September 17, 2018
Small Business

CEOs: Workplace culture key to wooing Millennials

HBJ Photo | Matt Pilon
HBJ Photo | Matt Pilon
Bigelow Tea CEO Cindi Bigelow and OperationsInc HR Consulting CEO David Lewis at a CBIA panel discussion this month.
Matt Pilon

What's most important to Millennial workers? Three Connecticut small business executives said recently that salary is further down the list than you might think.

At a recent panel discussion hosted by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA) in Hartford, the CEOs of Fairfield's Bigelow Tea, Norwalk's OperationsInc, and Old Saybrook's Sound Manufacturing and Monster Power Equipment discussed the topic.

Kelli-Marie Vallieres, who is CEO of sister companies Sound Manufacturing and Monster Power Equipment, said she has to compete for employees with Groton's Electric Boat, which advertises starting salaries that some of her mid-to-upper-level employees make.

"In the end, we just can't compete with them," Vallieres said, at least not on pay alone.

To try to even the playing field, her companies offer more schedule flexibility, let employees stay home if their child is sick, and try to make them feel that their input to management is valued.

"In the end, most people would rather work at a small business that provides them some opportunity and flexibility and feeling a part of something bigger," she said.

Bigelow Tea CEO Cindi Bigelow said she hires interns, looks to promote talented employees who might not have a traditional background for her industry, and tries to treat younger employees the way she would want to be treated.

"The key is retaining, not just bringing in … quality … people," Bigelow said. "You all have the power to not lose people to the higher-paying big guy down the street."

David Lewis of OperationsInc, a human resources outsourcing and consulting firm, said offering certain benefits can be key, and that outspending the competition isn't always necessary.

"Yesterday I worked in a [New York] Giants jersey because it was the beginning of football season," Lewis said. "I wear jeans to work every day and all employees do, too."

"We feed everyone lunch, we provide them with that option," he added.

His company also offers life insurance, certain legal services, and helps organize employee sports leagues.

"Those don't cost us much of anything other than a little bit of administrative time, but at the end of the day, all of your employees will migrate to the things that are important to them," Lewis said.

It's important to keep up with employees' wants, especially now, he added, because they can access online job boards and social media.

"They continue every day to be told about where the grass is greener in their respective market," Lewis said. "That's a danger to everybody. It means every single day, whether you like it or not, your employees are on a job hunt."

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