The Great Resignation & The Future Of Work: Ken Schnee Of Sterling On How Employers and Employees Are Reworking Work Together

April 25th, 2022

An Interview with Karen Mangia

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Ken Schnee. Ken is the General Manager of the Technology, Media, Entertainment, and Hospitality group of Sterling, a provider of background and identity services. With over 10 years of experience in the talent industry, he brings extensive expertise in sales, operations, and technological innovation. Prior to his current role, Ken held several leadership posts at Sterling, including Regional Director of Sales, Vice President of Solution Consulting, and Head of Client Operations.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

I grew up as the youngest child in the family, with my closest sibling being 10 years older than me. When I was in middle school, my siblings and their friends were 21 and beginning their careers.

It was around 1996, and I was 12 hearing my sister’s good friends tell stories about the big money they were making at Stratton Oakmont and other financial firms. During this time, the stock market was in its full glory with penny stocks being traded, little SEC involvement, and stories like Jordan Belfort becoming headline news.

It was not long until stories began to break about the corruption and fraud of Stratton Oakmont. I watched my sister’s friends’ careers get buried in a moment, before they even hit their 22nd birthdays. It was a strange feeling because I had always wanted to follow in their footsteps of fancy cars and lavish lifestyles.

It was the life I wanted, only to learn that it was built on fraud and deception. Watching this happen at such a young age was impactful on how I would view success. Even though I was young, it became clear that anything that seems too good to be true often is. This experience helped set me up for success by highlighting the importance of living with good values and a hard work ethic. I was driven to put certain pieces of my life in place. It was at this point that I decided to build a professional career that was rooted in trust and which put people first.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

In the future, companies will still require a diverse skill set across their organization to achieve growth and sustainability goals. However, over the next 10–15 years, I predict companies will move towards non-exclusive employee relationships in which employees hold roles at multiple organizations to utilize their skill sets across a broad spectrum of organizations.

As it stands today, employees in an organization are generally tasked to have a wide range of skills in order to be successful at their role. Rather than this model, companies will look to hire individuals with unique specialties. We are already starting to see Gig employees as a mainstay in certain businesses such as delivery services and transport, I foresee this market growing into skilled labor in which individual specialties can be utilized across multiple organizations for the benefit of the contractor and employer. With this change, organizations will become flatter and pull from a specialized talent pool to achieve their goals.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

Looking into the future of work, organizations need to build their hiring process and employee retention plans around remote work and the growing segment of contractor-based work, also referred to as the contingent workforce. To achieve this at scale, organizations need to have the correct internal systems and platforms both technologically and culturally.

Investing in technology includes collaboration and communication tools, cybersecurity, identity verification, background screening, network access, and project management tools.

Having the right people at your company is equally important. Finding employees that thrive in your culture and investing in your current employees will make your organization successful.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

Employees expect to work on their own terms — specifically regarding work flexibility, hours, and physical location. Currently, we are seeing many companies lose employees because they are requiring their workers to go into the office. While they’re suffering from this high rate of turnover, these companies are also struggling to hire new people.

As time goes on, we will see how the world evolves, but I personally believe that virtual workplaces are going to stick around. The pandemic showed employees everywhere that you can thrive at work, with a greater work-life-balance. I don’t see this desire going away anytime soon.

From an employer perspective, this shift in the workforce will add complexities from a tax and liability perspective. Additionally, if you are looking at remote work generationally, the baby boomer generation may have a functional gap in the way they work and manage a team in a remote world. I would advise that companies invest in management trainings specifically geared at managers managing work-from-home teams.

The ultimate goal is to build a culture where all employees and management feel comfortable with remote work.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

I have always been an advocate of remote work. Prior to the pandemic, there was a gradual increase of remote or hybrid workforces. The pandemic accelerated the “remote work” trend that was beginning to occur in the world. In 2020, when most companies went fully remote, we saw that our business could continue to run from a fully remote workforce.

While I do expect that employees will gradually begin returning to the office, we have seen that many companies have created work-from-anywhere or hybrid working policies. With these policies comes the ability for remote hiring. Employers have the option to no longer filter by location when hiring.

To sustain remote hiring, employers will invest in technology that facilitates more face-to-face interactions to increase the comfort levels around hiring someone you can’t meet in person. Working in the background check industry, I have seen an increased interest around identity verification and social media screening that can help employers gain confidence to take the next step with their preferred job candidates.

Identity verification verifies identity remotely from a candidate’s mobile phone. Social media screening is an unbiased way to assess your candidate’s social presence. This type of screening proactively identifies behaviors such as bigotry, sexism, and violence. These types of tools can help create the same foundations of trust, safety, and strong, authentic corporate cultures to which they have become accustomed.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

The pandemic accelerated work trends that we were already beginning to see before the start of Covid-19 . The shift to remote work also shifted the mindset of employees in many ways. Moving forward, I think we will see more and more employees become part of the contingent workforce. They will specialize in a few specific skills and go to work for multiple companies. I believe that as a result of this change, organizations will be able to pull from a large and specialized talent pool.

In the past, it was seen as a negative if a candidate had a gap in a resume, was working remotely, or was part of a contingent workforceToday these events are fast becoming more accepted reality than stigma. LinkedIn has even announced it is now allowing individuals to add career breaks as well as options for self-employed/freelancers onto their profile. As the workplace evolves, the mindset and attitude of the workforce is changing too.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

While the Covid-19 pandemic was a horrific event globally, it opened the eyes of the world to a new way of operating, while also accelerating remote work and turbo-charging the Gig economy.

Companies and employees alike had to adapt to a new way of working almost overnight. If anything, this shows the sheer agility of businesses in today’s markets, and how quickly we can pivot our ways of working. If you think about it, it’s just incredible that companies adapted their business models and operations practically overnight, employees were still able to be productive, and many people are still thriving in this environment.

I believe that this is just the beginning and we will continue to see great technological innovations and advancements surrounding the future of the workforce that will elevate us as a whole.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

The focus on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace has greatly accelerated since 2020. When I was regularly seeing my employees in the office, it was easier to get a sense of how everyone was doing with in-person 1:1 conversations. With all the difficulties that 2020 has brought, it is more important than ever to create a positive work environment in which employees feel good about coming to work every day.

As a result of going remote and the events surrounding 2020, employers had to work harder at improving mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. Allowing flexibility in the workday and encouraging employees to take care of themselves is paramount. The workday can get hectic, and often people need a reminder to reset. There really is a concept of the “new-normal.” People are set in their ways, and we need to be mindful of the work-life balance that employees have become accustomed to these last few years.

Encouraging personal interactions can also help people connect. In person, we would have team-building activities and company events to build a sense of camaraderie. Virtually, this is more difficult. In addition to the usual virtual happy hours, games, and constant recognition, I start off all meetings asking my direct reports how they are doing, how their weekend was, is there anything interesting they would like to share?

All companies should be providing employees with the tools and resources to thrive. I would suggest that every employee should have access to a mental health resource center.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

The Great Resignation is hitting nearly every industry. As the General Manager of the tech, media, entertainment, and hospitality industries at Sterling, I see how the Great Resignation is affecting each industry differently.

According to research, the annualized 2021 resignation rate was around 25%. At Sterling, one of our core values is, “It’s all about our people”. The idea behind this is that because our employees support all that we do, they are our most important asset.

The pandemic has shifted what employees value at companies. Trends like the desire for workplace flexibility, career advancement opportunities, and developing a sense of teamwork are more important to employees than ever before.

Now more than ever, employees report feeling burnout, disconnected, and a lack of support. Companies need to create connections within their organizations. Activities like virtual lunches, happy hours, games, townhalls, etc., can make employees feel more connected to each other. Obviously, a happy hour or free lunch isn’t going to cure a culture problem. Employees need to provide feedback and see actions taken to implement it. They need to feel comfortable enough with their employers to express what they need.

In addition to feeling connected to a company, employees need to feel connected to their job. Providing a clear path for additional trainings, skill and career development, promotions and salary increases can help make employees feel enthusiastic about coming to work each day. As I like to say with my own team, leaders don’t need to hear, they need to see.

Lastly, it is important to build a strong, authentic culture at your organization. People need to feel like they themselves can be authentic and bring their whole selves to work. This type of authentic work culture that is genuine and inclusive will attract and retain the talent you need to drive success at your organization.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

1. Contingent Workforce

The contingent workforce has grown rapidly over the years. It is estimated that by 2050, 50% of the U.S workforce will be made up of contingent workers. With this type of workforce, companies can hire for specific projects from a specialized talent pool. This can decrease costs and increase productivity.

2. More Global Workforce (hire from anywhere)

Since employees can work-from-anywhere, this opens the applicant pool to top talent across the world. In the past, companies could exclusively hire employees that could commute to the office. So, if your office was in NYC, you had to limit applicants that could or were willing to commute to NYC. Remote work opens the door to hire someone based in CA for a company that operates in NYC. Doing so greatly expands the talent pool.

3. Flexible working

The 9–5 has evolved over the years and transformed into a more flexible way of working. Flexible working allows employees to decide the best hours and location for their job. This can also differ on a day-to-day basis and factors in room for employees to go to doctors’ appointments, pick of their kids and take care of other personal tasks. Employers would then have to look at the quality of work, rather than the number of hours spent working. This way of working proves beneficial to employees and employers. A recent Talent Works survey found that 90% of senior executives now expect to work from home. Additional research shows that remote workers are 35–40% more productive than their in-office counterparts.

4. Greater Focus on Employee Culture

Employee culture has always been important, but the pandemic, remote work, and the Great Resignation have highlighted its significance. Numerous surveys have shown that employees want to feel connected to their work and company. Creating meaningful work and relationships encourages collaboration and employee loyalty.

5. Building Employee Engagement

Employees can love the culture of the company, but not be engaged with their work. Engagement includes career development and growth, recognition, and rewards, and creating a healthy work environment. On my team, we have monthly accolades and call outs to celebrate milestones and significant successes.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. — Ben Franklin

Understanding that people are just people, and all put on their shoes the same way helps to shape and understand that while we all may be very different, understanding where we are the same is key to success both from a personal and leadership perspective. While many people may have varying styles of learning, one will always benefit from doing, rather than being told or taught.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to speak to Jeff Bezos.

We all are familiar with Amazon and the impact that it has had across most industries including tech, e-commerce, grocery, etc. It is truly amazing to think of all that goes into Amazon to quickly fulfil orders, scale and grow this type of company.

I would love to speak with Jeff Bezos about the trials and tribulations in scaling Amazon and the good and bad about his time growing the business. I would also be interested to learn how he plans for the future of his business in a constantly- changing world.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

If anyone would like to reach out, you can contact me at kenneth.schnee@sterlingcheck.com or via my Linkedin page. You can stay up-to-date with Sterling on our Linked page and company page.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.

This article was originally published in Authority Magazine.

Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.