seeking out of their employer and that experience, I think every generation is going through it. I feel that across the Topia team. I feel that in family members, friends. There’s nothing unique about this reflection that everyone is having. And so there’s also this camaraderie in that, and that everyone’s going through this process.

What I’ve compared The Great Resignation to is when you graduate college or you leave a summer camp and you have this incredible experience and you’ve walked away from it and this feeling of, “Oh, how do I go back to that?” But you really can never go back. If you went back now, it wouldn’t be the same beautiful experience that you had at that point. To me, we won’t go back there. And there were wonderful aspects of this in the office, incredible culture and perks. I don’t see us ever getting back to a place where companies can force people to be in an office, a set amount of time.

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Tune in for the full conversation.

Listening time: 28 minutes

 

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Music: This is Recruiting Daily’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

William Tincup: Ladies and gentlemen, this William Tincup, and you are listening to The Recruiting Daily Podcast. Today, we have Jacky on from Topia and our topic today is what’s really underline, double underline, bold, italicize, driving the great resignation? And so wonderful topic. And I can’t wait to hear Jacky and get to her take on this. So Jacky, without any further ado, would you introduce yourself and Topia?

Jacky: Absolutely. Yes. Thank you for having me. I am the chief people officer at Topia and our product is the leader in global talent mobility for today’s remote and distributed workforce. So we are focused on empowering HR teams to deploy, manage, and engage employees anywhere in the world. So very relevant in the topic today. And I lead our global people and culture function here.

William Tincup: Oh, I love what y’all have built and are building. Followed it since its inception. When you hear a great resignation, is there anything great about it? Can we just kind of say the mediocre resignation? [crosstalk 00:01:14].

Jacky: Great resignation. Yeah. It’s interesting. I heard someone refer to it as the great migration too. I actually think that this is something that’s been building for a while personally, and that the pandemic really just sped it up. People were already starting to rethink what they were looking for from their employer. And I think what happened from macro economic, global, personal level for people was really that time to take a step back and say what’s important to me. So no, there’s nothing great about it. From a company perspective, it’s quite challenging to manage through, but from a people perspective, I actually think it’s a really interesting kind of sociological, psychological shift to watch. And I am happy to see people reflecting on what’s important to them and making decisions that are driven by their passion point and their wellbeing. So to me, that’s the silver lining, I would say.

William Tincup: I’m right on the same page. I think some of this command and in control, I mean, some of these things are definitely connected, right? So you go back to Me Too, and Love is Love and Black Lives Matter, and people kind of rethinking life just in general, just societal issues that have been kind plaguing us for a long time. And coming out of kind of what the industrial revolution and even probably wartime era, command and control, White male oriented kind of leadership and management, at one point we were going to reckoning. It was just a question of when.

Jacky: It’s here.

William Tincup: Right? Yeah. I think you really nailed it. This has been unpacking for a while. And some of it, I don’t like to do the generational thing too often because I think it’s just overplayed. But I think even at 53, I’m rethinking. So it’s really easy to kind of paw it off on millennials or gen Z and say, “Wow, it’s their fault. They’re the ones that are really rethink…” No, no.

Jacky: I love what’s happening to be honest. Yeah. It’s shifted from a mentality of, you should be lucky to have a job to an employee’s market, right? And it’s forcing all of us at every level, in every role of the company to rethink, “Why should people work here? What is our value proposition and what are we doing for the people that we’re surrounded by and creating experiences and building environments that people want to work rather than people feel stuck in.” Yeah. And so this focus on health and wellbeing and what people are actually seeking out of their employer and that experience, I think every generation is going through it. I feel that across the Topia team. I feel that in family members, friends. There’s nothing unique about this reflection that everyone is having. And so there’s also this camaraderie in that, and that everyone’s going through this process [inaudible 00:04:41].

William Tincup: It’s unfortunate and you said this. It’s unfortunate it took a global pandemic and millions of people to die for us to kind of wake up and go, “You know what? We should probably rethink work.”

Jacky: Yeah, yeah. It absolutely is. But better now than never in my mind. Yeah. And it is a silver lining. Yeah. It happened through the unfortunate series of events. Very unfortunate, but it’s also, “Okay, it’s here. Now, what do we do? And how do we move forward?”

William Tincup: It’s interesting to see the companies that are struggling with how to do work in the future. I mean, two years into a pandemic. We were all forced and you as an HR or the people leader, you know this better than anybody, we’re forced to kind of flex some different muscles at the beginning of the pandemic and to do things that we, “Okay. Everybody’s not working on Tuesday or everyone’s working from home Tuesday. Good luck.” Okay. But two years into it, people have kind of figured out, okay, how to actually get work done. Maybe they work too much. Maybe they kind of burned themselves out. Maybe the company didn’t put in parameters of taking work off. Okay. So there’s a lot of mistakes and learns and things like that. But it’s fascinating. And I want to get your take on companies that are struggling with wanting to go back to December of 2019 or January of ’20, if you want to make it simple. Companies wanting to go back to like, “Okay. Let’s go back to work.”

Jacky: What I’ve compared this to is when you graduate college or you leave a summer camp and you have this incredible experience and you’ve walked away from it and this feeling of, “Oh, how do I go back to that?” But you really can never go back. If you went back now, it wouldn’t be the same beautiful experience that you had at that point. To me, we won’t go back there. And there were wonderful aspects of this in the office, incredible culture and perks. I don’t see us ever getting back to a place where companies can force people to be in an office, a set amount of time. And this is a caveat that obviously there are certain roles and positions that do need to be in a certain [crosstalk 00:07:05]. So I’m focused on roles and companies where the capability to work remotely and have distributed teams, doesn’t erode the business model, right?

But I think forcing people to be back in an office or be in a certain place and at a certain time be sitting at your desk is just to do that, you drive away talent. To what we were just saying before, people know what they want now. And they want flexible opportunities. We have our survey that we just did at Topia Adapt Survey shows that when people are looking for a new job right now, 96% of people feel that flexible working arrangements is extremely important to them. Right? That’s huge.

William Tincup: The deep irony is my mom’s in her early 80s, is my mom was a flex worker advocate in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Jacky: Ahead of her time. She was [crosstalk 00:08:06].

William Tincup: Me talking to her about flex work, she’s like, “Yeah. What about it?” I’m like, “Well, yeah. We’re just now getting around to it.” We’re here now.

Jacky: And it means something different to people, right? So I talk a lot about our experience here at Topia. We have been a distributed team since our inception. But we did have people aggregated around certain office locations, pre-pandemic. We had several people also working from home permanently, but we had offices where people were going in regularly. And I personally was someone that never viewed myself as working from home and wanting to work from home. To your point, two years in, I don’t want to commute an hour each way to an office. Would I love to have the option? Sure. And that’s where all the flexibility and the hybrid and all the exploration of policies and how you can create these hybrid flexible arrangements for people is so important because there are people that will still thrive off the in-person connections, but want to balance that with the flexibility of doing what they need to do as long as they get their work done.

William Tincup: Well, and we forget, or I forget, shouldn’t say we, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to come out of college and want to go to an office because that’s the social network. That’s the wrong way to think about it, but that’s who you go out with.

Jacky: That’s how you make friends.

William Tincup: It’s how you make friends.

Jacky: And some of my closest friends, they have come through my career. It’s not even just generational, right? We have to think through the lens of, there are also a lot of people where their home set up is not ideal to be working there. And so yes, absolutely, the fun generation piece where you’re in your 20s and that [crosstalk 00:09:55] what gets you through the day, of course.

William Tincup: Half the people I know. I remember the working in Dallas in the ’90s and we had an Excel spreadsheet of where all the happy hours were on every given day. So we know, “This will take me a little bit,” but this was a shared Excel spreadsheet that we would update every week literally as a team and go, “Okay, well, it’s Tuesday. We’ve got four options. Where are we going?”

Jacky: It builds culture. It’s bonding, right? Yeah. Even if it’s not a happy hour, it’s going and doing your one-on-one as a walking one-on-one and grabbing a coffee in the afternoon, or just coming back from vacation and you go back on that Monday with your tan, and you debrief on what you did for the past week. Right? So that intangible is lost without going into an office. And we have done a lot of different things to try and recreate those connections. So again, I think it’s just shifting the way we think about it. How do we still maintain those connections across teams? Because people still want that, let’s be clear. But they also want to be able to do what they want.

William Tincup: Well, that’s the interesting thing. If you studied culture from an anthropological or archeology perspective, you’ll learn that culture’s never static. There’s always something being kind of dropped and something being added. You talk about indigenous culture or modern culture, culture is never static. It’s never frozen in time. But the way we think about culture sometimes is frozen. And it’s like, you’re talking in a real positive way. You’re talking about reshaping things based on your candidates, your employees, what’s important to them now?

Jacky: Exactly. And we talk about culture exactly as you just said. So actually, the top question I get asked in interviews by candidates is tell me about Topia’s culture. And really open-ended and a very hard question to answer, right?

William Tincup: 100%. It used to be the office. Used to be a box. You could just say, “Oh, you should come and get catered lunches.”

Jacky: But my answer to that is very much what you just said of my expectation is every single person that joins Topia, evolves our culture. So there is no answer to that. It’s our values, which should remain consistent across the team, right? And so that’s where talking about our values and our culture, but also really thinking about again, what is important to people? What is that employee experience? How do we talk about that, right? And again, that goes back to, “What are people looking for from their employer?” People are looking to be empowered. They’re looking to be trusted. They’re looking to be able to work from wherever they want, as long as they get their job done. And again, this are all things that are centered right now around flexibility.

William Tincup: So dumb question alert. If the market were different, if the employment market were different, so let’s say we were in an era of surplus and not scarcity, would we be having the same conversation?

Jacky: That’s a great question. I think so. Because to me, the way that I think that, it is not around supply and demand, regardless of if you’re trying to attract talent or not, it’s about doing what’s right for people and retaining, right? So I think the motivations would still be there and the employee desire would still be there. And you’d be naive as an employer to say, “Well, we’re just not going to do that because there’s a surplus of talent.” That would erode your culture and your brand.

William Tincup: Right. But that’s the way we behaved typically pre-pandemic. Because we behave like there’s enough people coming out of college, there’s enough people in the market that we could do whatever we wanted. And I think one of the things that you’re nibbling around the edges is when we say what’s right, it isn’t that the company says what’s right. Which is, I believe kind of historically how we’ve looked at is the company makes these philosophical decisions and then the employees fall in line.

Jacky: Correct.

William Tincup: One of the things that I think we’re witnessing is that the employees, candidates, people, however you want to phrase it, they’re the ones that are deciding what’s important.

Jacky: Yeah. People have found their voice. Rightfully so, right? And I think [crosstalk 00:14:36]. It is a supply and demand shift that has exacerbated that. But I hope that if the market changes, we don’t lose that. Especially being in the people and culture industry and career, I’m so happy. That’s why when you said, “Is there anything about the great resignation?” To me, yeah. It is great to see people doing what is best for them. And speaking about what is best for them and employers listening to that. I think that’s our job as employers and that’s our job as companies, to put our people first. And so I’m sure at some point there will be another cycle where the pendulum swings, but I hope it’s a little long, long time away. And I hope this trend sticks around because I think it’s a pleasure to watch.

William Tincup: Well, the great part, as we made fun of it at the beginning, the great part isn’t the resignation part. The great part is that people, they’ve found in themselves, what they’re willing to do and what they’re willing not to do. What they’re willing to say, what they’re not willing to say. Whereas before, and I’ve said this to people before, if you’d have sent me a 4,000 word job description, I would’ve printed it out. So I would kill a tree. And then I would’ve written all over it and read. And then that would’ve been normal for me, right? You send a 4,000-word job description to someone today, regardless of age, and they’ll think that you have no idea how to summarize things.

Jacky: Right.

William Tincup: So they’ll judge you, not just the word, they’ll judge you because you’re verbose. You don’t know how to actually bring this up to the three paragraphs that I need to understand. First of all, I think that’s fascinating that what we were willing to deal with, we’re not willing to deal with. And then when I say, we, I think that’s all of us. We’re just not willing to deal with things as they were kind of stated in January of 2020, we’re just not willing. I mean, you can see that people are just quitting. I’ve had a friend this weekend, she quit her for no other reason, I say this, for no other reason than her husband, her shift, she’s a nurse, a NICU nurse, and her shifts were bleeding into her family time. And she’s just like, “Yeah, it’s not worth it. I mean, I love being a nurse and I’ll go back to being a nurse, but it’s cutting into my family time and they’re more important.”

Jacky: Well, and I saw something on LinkedIn that said the number one LinkedIn headline, job title for former chief people officers in 2021 was sabbatical. Yeah. And I don’t think it was a joke. It was people, and again, I’m going down this path of chief people officer, because that’s the network that I see the most, but you’re hearing it left and right, people just saying, it’s time for me to take a break or it’s time for me to completely switch gears and go try something else that’s going to make me happy.

William Tincup: So I’ll give you some things that might add some flavor to that. So I did an interview with McKinsey and LeanIn, they did a survey of women leaders. And disproportionately, women leaders, at the beginning of the pandemic, or lets just say the first year of the pandemic, women were disproportionally the ones that basically took the reins and took control.

Jacky: Yeah.

William Tincup: They were also disproportionately the ones that didn’t get credit.

Jacky: Right.

William Tincup: Sorry to laugh, but it is both funny and ironic at the same time.

Jacky: It’s unfortunately a story that happens time and time again. So yeah.

William Tincup: So it doesn’t shock me about burnout or especially if we deal with women leaders. It doesn’t shock me. So beginning of the pandemic, they’re the ones that stepped in and actually kind of made things work. Didn’t get credit for it. And you know what? Yeah, that’s most disheartening, but it’s also a pathway to reevaluate, “What am I doing? Why am I doing this?”

Jacky: “What’s important to me?” And I think back to your point around the what’s great about the great resignation. The interesting thing that we are experiencing right now at Topia is from a recruiting for perspective, the caliber of candidates on the market, because people are exploring and moving, we’ve been able to hire people. And again, us being as much as possible location agnostic, it opens up a whole diverse talent pool. So we are actively bringing in more women leaders than we in the past, more diverse candidates. And so that is also another incredible piece because you’re right, that we saw women leave the workforce in much higher numbers throughout the pandemic. And it feels like some, and again, there’s definitely a variation across race and ethnicity, but folks who can, are reentering the workforce now as well, which is expanding that talent pool. And so for companies who are able to offer flexibility, again, to certain demographics and certain talent pools, there’s huge opportunity here to really capture great diverse talent and female leaders as well.

William Tincup: So what other things do you think are driving? Because we’re still technically, I guess in the great resignation. What are the things, if we haven’t already seen it or even talked about it during the show, what are the things that you think that are drivers that we should be paying attention to?

Jacky: I think the flexibility piece is absolutely number one, like I said. We did our report internally, which we’ve done for three years now, and watched some trends. This year, we just got our survey result back. 94% of employees feel like they should be able to work wherever they want, as long as they get their job done. 96%, I think I mentioned this, feel like flexibility in a working arrangement is important when they’re looking for a new job, right? And then furthermore, 64% of workers that are forced to return to office full-time say that’s going to make them more likely to look for a new job. So I think the flexibility piece cannot be underestimated, is my point. And it’s not just about office and not office, right? The flexible experience, so to your point around women and time with families, it’s thinking about as companies, how do you create experiences that allow people to manage their day and their workload flexibly to what works for them versus what works for the company, right? Back to what we were talking before.

William Tincup: It’s really interesting because that’s what I was going to ask you, is flexibility is defined by who?

Jacky: Right. By the employee.

William Tincup: By the employee, by the candidate, right?

Jacky: Yeah, exactly. And there will be parameters, right? And it has to be a balancing act here because we’ve introduced programs internally like attempts at Zoom-free Fridays, to give people a chance to disconnect from the video calls, right? And there are always exceptions. Of course, we have customer or client meetings that we’re going to hop into and things that come up, but it’s putting programs and initiatives in place like that, that give people the chance to step away. We’ve introduced global recharge days, which I know other companies have as well, where rather than saying, “Oh, you have this PTO, you can take whenever you want,” knowing your inbox is going to be building as you do that. Hey, it’s so much better when everyone at the company takes the time, takes a step back and recharges. So it’s helping support as much as you can from a company perspective.

But I think the big underlying theme here is trusting your employees, right? And that feeds right into what people, again, going back to our survey, 57% of employees saying that being empowered and trusted to do their job is the number one driver of an exceptional employee experience. So that’s thinking about, “Okay, I trust that you’re going to get your job done. And I’m actually managing to what you produced and the impact that you have in the business versus the number of hours you’re working in a day.” Right? And so that was a big shift for management I think at almost every company, was rethinking, “Okay. I don’t expect you to necessarily clock in at this time and clock out at this time. I need to be able to measure your output and see that you’re doing the job that I expect you to do.” That was a shift. And I think companies who’ve been able to capture that and capitalize on that are driving an exceptional employee experience and that’s going to cause us to be able to attract and retain talent.

William Tincup: Well, it’s interesting because I know in your background, you’ve had to do this bit. How do you get the board and the rest of the C-suite, how do you get them on board with those two concepts? Just those trusting. A, radical flexibility, because I know you talked to other chief people officers, how do y’all sell it?

Jacky: Data. And this is what I tell everyone coming up in HR that asked me, “What do I need to focus on?” Data is my biggest. Be able to tell a story with numbers. HR, decades and years ago, had an image of being really fluffy or admin, party planners, people pushers, right? No. This is a business function and it should operate and decisions should be made like every other business function. And so what we do is we do engagement surveys. We do engagement pulses. When we roll out a program, we’re immediately measuring the success of that program with surveys and pulses and anecdotes. So we’re constantly gathering data. Our Adapt Survey that I referenced throughout this conversation, right? That’s data. That’s market data. We leverage all of that.

I had a conversation with our board a few weeks ago and I was asked, “How do you measure productivity?” And I said, “Look at our business results. Look at the growth that we’ve had at Topia. That’s how I measure the productivity of what our employees are doing and the shift that we’ve made into distributed teams.” So it’s around having the confidence in those numbers and not being able to just lean on stories or a hunch, right? It’s not unique to what every other, I would hope business leader or functional leader is using to make their decisions.

William Tincup: Right. Right. This is stuff you’d expect the sales leader to bring to the table, the marketing leader to bring to the table. So the expectation should be for the people leaders to be able to… I mean, selling flexibility and trusting now, especially after two years of hell, I think is a bit easier. I think if I were trying to sell that in January of ’20, it would’ve been probably an uphill battle. But now, I think people, especially the leaders have been through so much that they’re willing to do anything, try anything if it can help get the outcomes. One of the things I really liked is the focus on the outcome rather than how you got to the outcome. I love that you went there and basically explained like, “Okay, you can stand over somebody and micromanage them, or you can just say, here’s the outcome. We’ll talk tomorrow and you can do the outcome however you want or however you think’s best. Now, if you need help, we’ve got eight layers of ways that we can help you with it.” But I love that. Listen, go ahead. No go-

Jacky: I was going to say it shifts our managers from really managing to leading and coaching and then it’s another muscle, like you said before. And it forces people to work differently, which I loved watching because it forces growth amongst the management team, as well as the people that they’re leading as well.

William Tincup: Which is dramatic foreshadowing for our next podcast, which is going to be, how do we get managers to lead? Listen, I could talk to you all day. Thank you so much, Jacky.

Jacky: Thank you. This is great. Thank you for the conversation and for having me.

William Tincup: Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to The Recruiting Daily Podcast. Until next time.

Music: You’ve been listening the Recruiting Live Podcast by Recruiting Daily. Check out the latest industry podcasts, webinars, articles, and news at recruitingdaily.com.

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Authors
William Tincup

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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