Companies Lure Millennials with Zombies, Wine Bars, Mentors

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When zombie apocalypse survivors extol their employer’s benefits, that company is worth a second look.

Acuity, a property and casualty insurer operating in 22 states, vividly illustrated its sense of fun in its zombie-themed video in which employees extoll the benefits of working there. The video won $5,000 for charity in the Great Place to Work Institute’s 2014 “We Love Our Workplace” contest.

The company regularly sends candy and other gifts to employees’ desks, hosts after-work social hours, offers free breakfasts and provides a 170-plot community garden. 

It’s all a way to attract and keep employees, earning the central-Wisconsin-based company a voluntary attrition rate of 1.43 percent and a spot on Great Rated’s 2014 “Ten Great Workplaces for Millennials” list. Great Rated is part of Great Place to Work, a global HR consulting, research and training firm known for producing the annual Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work For” list and the “Best Small & Medium Workplaces” list.

“Our corporate culture has always been to put fun into insurance,” said Joan Ravanelli Miller, general counsel and vice president of HR at Acuity. The company website emphasizes its sense of humor with photos showcasing events such as a chocolate fair, holiday party and summer picnic.

Fun “can be an attractor and can also be a connector” for employees of all demographics, not just Millennials, said Jan Ferri-Reed, in a video about a book she co-authored with Joanne Sujansky, Ph.D.

“Not all work is fun and most jobs contain a necessary amount of drudgery,” the authors acknowledge in Keeping the Millennials: Why Companies Are Losing Billions in Turnover to This Generation—and What to Do About It (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). “However, when you go to the trouble to create a fun atmosphere, you not only attract Millennials, but you also unleash their naturally high energy levels,” and help reduce stress and increase productivity, they add.

“Many companies,” they say in their book, “are taking concrete steps to develop a high-energy, social work climate.”

At Utah-based Xima Software, which employs 24 people, the company’s “Fun Fridays” serve as a recruitment, retention and team-building tool—although its incentives aren’t specifically targeted to Millennials. Various “Fun Fridays” have paid homage to Star Wars, celebrated Justin Timberlake’s birthday and had employees team up for an Office Olympics.

“We’re successful because our people are happy, and they’re happy because we have fun,” Jared Olsen, SPHR, Xima’s operations director, told SHRM Online in February.

Adding an element of fun also helps create social interaction among team members and other employees. Allied Wallet offers free Friday lunches where everyone eats together. And DPR Construction has wine bars at its 19 U.S. locations for its 1,356 employees when their workday ends. Both companies made Great Rated’s list.

At New Jersey-based Billtrust, a provider of outsourced billing services, bowling nights, summer barbeques and complementary treats from an ice cream truck are part of the culture that helped it secure a spot on Great Rated’s list.

Fun activities are retention tools not limited to Millennials, said Jeanne O’Connor, Billtrust’s vice president of HR. “When you can sprinkle in some fun and pay them well and provide good benefits, you’ve got a winning combination.”

Not Just BBQs and Wine Bars

Millennials—the generation born between 1980 and 1999—will make up 46 percent of the U.S. labor force by 2020, according to Generational Change in the Workplace, a 2014 report from the Society for Human Resource Management.

And a recent survey of HR managers and recruiters found that it costs a company between $15,000 and $25,000 to replace each Millennial employee it loses. More than 60 percent of Millennials leave their company in less than three years, SHRM Online reported in September 2013. Incentives that tap into this generation’s desire to make an impact on their organization, and the world around them, can serve as valuable retention tools.

Billtrust’s O’Connor describes Millennials—who are about a third of the company’s 190 employees—as the organization’s future leaders. It implemented a mentoring program that pairs Millennials with senior executives. It has since expanded the program to include mentoring for employees from other generations.

At The Boston Consulting Group Inc., employees at this Great Rated-company have the opportunity to provide pro bono and “low bono” work with global aid organizations and charities on issues such as world health and hunger. Quicken Loans in Detroit gives employees paid time off for charitable causes, including adopting schools and teaching classes at a company-funded training center that promotes entrepreneurship in the city.

Other companies looking to attract Millennials position themselves as employers of choice by being more transparent and accessible. Acuity hosts quarterly town hall meetings during the workday, and Ultimate Software flies new hires to its Weston, Fla., headquarters for a two-day, all-expense-paid orientation that includes presentations from upper-level managers and the CEO. At Quicken Loans, the company provides new team members the personal cellphone numbers of its CEO and other leadership team members.

“Millennials are a crucial generation for businesses as they plan for the future,” said Kim Peters, CEO of Great Rated, in a news release. “These companies have found that meaningful work, ethical and caring management, and generous compensation make young employees feel comfortable and excited about work.”

“If there is a common theme to the perks that cool companies provide,” Ferri-Reed and Sujansky wrote in Keeping the Millennials, “it may be the message to employees that ‘You matter to us; your well-being, comfort and enthusiasm are important to our success.’ ”

 Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News.


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