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If you're a top university business grad looking to land a sweet job, what company would you pick? Mars Canada and Hershey Canada, leading manufacturers best known for their chocolate and confectionery treats, both made the Top Employers in the GTA list for 2011.

You could choose according to your favourites - Hershey's brands include Oh Henry!, Hershey's Kisses, Twizzlers and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, while Mars produces Mars bars, Snickers and 3 Musketeers. Or you could check out what they have to offer potential hires.

We put Leslie Brams-Baker, Mars Canada communications manager, and Shari Ellis, director of human resources at Hershey Canada, on the hot seat. How do they sweeten their workplaces to attract and keep the best of the best?

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Leslie Brams-Baker, Mars Canada

What's it like to work at Mars Canada?

When you come into Mars, it's a completely open office environment - no cubicles, no offices. Our conference rooms are all glass. You never feel like there's a barrier to going over and seeing someone. Our senior management team sit right in the middle of the office at the exact same desks as everybody else. We don't distinguish between layers and levels at all.

What's the dress code?

We are a jeans environment. Being casual brings down the barriers of communication even further. The day after we launched it about three years ago, our senior management team and president came in wearing jeans, so folks said, 'Okay, we're really living it.'

Can I bring my dog to work?

Absolutely. On any given day, we have five or six dogs here. We're a pet food business as well (Pedigree, Cesar, Whiskas). We also recognize that from a work-life balance perspective, it's hard to leave your pet at home. The pets come right into meetings, too, and just carry on as part of the associates.

A food company allows pets into the building?

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Office areas only. The food manufacturing facilities, test lab and kitchen are off limits.

What if people have allergies?

There's 'petiquette' - they [the pets]have to be well behaved and have had all of their shots. You have to make sure that the folks around you don't have any allergies and can move to sit somewhere else for the day if needed. There really haven't been any challenges.

What opportunities do you offer for continuing education, skills development and mentoring?

We have education programs that we support and pay for as long as it's tied to your development area and there's a business link. It's case by case.

Part of your performance plan is what we call a 'develop plan.' Regardless if you're new or not, if there's an area that you want to develop and nurture, we build a plan around that. Part of that is on the job learning and there's a mentoring component. We also have formal training that associates can sign up for as well as reverse mentoring, a new initiative we launched this year. Our president is mentored by one of our students on millennials and social media.

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What's the company culture?

We drive down decision making and accountability to every level in our organization. You have immediate access to management right away, just by going over, sitting down in a chair beside their desk and having the kind of conversation they really want to have.

We're very celebratory. One of our biggest parties is at Halloween with the associates and their families, which includes a separate dress up contest for the pets. We celebrate the Olympics, world soccer, our business results - it creates connections between people and enables them to network.

How do you reward success?

We have a program called 'Make the Difference.' It's peer nominated, where associates are recognized for their contributions. Every second year, those chosen go to a North American Awards gala ceremony in Washington.

How do you support diversity - women, new Canadians, GLBT employees?

We support everyone who comes in. Through our 'great place to work program,' associates can develop any kind of diversity program. Currently, 46 per cent of employees are women, 37 per cent of managers are women and 40 per cent of directors are women. The percentage of employees who are visible minorities is 30 per cent and the average age of all employees is 40.

Is there a GLBT group?

We don't have anything formalized.

Give us some numbers. What percentage of your staff is new Canadian or GLBT?

I don't know.

Do you participate in, or sponsor, any Pride events?


Can I work from home?

We're completely electronic so you can be just as productive at home. We love to have face time in the office because that's the real magic to our connectivity and collaboration, but at the same time, it's part of a work life balance.

How many people work from home? Does the company give people laptops and pay for Internet at home?

We don't track working from home as it's based on need. We do provide laptops but we don't pay for Internet.

How competitive are your salaries?

Very competitive and we do benchmark surveys every year.

Do you pay more than Hershey's?

I don't have any data to compare.

What's your parental leave like for fathers?

We just had someone return after they split the maternity leave between the mother and the father. A number of our fathers take advantage of it, which is fantastic. It's such a life altering experience.

How green are you?

The company's food production employees have recently reduced water consumption by 40 per cent and are working towards having a carbon neutral sales force by 2011, through the implementation of an onsite tree planting program. We banned water bottles to help reduce plastic and nobody gets reserved parking unless they have a hybrid or high efficiency vehicle.

How do staff burn off all the free chocolate?

We have a gym on site, an outdoor track and a trainer who comes in to run boot camp and individual programs. Our cafeteria focuses on nutrition with salad bars, freshly made soups and yes, there's chocolate to nibble on - all in moderation.

All free?

All programs offered by our gym are free, including personal training. Some of the programs we have are learning to run, boot camp, wellness fairs and well-being lunch 'n learns.

Shari Ellis, Hershey Canada

What's it like to work at Hershey Canada?

It's fun, it's bright - we have an open concept. A group of our employees were actually involved in designing the office. The colours reflect our brands like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups - we have orange walls, Hershey's chocolate-brown walls and bright yellow O'Henry! walls. We have some little meeting booths because everyone except human resources is in an open concept.

Collaboration, and open and honest dialogue, are very important to us. Our customer marketing people sit with our brand-marketing people. You wouldn't normally find that but it's generated huge collaboration and dialogue between the groups. Our senior managers are in open concept offices so it's easier to approach people.

What's the dress code?

It's business casual, however if you pay $100 a year to one of our two major charities - either United Way or breast cancer - you can wear jeans whenever you feel it's appropriate.

What's appropriate?

If you're going to a customer meeting, you have to dress appropriately.

Can I bring my dog to work?

My beagle pup, Hershey, would love to come to work with me, but no animals except guide dogs are allowed in our building.

What opportunities do you offer for continuing education, skills development and mentoring?

I actually sent a note out to all managers during the summer saying, 'Go out and ask your staff what would they like to do next year.' I want to put it in the budget so that we have the money for everyone who plans to go on something.

We also have a fantastic site called Hershey University where people can go online and take programs and we have a lot of skills training programs.

We have a formal orientation program. For example, if the new hire is a sales rep, we'll assign them to a seasoned sales rep, so they can see some best practices at work. The manager also spends a lot of time with new employees to make sure they understand 'the Hershey way.'

What's the company culture - or 'the Hershey way'?

Very respectful, very collaborative. There's a huge amount of pride that we're a successful growing company. As an outside consultant said to me recently, "There is just such an incredible feeling of spirit in this building." That resonated with me.

How do you reward success?

Our biggest award is the Milton Hershey Legacy Award that recognizes high performing long-term field sales representatives. We have two other programs that encourage a culture of recognition by rewarding the nominator as well. The 'Sweet Achiever Award' for demonstrating the Hershey values is awarded at our monthly all-employee meetings. Any employee can nominate any one else by using an online form and the criteria provided. The leadership team determines the winners who win a gift card and the nominators are put into a quarterly draw.

What else?

Of course we also have performance based rewards and bonus programs.

How do you support diversity - women, new Canadians, GLBT employees?

Diversity is one of our values. For us, it means be open to possibilities, so it's diversity of thought as well. We have a women's council and a young professionals' council. Hershey Canada is 66 per cent female and our leadership team has that same representation.

Is there a GLBT group?

Not as a separate group.

Give us some numbers. What percentage of your staff is new Canadian or GLBT?

We do not self-report on these statistics, however, we have a very diverse population in Canada. We have age and gender data only. [The average age of employees is 43.8 years.]

Do you participate in, or sponsor, any Pride events?

We haven't participated in or sponsored any Pride events to date.

What about millennials?

We have a lot of Gen Xers. We don't have a lot of millennials on our staff yet but we absolutely want them.

Can I work from home?

We have flexible hours and work options. Our field sales team - all sales representatives and management staff - as well as a number of our account managers work from home regularly.

How many people work from home? Does the company give people laptops and pay for Internet at home?

Approximately 160 people - or half of our employees.

All full time staff who work from home are given laptops, printers, faxes and Internet access. In addition we have head office staff who work from home on a regular basis. We all have laptops and company provided routers.

How competitive are your salaries?

We're competitive. We benchmark every year with other like industries in the community and we want to pay at the benchmark.

Do you pay more than Mars?

I really don't know. Salary surveys are all confidential.

What your parental leave like for fathers?

We've had several fathers take parental leave.

Is that the same as maternity leave?

There's no reimbursement for parental leave. They're eligible for unemployment insurance but we don't top that up. But we certainly top up maternity leave.

What are the company's values and how do you put them into action?

We have volunteer days - people can take two paid days off per year and there's a list of charities that they can go work at, with their supervisor's approval. This week, we had a sales team go out and volunteer at a mobile food bank. We've planted trees in parks in Mississauga and built houses for Habitat for Humanity. Raising money for breast cancer and the United Way is huge at Hershey Canada. We've increased our giving to the United Way by 500 per cent in the past five years. We also send over 2,000 cases of Twizzlers to our soldiers in Afghanistan as a Christmas gift each year.

What if my charity isn't on the list?

We have a lot of grassroots initiatives from employees. The company encourages it and everyone is so enthusiastic. We're sending running shoes to Malawi and planning an 'out of the cold' coat, hat and scarf donation this year.

How green are you?

We're in a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building and that was one of the criteria that was really important for Hershey's when we moved in three years ago. We recycle religiously within the building and have a water cooler to discourage the use of water bottles.

As a broader company, we've really looked to increase the use of recycled products in our packaging.

How do staff burn off all of the chocolate?

We don't have a fitness facility on site but we do have a fantastic employee lounge with [a Nintendo]Wii. It's bright and open, equipped with microwaves and refrigerators. If you're going to use one of the gyms around our area, you can take up to an hour and a half for lunch. We also bring in wellness speakers and we've had a massage therapist come in to provide massages on site at our head office.

How about all those employees who work from home?

Everybody has the same access to a fitness subsidy once a year. Staff submit expenses and we pay $350 either for a gym membership or home fitness equipment.

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