Young at Work
Millennials and a meaningful work environment
Scott Kirchner, right, and Daryl Corbett are co-founders of Mad Macs, in Pittsfield. Pictured here in their Williamstown location.
Photo by Matt Petricone
Millennials, well into their 20s and 30s, are looking to work in teams, companies, and communities that share their values. This is one of the many facts revealed in 1Berkshire’s “Berkshire Initiative for Growth Report,” a document that describes how the recruitment of young adults to the Berkshires will help to mitigate the region’s population decline. The report provides some insight into what young adults prefer at work; it shows how small, local companies, even those with limited resources, can create a competitive advantage to attract and retain Millennial talent.
For Nora Gunning, 25-year-old co-director of leader hiring for Overland, the open floor plan helps. “A lot of what we do is extremely collaborative,” she says, and it’s easier for her to do her job in a room without walls. Based in Williamstown, Overland is part student expedition, part leadership training company. Every summer, 2,500 youths participate in trips across the globe organized by Overland staff, and the company also hires more than 200 college students and recent grads to lead those excursions. Many of Overland’s full-time staffers are hired from the trip leader pool, which may explain the high percentage of young workers—13 of the company’s 20 year-round workers are under 30.
But Overland also gives its employees plenty of reasons to stick around.
In addition to traditional benefits such as healthcare and retirement, Overland provides its workers with Second Tuesday drinks, Wednesday afternoon “hump-day treats,” and Friday morning coffee. Employees organize company-sponsored outings and lunchtime runs. Potluck dinners and holiday parties have become traditions for the tight-knit staff.
These social activities reflect one of the company’s core tenets: communal accountability.
“We have an informal and flat structure,” says Jonathan Igoe, director of Overland. “Ideas are solicited from all corners of the office. Tom [Costley, Overland’s founder] values the opinions and experience of those who have been on the front lines.” Additionally, everyone is expected to work toward the same goal and support each other. “We all answer the phones,” Igoe adds.
Collaborative leadership is not the only service Overland is selling. Its philosophy of inclusiveness drives the work in the office, which resonates with Millennials. “Everybody has a voice and mostly total ownership over their own projects,” says Gunning. “No one is here for the benefits. Everyone’s here to engage with the mission.”
Non-profit companies are also attractive to Millennials thanks to the mission- and cause-based work they undertake. Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, a regional philanthropic organization based in Sheffield, encourages its 16 employees to engage with the mission on a personal level.
“Ideas matter here,” explains Peter Taylor, president of Berkshire Taconic. “We are trying to create an environment where colleagues can excel in their roles and learning can occur.”
A lunchtime speaker series allows employees to learn more about issues and trends in the philanthropy arena, and Berkshire Taconic’s professional development program covers the cost of related conferences and seminars.
Berkshire Taconic also wants to cultivate a culture where young employees can and want to grow with the organization. In 2016, it began a strategic planning and restructuring process that engaged staff at all levels. As a result, three new mid-level positions were created with young professionals in mind, and a new category of paid personal leave was established that bridges the work/life gap.
Now, thanks to these perks, plus a comprehensive benefits package and competitive salaries, Berkshire Taconic retains its young employees—half of its workforce—twice as long as the average tenure for Millennials.
“Listen to feedback,” says A.J. Pietrantone, Berkshire Taconic’s vice president for finance and administration. “Don’t create the environment that you think young people want.”
Feedback made all the difference for Scott Kirchner, founder and co-owner of Mad Macs, an Apple product retailer and servicer headquartered at the Allendale Shopping Center in Pittsfield. Mad Macs has a second location in Williamstown. Kirchner never thought much about employee retention or company culture until he participated in an entrepreneurial training program at Babson College. “The only way to develop a culture [for my employees] was to involve them.”
He distributed two engagement surveys to his eight employees, all under 40, to gain insight into their feelings about the work environment, management, pay, and overall satisfaction.
"None of them said that video games at work would improve their experience,” Kirchner explains. “They were feeling beaten up by frustrated customers.”
Kirchner then released an action plan based on the survey results. He developed formal procedures and “common sense” customer-service training, empowering his workers to make fair decisions and compromises with customers.
“They knew that they were heard,” Kirchner says of his employees.
Mad Macs established a company culture built around transparency, accountability, and mutual respect. Kirchner likens the relationship he has with his employees to that of a family.
“They want to work here for the rest of their lives,” he says with a laugh. “They like what they do, but they love their jobs.”
Many of Overland’s full-time staffers are hired from the trip leader pool, which may explain the high percentage of young workers. And beyond the traditional benefits that it provides, Overland organizes social activities.
“Listen to feedback. Don’t create the environment that you think young people want.” — A.J. Pietrantone, Berkshire Taconic’s VP for finance and administration