With more than 5,000 employees in 60 offices worldwide, marketing-services company Epsilon has a huge opportunity for impact with each of its policies and practices. When the company made the decision to introduce fast-paced raises and promotions in order to attract recent college graduates a few years ago, as recently reported by the Wall Street Journal, people took notice, especially millennials whom Epsilon hoped to recruit.
Now, just over one third of all Epsilon employees are millennials (21- to 34-year-olds), and 100 percent of employees in their “new grad” program are promoted at least once within their first two years with the company. (In addition, 40 percent of all interns in Epsilon’s 2013 pool became full-time employees in 2014.) Why does Epsilon care so much about Generation Y — and why do millennials in turn love working at Epsilon? We sat down with David Lucey, director of campus recruiting, to find out in part 1 of this 2-part feature on the groundbreaking work Epsilon is doing for modern corporate culture.
Why is your company one of the best places for millennials to work?
Our environment and our culture really provide a few things that hit at the heart of what young people are looking for. Millennials seek constant feedback and reinforcement, but this also applies to most associates. Our culture is built around communication and giving people an opportunity to make an impact and a difference regardless of their experience level. We have almost 50 interns working here this summer, and they constantly tell us how impressed and surprised they are that get to do “real work.” Many of them comment that they don’t feel like they’re “just an intern” but that they’re part of the team that they work on. We also provide good opportunities for work/life balance — it’s a very flexible work environment where, for the most part, we’re not constrained by set hours. It’s a culture built around getting the job done in the time that you need or works best for you. We give a lot of professional autonomy and responsibility to our young employees.
Do you ever find it difficult to manage millennial employees?
Again, going back to generational expectations, there are aspects of the millennial generation where they’re a little more open, for better or worse. Some of the younger people I’ve encountered don’t like to talk on the phone, they’d rather IM or text or email, which makes you wonder if they’re introverted, but they’re not. It’s the opposite: they can actually be more open or over-share in conversations. I had one employee who was right out of college, and six months she came into my office and asked, “When can I ask for a raise?” To which I responded, “I think you just did.” It was innocent and naïve and I wasn’t necessarily equipped for that at the time.
Do you have a mission-driven culture? Eighty-eight percent of millennials in our Bentley PreparedU study said that it was a priority to work for companies that are socially responsible and ethical, making the world a better place.
Candidates do ask that a lot. Epsilon Community Outreach (ECO) is our effort, established in every office around the world, to bring employees together to promote our relationship with our local community. ECO has a number of activities throughout the year, from working with volunteer initiatives like local soup kitchens, or a call to action for all associates like our Summer of Service, through which employees can donate their time, stuff, or money to organizations. It sounds sort of cheesy, but we compete within the offices to see who can give more, and our parent company has a pretty awesome matching gift program for employees — almost dollar for dollar. We also have social, community-driven volunteer opportunities: here in Boston, for instance, we’ll go to Thompson Island in Boston Harbor with a program for inner city kids to go out and learn about the environment and we volunteer to clean up trash and weeds and then have a barbecue as a nice end to the day. ECO allows each office to determine the causes that are most important to them. Corporate-wide, Epsilon partners with United Way, and we also have a large non-profit client base so there are other ways to support our clients with time or donations, which the client team reaches out regularly to let people know about.
In your experience, how important is work-life balance to your millennial employees? And how do you handle that as a company?
It’s extremely important. In addition to some of the other cultural and less tangible things that we do, like remote work flexibility and relaxed hours, we also have a casual dress code across our offices that we implemented a few years ago. We have gyms on-site at most of our offices that people can use for free before, during, or after hours, with showers and towel service, and we also offer a fitness benefit. Our parent company has a program called Healthy Alliance to promote healthy living, with annual healthy eating seminars and free flu shots and screenings, things that provide people with the opportunity to get things done for free on the company during office hours. A lot of offices also have on-site dining facilities, which is nice because you can make the most of your workday — especially for our Boston and Dallas offices, which are outside the city and a little bit remote.
What are the top three things that other companies could learn from your experiences about hiring, employing and/or retaining millennials?
One of the things that have set us apart is our onboarding program, which is a huge draw for the new grads that we’re trying to attract. In addition to the training, we do some unique things around pay practices, and we have a structured review process than wouldn’t happen in other companies and frankly within the older Epsilon population. Our new grad hires get reviewed every six months for their first two years, with the opportunity to get promoted at least once. We try to give them a significant head start during those two years, which we feel has lowered our attrition of early career people and has also started to build that mutual sort of trust or loyalty between the employees and the company. We’re spending a lot of time, money, and effort investing in you, we tell them, and we hope it’s mutually beneficial, setting the stage for what we hope to be a long-term relationship. When talking to candidates for employment, our recruiters are very transparent and pragmatic about Epsilon being a fantastic place for them to start a career, and that within two years they’ll have some very marketable skills, within the company (which is an S&P 500 company) or outside it. We’re not afraid of training our employees and then losing those resources we’ve invested in. We’re investing in what we hope is a long-term relationship, and hope to launch their careers, period. Our mentorship program is also a top attraction and something other companies could model. The last piece is talent management, providing opportunities for younger employees to do different things. You want to move to a different office? There’s a way for you to do that. You want to skip to a new career track? We provide someone for you to talk to within the company and figure that out.
What else should we know about why your company is a progressive workplace and one of the best places and cultures for millennials to thrive?
The key things are providing that place and environment for employees to learn, explore, and really be innovative. The reason that we hire so many young people is that we’re looking for people with a fresh perspective on things, and that their voice is heard. They’re not going to get instant gratification, but they’ll be heard and there’s a support system in place. Epsilon has a number of rewards programs in place, too, like our Limelight Awards, where your manager or colleagues can nominate you for quarterly recognition, and Pass It On points, where you can be given points for teamwork or volunteering from anyone in the company and then use them for gift cards, nights out at restaurants near our offices, sailing trips, and more. It’s gamification to reward and recognize employees for hard work, with a lot of focus on our early career folks.
Melissa Massello is a freelance writer, former startup executive, and serial entrepreneur who is passionate about supporting women’s leadership and gender equality, both in business and at home.