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Laundry Service, Paid Sabbaticals – 10 Seriously Cool Company Perks

Cynthia Ramnarace

Do Your Benefits Reflect Your Company’s Culture?


When the time comes in the job offer process to talk benefits, you know to ask about a 401(k) plan and health insurance. But what about sabbaticals, pet sitting and laundry service?

To attract the best talent, companies are getting more and more creative with the amenities they provide. As Working Mother’s 2013 100 Best Companies highlights, at Abbott, 97 percent of employees take advantage of flextime scheduling that allows them to adjust their hours and trade shifts, and 60 percent of the company telecommutes. General Mills has on-site day care, a gym and beauty salon. Prudential Financial offers 26 job-guaranteed weeks of maternity leave, nine of which are partially paid.

But employee-focused perks are not just found at Fortune 500 companies. Small organizations are getting in the game because they know that competition for the right employee can be fierce, and keeping a great employee is more cost-efficient than dealing with high turnover. In addition, the type of perks you offer speak to the corporate culture.

“Our bike-share program gives a sense of young, hip, energetic and environmentally and community focused culture, and not just the typical corporate cube farm,” says Jennifer Folsom, human capital manager for Summit LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based boutique data analytics and economic consulting firm. 

Here are 10 companies offering unique job perks that encourage employees’ personal growth, better health and job satisfaction.

Bike to Work, On the Company


When Summit LLC was devising ways to sweeten its benefits package, the Washington D.C.-based company  considered programs such as flexible spending accounts and disability insurance. Those definitely resonated with older employees, but much of the company’s highly coveted workforce is in their twenties, and those perks didn’t excite them. So Summit got a bit more creative.

Recognizing that more than half the workforce did not have cars, Summit decided to purchase annual memberships to the Capital Bikeshare program for its 75 employees. This perk is only two months old, says Folsom, but so far, more than half the company has signed up. “Employees are very excited about it,” she says.

At a cost of $75 per membership, Summit earns more than employees’ goodwill. Employees are encouraged to bike to client meetings, thus helping them avoid delays experienced on the DC subway system. This can increase productivity by saving time spent waiting for and arranging a schedule around Metro rides.

“To go eight or 10 blocks on a bike can take 10 minutes, and it’s 20 to 30 on the train,” says Folsom. “We work on billable hours, so time matters.”

And by encouraging exercise, Summit is reaping other benefits: Exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression and improve mood and cognitive function, according The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Who wouldn’t want to work around happier, smarter coworkers?

Monday Morning Laundry Call


Employees of Venice, Calif.-based JibJab Media who make it to work by 10 a.m. Monday mornings are rewarded by free laundry service. All the company’s 50 employees get a laundry bag and as much as they can fit inside gets washed, folded and returned to them the next day.

“I generally fill my bag to ‘overflowing,’” says Toby Labanow, marketing communications coordinator for JibJab. “The service is great. You get hooked after a while.” So great, in fact, that JibJab thinks it’s not only a great recruiting tool but a great retention tool as well. After all, having someone else do your laundry can be a hard habit to break. The perk is so popular that it’s highlighted in employee job listings.

Laundry service is a huge time-saver for employees, says Labanow. “It makes you feel better. You get it out of the way and have less things to be concerned about,” she says.

And, as company spokesperson Laura Bartlett says, “It makes employees happy.”

Fund What Inspires You


At BBMG, a Brooklyn-based brand innovation studio, employees are granted two separate accounts: an “inspiration” account and a “professional development” account. Each employee receives $500 annually in each and they can use it as they see fit.

The professional development account has to be used on something specific to your job title. But the inspiration account has only one criterion — personal growth. “Anything that will push them to discover new facets of themselves, new interests and passions or further develop existing ones satisfies the criteria,” says Carola Beeney, marketing and communications manager at BBMG. To date, the company’s 20 employees have used their funds for a tutu-making class, 30 days of yoga, a backpacking course on the Delaware Water gap, skydiving and guitar lessons.

The company itself benefits from this investment in inspiration, says Beeney. “Employees come to work feeling inspired, more creative and happier having done something they might not otherwise have done,” she says.

Friday Yoga Time


Every Friday afternoon, the eight employees at Brandsway Creative in New York City get together -- not for a staff meeting, but for a yoga class.

“It gives our employees the chance to relax and zone out and come back into work mode with clear thoughts, a creative outlook and a fresh new perspective,” says partner Matt Levine. A private yoga instructor leads the employees through their postures. Yoga helps reduce stress and anxiety, says Levine, and enhances his team’s overall sense of well-being. And relaxed, happy employees benefit the company.

No Late Night Email


Have you ever heard of a boss who discourages employees from emailing each other during nights and weekends? That’s the philosophy at Vynamic, a Philadelphia-based health care industry management consulting firm.

Company CEO Dan Calista believes so strongly in this that he’s coined the policy “Zmail.” Employees are asked to avoid emailing between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. during the week and during the weekends. If you really need to write an email at 11 p.m., Calista prefers you save the email as a draft and send it out the next morning.

The policy shift occurred in 2012 when an internal engagement survey showed that 40 percent of employees were stressed out at work. “Calista looked into programs and approaches to help improve this situation and was aware of the impact of mobile devices and always ‘being on,’” says company spokesperson Karen Murray. Now, if it’s truly an emergency employees can call or text each other. But otherwise, the company issues regular reminders regarding the policy and clients are asked to abide by it if possible. As a result, Vynamic experiences a lower-than-average employee turnover rate of below 10 percent.

Bring Your Dogs to Work


Worried about who will walk Rover at lunch time or who will play with him so that he gets the exercise he needs? At Trupanion, that’s all taken care of. The Seattle-based company, which sells pet medical insurance, has over 80 dogs and cats in the office each workday. 

A free pet-walking service ensures that the animals get two outings a day at a nearby park where they can even go for a swim to burn off energy. During break time, employees can spend time with their pets in the play area.

“Being pet friendly improves employee morale immensely,” says Erich Wuhrman, vice president of human resources for Trupanion. “It boosts productivity as well. Employees don’t have to worry about their pets being at home and not getting enough exercise. Also, it kind of becomes ingrained in us that we’re actually working for our pets, which motivates us more.”

Work Abroad – From Anywhere


It might be the most outlandish telecommuting program out there: At Software Advice, employees are encouraged once a year to work remotely from anywhere in the world for a month. To date, employees have telecommuted from Vietnam, France and Spain.

“It’s a great incentive and helps us attract quality talent,” says Robert Bellovin, editorial coordinator for Software Advice. “It helps us separate our job listing from the rest of the pack.”

This is especially important when you’re located in Austin and are competing with the likes of Facebook and Apple for employees. The work abroad program allows employees to work from anywhere as long as there’s a reliable Internet connection. Some employees have used the perk to travel abroad while others use it to spend time with family in other parts of the United States.

Pick Your Own Hours


“As a job search website that specializes in telecommuting and flexible job listings, we have to practice what we preach,” says Brie Weiler Reynolds, director of online content for FlexJobs. And so the company’s 36 employees function under a “Results Only Work Environment.” 

“We set our own schedules, work our own hours and are not held to a standard number of hours per day or week. As long as we are accomplishing our goals and staying productive and innovative, it doesn’t matter when or how we work,” Reynolds adds.

All employees work from home and not only do they set their own schedules, they take as much time off as they need to for vacations and illness. “As a team, we ask each other to cover when we’re out, and we make the appropriate preparations so our vacation time doesn’t negatively affect the company. But we all act responsibly and no one has abused the policy yet,” Reynolds says.

Flexible schedules and not having to ask for vacation time or worry you’ve run out of sick days benefit the company by producing happier, less stressed-out employees, says Reynolds. As a result, in the six years since the company was founded there has been virtually no employee turnover.

Five-Week Paid Sabbatical


After five years at Portland-based Ruby Receptionists, employees qualify for the “Five at Five” program — a paid five-week sabbatical. “The program gives employees a chance to pursue a dream or activity that makes them deeply happy that they might not otherwise have the resources to achieve,” says company founder and CEO Jill Nelson. In preparation for their sabbatical, employees receive an individual coaching session and a $1,000 grant they can use for their pursuit.

To date employees have used their sabbatical time to film a documentary, visit Paris and foster a daughter’s dream of someday becoming a marine biologist by road tripping to numerous aquariums across the country.

“Sabbaticals offer our staff a chance to recharge and realize a dream that they may not have been able to pursue while working a traditional Monday to Friday job,” says Nelson. “When our virtual receptionists are happy, callers are happy and our clients are happy.  By investing in our staff’s happiness, they stay with us longer and in turn are invested in making Ruby a successful, wonderful place to work.”

Company-Sponsored Date Night


One night every three months, Veterans United tells its employees “Go on, have a nice night out. We’ll watch the kids.” During the “Parents Night Out,” kids are entertained while parents have a night to themselves. The company also compiles a list of recommended babysitters to make getting out of the house just a little bit easier for their employees. 

The company, which is based in the Midwest, also hosts “Lunch and Learn” topics on finances, parenting and health and weekly 15-minute massages. One of the company’s listed values is “to maintain a balance between our work and our home lives.” Parents Night Out is a fulfillment of that mission, says Kate Quinn of the company’s Life Balance Department. “Simply, happy people make happy employees,” she says.

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