How Top Companies Attract Top Talent

 
Remember the way your dad used to talk about work? It was just a means to an end—a way to put food on the table and clothes on your back. But this working-class hero cliché doesn’t fly with the younger generation. Millennials don’t want to view their careers as a sacrifice, and they expect more out of them than a paycheck. In fact, they’re looking for work that’s not only satisfying but potentially world-changing as well.

According to a 2016 survey by Accenture, a global professional services company, 74% of recent college graduates would choose to work at an organization with an “engaging, positive social atmosphere even if it meant accepting a lower salary.” Furthermore, many of them are unhappy with the jobs they’ve already landed. Fifty-one percent report that their current work doesn’t require the degree they earned—a number that has risen 10% over the past three years. Millennials are looking to move on, but can your organization attract them?

As it turns out, you don’t need to fear losing the best and the brightest to bigger competitors. Forty-four percent of grads say they actually prefer the idea of working for a small business or start-up to a large company so that they can better customize their career paths according to their own interests. You do, however, risk losing young talent to cooler competitors. The business that appeals to millennial job seekers must offer a corporate culture that makes work feel more like play, encouraging self-expression, and openness. Here’s a three-pronged strategy to create one.
 
 

1. Make work a fun place to be

It goes without saying that happy workers are better workers, and making your office space upbeat and less like, well, Office Space, will go a long way. But fun doesn’t just make employees happy—it makes them show up. A recent UK survey of 2,000 people found that 62% of employees who enjoyed “some form of fun in the workplace” had no sick days in the previous three months. By comparison, 58% of people who hadn’t experienced workplace fun had been out “sick” 11 or more days.

Fun can be built into a company, literally. Many of Google’s buildings use playground-style slides to connect rooms. Facebook’s headquarters feature a wall that employees are encouraged to graffiti. But fun doesn’t require a big investment. Many offices are bringing elements of the outdoors inside with simple alterations and substitutions. To inject more natural sunlight, use glass for interior walls, and replace isolated workstations with benching desks. Laying down synthetic grass in place of carpeting helps promote the calming sensation of being out in nature. Red Bull’s Mexico City office meeting areas look like lawns and even feature swings to sit on.
 
 
 
 
If you want to be really thrifty, recycled lumber and shipping containers can be used as building materials, forming cubicles and meeting rooms with an industrial theme. Can’t find a good receptionist? Do away with the whole idea and set up paths for clients and visitors to follow when they arrive. LUX Design, a Toronto-based firm, helped one client create color-coded trails on its floor featuring the company logo that led to different departments.

Above all, let the company’s personality, and the personalities of its people—quirks and all—shine. Onnit, a fast-rising, Austin-based fitness, and lifestyle brand has a “creative cave” that houses its marketing department. Wallpapered in a Star Wars theme, an image of the Death Star looms over the creative director while the shelving units are adorned with action figures. A drum kit and amplifiers that employees are welcome to play (after hours) sit in the corner.

But having cool things to do or see on site isn’t as important as simply making the company a place where people want to be. In the UK study, some of the top factors in making employees feel that work was a fun environment were dress-down Fridays, office parties (or nights out on the company tab), charity fund-raisers, and having an office pet.
 
 

2. Make people feel they’re doing important work

According to the 2013 book Conscious Capitalism, co-written by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, companies that declare a socially responsible mission attract more business than those that don’t. And the Accenture survey found that 92% of 2016 graduates think it’s important to work at such a firm so they can make an impact on causes or issues that are important to them.

Onnit employs 140 people, most of whom are millennials. Its slogan is “total human optimization,” identifying its mission to help customers and clients reach their maximum potential, not just in physical aspects but socially and spiritually as well. The company donates some of its profits to a fund that supports Native Americans, and gathers donations annually for Seeds of Peace, an organization that develops community leaders among young people from around the world who are on opposite sides of political conflicts. “Millennials are attracted to doing something special and they want to change the world,” says Onnit’s COO, Jason Havey. “If you don’t make them feel like they’re doing it, they’ll seek other options.”
 
 
 
 
In Onnit’s last employee survey, says Havey, out of 89 responses, 86 checked “strongly agree” for the statement “I’m highly motivated to see Onnit succeed.” And the remaining three? “They said ‘agree,’” says Havey. “People understand that we have a higher mission and they feel good about it. You can search #getonnit and feel that you’re part of something that is meaningful.” Havey notes that for the first five years of Onnit’s existence, not a single employee quit.
 
 

3. Be transparent

At one time or another, everyone has worked a job where the employees felt like galley slaves while management held the whips. Havey says Onnit prevents an us-them culture from forming by keeping staffers in the loop on every development. While most companies are secretive about changes until they become official, Havey says he freely informs employees of any big plans even if they never come to fruition. “That way they get excited,” he says. “And if it does happen, they can feel like they were a part of it all along.”

Keeping what he calls transparency within the company also allows people you might have never expected to step forward and potentially play a key role. Havey credits a millennial rep from the wholesale department with helping to orchestrate a deal with Exos—a sports performance company that caters to elite athletes—that will culminate with their opening a training facility on the growing Onnit campus.
 
 
 
 
“I’m really proud of the fact that this company is immune to secret recordings,” says Havey. “You could record any of our meetings and you’ll find that what’s really happening is what people hope is happening.” Havey says today’s companies have no choice but to play it straight because employees are getting wiser. “I think, because of the Internet, millennials are the first generation that has foolproof B.S. meters. If you don’t go through your policies and remove all the bullshit, they’re not going to stick around, or they’re not going to follow them. Your policies have to mean something. They can’t just be there because that’s the way you always did it. Millennials will force you to put rules in place that actually matter.”
 

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BY: CHESLEY ROBERTS

Chesley is the head of marketing at Rise. She loves Campbell's soup, her daughter, and playing gin rummy while drinking tea. Despite how old she sounds, she is still in her twenties. You can usually find her in Austin killing it at game night.