It’s all about culture

Workplaces going the extra mile to attract young professionals

Posted on May 30, 2018 :: Insight Insider
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Joe Truesdale, marketing account manager for Wisnet in Fond du Lac, had his eye on Wisnet long before he started working there two years ago.

“The reason for that is the energy that I was exposed to by working with Wisnet employees in other community capacities,” Truesdale says.

He liked that the company’s founder, Rick Kolstad, fostered a culture of getting excited about figuring things out.

“It’s not necessarily the motivating factor to get businesses or clients, but of being able to find the solution that works,” Truesdale says.

That special company culture led to the company’s second Bubbler Award, which recognizes companies from around the state that create the best places for millennials to to work. The Bubbler Awards are part of Young Professional Week events created by the Milwaukee-based talent recruiting organization NEWaukee.

For the Bubblers, companies are evaluated on competitive salary and benefits, opportunity for advancement and employee and community engagement. Ten companies in Wisconsin won awards — including three in the New North —Wisnet along with food manufacturers Sargento and Johnsonville.

Attracting and retaining great employees of all ages is becoming more urgent as the talent shortage in Wisconsin grows, says NEWaukee CEO Angela Damiani.

“I think we have over 100,000 open jobs currently in the state of Wisconsin,” says Damiani, adding the program is a way to “exemplify and applaud companies who are hitting the mark and going beyond, and ideally to be able to share best practices publicly.”

The awards previously had been presented at a single dinner event, but this year, NEWaukee asked each company to host its own ceremony onsite so all the employees could celebrate together.

“With hosting a dinner, a table of six or 10 employees go, so you don’t get to see the energy of it,” Damiani says. “Now we travel across the state, and the ceremonies have been so kooky and fun. Everybody does it differently depending on the institution.”

That’s the overarching theme in the changes that companies are implementing. Many organizations are thinking outside the box to develop their culture and even alter physical spaces to create more attraction for younger employees. The specifics of those changes depend on the company.

“Not everyone wants the same things,” Damiani says. “We have the conversations about what millennials want or what the next generation wants. At the end of the day, people want the same thing — that their life has meaning and purpose.”

For some people, they find that in the workplace. For others, it’s what they pursue outside of work, she says. “I think the companies who are doing the most progressive things in terms of adapting their workplace to the next generation are those that realize it’s not one-size-fits-all.”

Some industries — like agriculture and manufacturing — face challenges when it comes to making some desirable changes like flexible work hours.

Embracing change

Among its many efforts, Bubbler winner Johnsonville developed a new internal young professionals group with three committees — professional development, community engagement and social networking — that works continually on employee engagement and culture, says Michael Stayer-Suprick, president of Johnsonville International Business Units.

“We’ve continued to embed young professionals into a lot of the strategic conversations that we’ve been having on what the future looks like,” he says.

Getting those young people around the table in management committee meetings has really helped the company embrace new ways of thinking in several areas including community giving, on which the company places a strong focus, Stayer-Suprick says.

“I’ll tell you, we’ve gotten better decisions because we’ve done that,” he says.

Stayer-Suprick says Johnsonville — a 73-year-old company with about 1,600 employees — has been able to successfully incorporate new ways of doing things because of his father, Ralph C. Stayer, “who really believed in the Johnsonville way of learning, growing and adapting to the new and different, and always embracing the world that’s changing.”

Still, when the company introduced flexible hours in the office, it was difficult for some members of the older generation.

“They’d say, ‘Hey, how do I find these people, I can’t walk to their desk, they’re not there,’” Stayer-Suprick says. “Well, guess what? It was pretty easy — you could text them anywhere.”

In addition to getting its employees (called “members”) wired up, the company added several initiatives including its “Careville” program that allows members to direct money or time toward their favorite charity, and a Member Development Fund, which offers up to $100 annually for personal enrichment classes.

Johnsonville opened a 50,000-square-foot office addition in November that houses a 24-hour fitness center open to members, spouses and family. It also features common areas with comfortable furniture where employees can work if they choose. Johnsonville allows its office members to work flexible hours. That does become a little trickier when it comes to the production line, Stayer-Suprick says.

“That continues to be probably our biggest challenge: How do you take a manufacturing environment, which is very structured, and try to add some flexibility to it?” Stayer-Suprick says.

Production employees have rotational schedules, and upcoming offerings may include a scheduled volunteer day. “One of the things that we’ve found is if we can become structured at what we need to do, we can build in the flexibility to the manufacturing area,” Stayer-Suprick says.

NEWaukee recognized Sargento for holding regular brainstorming meetings for both small- and large-scale ideas, as well as several initiatives geared toward employee wellness, including a fitness center, nurses and financial advisers. It also takes care of errands such as oil changes, dry cleaning and mail.

Fostering creativity

Wisnet, which also won a Bubbler Award in 2016, developed a new community co-working space called The Hub. Owner Kolstad says the space creates opportunities for networking, collaboration and the building of ideas.

“We kind of looked at The Hub as an extension of the culture that we have here, in making that another space where we can experiment with different culture ideas and people, and sharing that with the community,” Kolstad says.

Events may include educational seminars and opportunities to get involved with different organizations.

Within Wisnet, Kolstad always wanted to ensure his workplace was one people felt excited about coming to each morning, which is part of the reason Truesdale was attracted to the company. But there are other perks, too.

“We do taco Tuesday,” Truesdale says. “Sometimes we’ll do taco Wednesday, Thursday. We really like tacos.”

Wisnet offsets the damage by offering a fitness center with a trainer, summer outdoor yoga and twice-daily 15-minute bike breaks.

“It’s just getting people to move differently and think differently, and forces us to come up with different solutions for our customers,” Kolstad says.

That idea of finding workable solutions — either internally or when Wisnet is working on volunteer projects in the community — is the centerpiece of the company’s culture. Sharing the energy created by finding those solutions is what helps define the company culture, Truesdale says. It’s really not about the extras.

“We can have as many taco Tuesdays or as many bike rides as we want, but if the team doesn’t have that same kind of energy, I think all of that stuff falls flat,” he says.