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Something big is happening in American workplaces. Workers are gaining the upper hand as businesses struggle to mount an economic recovery in the midst of a nearly two-year pandemic. From C-suite offices to factory floors, employees are insisting on higher pay, more flexible hours, enhanced benefits and better treatment. And if their bosses can’t—or won’t—heed those demands, many people are going on strike, quitting their jobs or searching elsewhere for more rewarding work.
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Some experts have dubbed it “The Great Resignation,” but for LinkedIn chief executive Ryan Roslansky, whose teams have been tracking the phenomenon among the professional network’s nearly 800 million global members, it’s more like a “Great Reshuffle,” he says. Even as an executive who is surely on the receiving end of demands from the company’s 17,000 employees, he’s excited by what LinkedIn can offer users as they navigate the new job market. The reordering of the employee-employer relationship “places LinkedIn in a strong, singular position to really help shape the new world of work,” he says.
Roslansky has worked in Silicon Valley for over two decades, holding executive roles at companies including Glam Media and Yahoo. He joined LinkedIn in 2009 and became chief executive in the pandemic-mired spring of 2020. He recently spoke with TIME about the shifting job market, his “I’m not your dad” management style, and the role LinkedIn can play in building a more equitable society.
(This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
Can you describe what the “Great Reshuffle” means, as you see it?
We are experiencing right now globally one of the biggest changes to ever play out in the world of work. By virtue of building the world’s largest professional network and this world’s economic graph at LinkedIn, we started noticing an interesting trend probably six months ago. We tracked the percentage of all the members on LinkedIn that changed their jobs in their LinkedIn profile. Looking at that data at the end of September, that number is currently up 54% year over year. So, there is an unprecedented talent reshuffle happening globally. And it makes sense.
Right now, all companies, all CEOs, are rethinking the way their company works. They’re rethinking their culture. They’re rethinking their values and about what it means to work at their company. And on the other hand, you have employees globally who are rethinking not just how they work, but why they work and what they most want to do with their careers and lives. And while this reshuffle of talent will most likely play out for another year or two, I believe it will ultimately settle back down in a place that’s going to lead to greater effectiveness for businesses, greater fulfillment for employees.
What has this period meant for you, personally? Have you changed the way you manage others or how you relate to your work?
We’ve gone through a process like everyone has. I think if you go back to the early pandemic, when local guidelines said people need to be working from home, we obviously abided by those guidelines, but like many companies, we would make what at the time seemed like dogmatic statements, like “We’ll be back in the office in 30 days or 90 days.” Some companies say the world is going 100% remote going forward. What we’ve learned over time is that the key to all of this is leading with trust and flexibility.
No one knows what the next year or two is going to look like. So the sooner you adopt a flexible approach in your leadership style, the better you’re going to be able to manage a company through the pandemic—instead of trying to pinpoint a date when we’re all going to be back together. We’ve done well as a company with the majority of employees being remote. Our approach to the future is we trust each other to get our jobs done. As CEO, I’m not your dad. I’m not going to be one to say you need to be in the office a certain number of days or you need to start and end at this time.
Has that ethos always been part of your management style?
I’ve been building technology products for over 20 years, and companies like ours thrive on consistent innovation. For me, that innovation is ultimately driven by talent. I’m here to bring together the most talented set of individuals possible, that know how to build strong technology products, HR processes, sales teams, and then give them the space and autonomy to thrive. And I’ll constantly ask questions. I will constantly try and connect dots, but I should rarely be a person that needs to make any decisions. There is a paradigm shift in leaders. I think that historically, successful leaders inspired or led followers by telling them what to do, really kind of top down. But my view is that the most successful leaders in the next decade will engage in more dialogue and seek to bring people together as part of that process.
A lot of social media companies are challenged when it comes to attracting and retaining young users. Is that an issue for LinkedIn?
We think about LinkedIn as a platform that exists to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. The global workforce is changing. I talked about how we see a 54% increase year over year in job transitions across the platform. When you look at Gen Z specifically, that number’s up 80% year over year, when you look at millennials that number is up 50% year over year, when you look at Gen X, that number’s up 31% year over year. When you look at boomers that number’s only up 5% year over year.
What we’re trying to do is ensure that we are building the right products and features that allow every member of the global workforce to connect to opportunity. For example, we see this growth in Gen Z using the platform. These are professionals who want to make sure they bring their whole self to work. So we build features like the ability to add pronouns to their profile as part of how they show up on LinkedIn. Gen Z likes to communicate more through video instead of text. So we add features to the LinkedIn profile. You can actually talk about who you are through a video. Everyone’s just used to kind of putting the phone in front of them and talking instead of just writing up a text summary. So, we’re constantly evolving the product.
My brother-in-law is a welder at a manufacturing company in the Midwest. He’s quite active in his union and probably would have reason to be on LinkedIn more. He says he has a profile, but he doesn’t log in very much. Is there a place for people like him on LinkedIn to expand their opportunities in manufacturing and other types of nontech, noncorporate industrial jobs?
Absolutely. While the strength of the LinkedIn network started in what I’ll call knowledge work—technology, finance—it is quickly, especially through the pandemic, moving to be much more frontline. Out of our nearly 800 million members, 125 million are now what we consider frontline members, 35% of sign-ups on a daily basis are from frontline members, 50% of the jobs that are posted on LinkedIn are frontline. And the engagement rates from frontline workers are growing at two times the rate of knowledge workers. The more that a specific industry or job function or geography starts using the platform, it continues to grow. I only expect these numbers to accelerate.
Other than frontline workers, where is the growth coming from these days on LinkedIn?
I would say of the nearly three members that sign up for LinkedIn every second, the majority of users are coming from outside of the United States, global frontline workers, global students and Gen Zs.
You talked about helping to unlock economic opportunities. How exactly can LinkedIn do that for a broad array of working people across the globe?
The way that people work is changing dramatically. And it’s incumbent upon me and our company to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to help people navigate the new world of work. I think about two important shifts that we’re really focused on right now. The first is what we’ve been calling a skills-based approach to hiring. I believe that skills are the new currency. So be it through COVID or digital transformation, or even a fourth industrial revolution, new roles are being displaced and created, right now, globally, at an unheard-of pace.
I believe that change comes through what we call the skills-based approach to opportunity, focusing on what people know—not just where they went to school or who they know. And the good thing about this is that schools, governments, companies, job seekers, everyone plays a role in this. Schools want to help their students. Governments want to help their citizens and companies succeed. Companies want to hire the best talent; employees want to thrive. And I fundamentally believe that the push that we’re making here toward a skills-based future is going to help us really provide much more flexibility to better connect at a larger scale.
The second thing that I’m paying a lot of attention to is constantly ensuring that we can help to build a more equitable society as well. What happens if you have the aptitude, the grit, the resilience, the growth mindset—if you’re exactly the person that companies are looking to hire, but you did not grow up in a high-income neighborhood, go to a top school or work for a top company? These systemic barriers create unequal starting points. And we’re really dedicated through the platform that we run to try and level the playing field. We do it through products, process and people. We do it with a recently created equity team. It’s a team that looks for bias and ways to create opportunity equitably across everything we do. We’re committed to building a much more diverse workforce at LinkedIn and then helping other companies to use our hiring and talent and learning products to do the same at their companies.
Is this notion of doing good an important part of the mission for you?
I talk a lot about doing good and doing well. Companies that are naturally aligned for doing good and doing well have massive competitive advantages. But when you can seamlessly unify doing good and doing well, it’s also a huge competitive advantage. When we build products at LinkedIn, people find jobs, hire, learn skills, make deals, start companies. It’s an ecosystem that creates value for members, customers, the world, and then back for our company.
You’ve been working in Silicon Valley for a long time. What are you seeing out on the technology landscape that excites you, piques your interest?
One thing is that the way we work and communicate is changing through hybrid or remote work. That connection between how people will be productive moving forward is fascinating to me. I’ve been pretty passionate about the way that VR can potentially play a role in that. We recently had an event where we invited customers to throw on a VR headset and have a meeting. It was interesting. I think we’re going to see a lot of evolution in the productivity space moving forward. And I’m really excited about what it means for where people can work, where we can hire talent.
The second thing I’m paying a lot of attention to is this concept of the creator economy. It’s basically the idea that more people in the world have the ability to have their voice heard or their work seen than ever before. And it’s not just about TikTok or content creation. The creator economy is also really about goods and services. It’s like what Etsy or GoDaddy or Shopify have done to help people drive value out of their work online. It’s about the connection and back and forth between an instructor and a learner, or a hiring manager and a job seeker, or a buyer and a seller. It’s not creation for creation’s sake. I’m excited about that trend and the role that LinkedIn can play in it as well.
Correction, October 17:
A previous version of this story misspelled Roslansky’s surname.
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