Employees today are looking not only for better wages, but also for employers who are listening. 

So says Michael Lastoria, the CEO and co-founder of &Pizza, a fast-casual pizza chain known for pushing restaurant-industry employers to pay workers a minimum of $15 an hour. The company will mark 10 years in business next summer. 

In the latest Inc. Real Talk streaming event, Lastoria spoke about his vision for how the food-and-beverage business should treat employees and his advocacy for a higher minimum wage, setting his sights on an industry-wide $20 per hour.

"It's important that people have a hard reset. It's not going to go back to 2019," Lastoria says, noting that younger generations aren't as interested in climbing the corporate ladder. "People need a reason to come work for you. You are no longer in control of the narrative."

Here are a few highlights from Lastoria's interview.

An Employee-First Model  

Making workers the stars of the show reduces your business risk, Lastoria says. While democratizing decision making and offering non-traditional benefits wasn't easy for &Pizza, these moves were investments that paid off in employee retention and bottom-line profits. Even before the pandemic, &Pizza provided employees with Lyft vouchers and paid time off for political activism and voting.

"People are voting with their feet," says Lastoria, referring to the Great Resignation.

Values and Vision

Establish company policies based on values that you truly believe in, says Lastoria. Include your investors in conversations about your decisions, including higher wages, but don't get distracted by the noise around you, he says.

"You can't bend too much if someone challenges you on something that you know long-term is the right thing," Lastoria explains.

Fostering a healthy company culture can be challenging, even if you're paying higher wages, he says. Higher pay can be a starting point, but make sure you're building jobs and labor productivity for a place where people actually want to work. If they aren't engaged at work, employees are likely to leave for an employer that values them more. 

"It starts with really listening, really caring, and having a high degree of empathy," Lastoria says.