How we work and how we should work have become critical discussion points across industries. This week, I’m looking at how beauty companies are dealing with employees and prospective candidates asking for more.
Around April, droves of workers left their jobs in what economists called the “Great Resignation.” What started in already transitional roles such as food services, hotel and hospitality trickled to nearly every sector, including retail and beauty. Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that 4.3 million Americans or 2.9% of the entire workforce quit their jobs in August — a monster stat.
Psychologists and economists like Texas A&M professor Anthony Klotz, who coined the term the “Great Resignation,” are crediting the shift in employees’ mindsets with “pandemic epiphanies,” which makes sense. Faced with remote work, family responsibilities, closed schools, furloughs, businesses openings and closings, employees have fundamentally reevaluated what work means to them.
“People have rethought how to support their family units. Some people were separated from their families for long stretches of time — my controller is from Australia and was worried about her parents getting older or even getting back to them if something happened,” said Elana Drell-Szyfer, CEO of ReVive Skincare. “The ability to have mobility has had a long-lasting impact on people in terms of how they were thinking about their priorities.”
Over at ReVive, Drell-Szyfer has made changes to accommodate individual flexibility. In the summer, ReVive enticed employees to come into the office with a lunch stipend (because people might not be comfortable eating with others) and a bottle of prosecco. Commuting hours were also considered, allowing employees to come in later, at around 9:30 am, and leave at 4:30 pm to miss high trafficked times. Half-day summer Fridays were in place and also extended for the year.
While employees were pleased, a follow-up survey was sent out to gauge sentiment, and the responses were surprising. Employees asked for lunch stipends, shortened hours and commuter benefits every time they were in the office. They also asked for a guarantee that they would only be in the office one day a week going forward. Currently, the brand is adhering to the one-day-a-week schedule; three days is the ultimate goal, but Drell-Szyfer said, “We don’t need more than that.”
While some of these asks are bold in nature — especially for the fairly traditional and corporate beauty industry — Drell-Szyfer also understands that some parts of pre-Covid work were untenable. “There was a misalignment between busy work, attention and productivity,” she said.
Juggling these asks is difficult, considering staff used to go to the office five days a week, 40 hours or more without any of these perks. But as Drell-Szyfer said, “It is 100% an employee market.” She continued, “Salaries have gone up and there is a shortage of talent because people have left the city. I have a seasoned team and don’t want to lose them.”
Buzzy brand Deciem, which has often been seen as a go-to startup to work for, is seeing some of the same trends. Though Ashley Thomson, Deciem’s vp of people, said “turnover is below average,” over the last 18 months, the company has seen resignations go up. “There is a surplus of jobs on the market, and our team is getting contacted about new opportunities,” she said. “It’s also true that you can make more money if you change jobs right now. It’s the nature of it being a ‘candidate’s market.'”
Over at Tula, the voluntary turnover rate has remained low at 3.9% year-to-date, according to CEO Savannah Sachs. She said much of the credit goes to the policies that the brand put in place at the start of the pandemic. That includes new protocols for virtual onboarding and trainings, as well as weekly cross-functional all-hands meetings to keep all parties abreast of news and changes. Tula has a 124-person team.
It helps that the brand’s perks didn’t just start with the pandemic. For instance, Tula, which considers itself a values-based company, has offered a quarterly wellness stipend, where one can expense anything that helps them feel well, such as a Peloton membership, a massage, a meditation class or a healthy meal plan. And through its partnership with Justworks, it offers fertility support through fertility and gynecology clinic Kindbody and 12 months of free Talkspace membership for all employees.
Culture and having a flat structure have been built into many next-gen beauty companies, but even younger companies are making changes. Deciem is focused on making sure its culture reflects what its employees and the larger market want, including holding no meetings on Monday and Friday and taking Friday afternoons off. Deciem does plan to return to its office part-time but is allowing employees more control over their schedules when teams return. Currently, the company has 70-plus open positions, many of which are new roles.
“What we’re hearing is that work-life balance means something different to every person, and a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t cut it anymore,” she said. “People want to be able to control how they work, when they work, where they work, and how they fit family, fitness and personal goals into their calendars. Our job is to make sure that everyone knows what the company’s biggest priorities are, as well as what success looks like in their role, and then trust and enable them to find the best approach to achieving their business, developmental and personal goals.”
Martin Kartin and Rebecca Kartin Levin of recruiting firm Martin Kartin and Company that specializes in beauty and retail said as much. “Benefits and remote work are at the top of candidates’ asks. You can’t have one without the other,” said Kartin Levin. When drilling deeper, she said that health benefits and some sort of 401K benefit are requirements for today’s employee, alongside a flexible work schedule.
The question of mandatory in-office work is a big one. Large beauty companies have implemented policies that allow for some remote work. For instance, L’Oréal USA has created a permanent hybrid work model, allowing eligible employees to work 40% of their time, or two days per week, remotely each week. Ulta Beauty implemented a 2-3 days per week in-office policy for corporate employees in September, but is allowing employees to work remotely from any location four weeks a year.
But some executives question if the office is truly necessary. Tula’s Sachs has decided that the company will not go back to the office, in order to retain and lure top talent. “Given that we have committed to staying remote indefinitely as a disruptive step toward the future of work, we are now hiring across the U.S. Our talent pool has just opened up in a powerful way, which not only means we can fill roles faster with top talent, but it also enables us to continue to raise the bar in ensuring we have a diverse candidate pool, which is a top priority,” she said.
In 2022, Tula will open what it is calling a “Home Base” in New York that will be a hybrid co-working, eventing, showroom and branded space for Tula activities. It will also be a location that employees who do want some office time can utilize.
Sachs’ idea to hire outside of New York and Los Angeles is a provocative one. It certainly aligns with the trend of millennials moving out of big cities to second-tier cities like Austin and Nashville. And it gives the company a leg up from bigger beauty conglomerates which will likely never be able to coordinate such a big change.
Kartin Levin said that, though many corporate beauty companies are willing to start candidate searches across the U.S., rarely do those deals come to fruition.”The conversation always starts very open to seeing people all over the country, but then the search becomes much more localized. Unless it’s somebody that they just can’t say no to, it winds up becoming a geographical conversation where they realize they need somebody closer,” she said.
Kartin added that, in terms of progressiveness and flexibility, private equity-backed beauty brands and startups are much more willing to make salary and benefit adjustments, as well as make hires quicker than the seven big beauty companies.
That kind of thinking might just be why Tula is trying its hand at something different.
“People are definitely looking for work-life balance and, most importantly, to be in charge of their own day-to-day — to have the autonomy to get their work done and have a fulfilling life outside of work,” said Sachs. “Having a fully flexible, remote working environment gives our team the freedom to determine where and how they work best, which can also evolve over time.”
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