Work Perks

The days of working 9–5 in a cubicle with reward coming only in the form of a paycheck are nearly gone. We visited a few local companies, ranging from five employees in a downtown office to 11,000 worldwide, to see how alternative work environments keep employees working hard, and happy.

Hard Work, Hard Play

If employees at Fragment want someone’s attention, they’re more likely to throw a pingpong ball at them than pick up the phone.

The Raleigh Web design company does things a bit differently, with all employees working in the same room, facing each other. All share control of the house audio system, and employees are given equal say over much more important matters, too.

“When we hire new employees, the current employees make the call as to who gets chosen,” said owner Brian Henderson. He believes the office atmosphere is very important to a successful workplace, so camaraderie is crucial.

That team environment extends outside of work hours to leisure time. A Nintendo Wii is hooked up to a wall projector, and nearby sit oversized beanbags for lounging while playing. “Typically we end lunch with Wii,” Henderson said. “We’re pretty competitive with NBA Jam right now.”

Right next to the conference table is a pool table with pingpong cover. The team considers pingpong a brain sport, because “it takes you away from your desk thinking and actually makes you think in a different pattern, relaxes but stimulates at the same time,” Henderson believes.

In the same room is a well-stocked bar. “Future plans include a microbrewery,” Henderson noted, and he has already brought in his own home-brewed beer to share with employees — after hours, of course. The team also conspired to customize a cornhole set with the company logo.

Employees are permitted to bring well-behaved pets to work. Henderson has considered adopting a full-time office pet, but, “We never could decide on what animal to have that could survive if it was an office pet.”

The openness of Fragment’s work atmosphere extends to the public once a month. The Fayetteville Street office participates in Raleigh’s downtown First Friday events by hosting artists each month. Virtually any type of art is welcomed, and artists can choose whether to offer pieces for sale or simply showcase them.

Wes Hare, left, Chris Yow and Juan Ibanes break from work to play a video game at Fragment.

Organizational Support

Toast makes a good start to a day, but at NetApp, it’s a start of a career. TOAST, or Training on All Special Things, introduces new hires to the culture of the company by sending all new employees to Sunnyvale, Calif., for a day of talks with the board of executives.

“It’s a marvelous opportunity to really get that perspective, that senior view, from the horse’s mouth,” said Jim Johnson, HR director at NetApp’s RTP office. In a company of 11,000 people, that kind of direct contact with executives is aimed to show employees their importance within the organization.

“When people join NetApp they are often very surprised how everybody is willing to help,” said Joanna Karwowska, vice president of software engineering. “Everybody is willing to provide the information. Everybody is willing to train people in a formal or informal way. We have a collaborative environment.”

That support isn’t just on the job, though. Employees are granted up to 40 hours per year paid Volunteer Time Off to follow their interests and work to better the world. NetApp doesn’t specifically track VTO hours by location, but in 2010 employees totaled about 24,000 volunteer hours across the U.S. and India.

The Hyatt Legal Plan, which was new in 2010, gives employees free legal counsel for matters like creating wills, estate planning, small claims, elder care issues and other personal legal issues. The program already has a 27 percent participation rate, which is growing quickly.

An adoption assistance program was implemented in response to demand from employees. Johnson says such additions are openly considered. “A number of things that we do offer come from our employees, from the grassroots level,” he said.

Other resources include the Employee Assistance Program, offering counseling on a variety of issues; Tuition Reimbursement Plan, covering up to $5,250 per year for accredited coursework; and a Mass Transit/Parking Account, helping employees be a little more green on their way to work.

Anjelica Cummings, assistant account executive at MMI Public Relations, parades through the office with the Golden Horn, a weekly award given to employees.

Motivating Rewards

At MMI Public Relations, employees can’t help but feel appreciated. Owner Patty Briguglio won’t have it any other way.

In simplest form, the company holds specific appreciation days for individual employees. “We choose someone, and they must be appreciated,” Briguglio said. Honorees arrive at work unknowingly entering into a barrage of signs and other decorations surrounding their workspace.

In a similar vein, a weekly award called the Golden Horn is given to someone who has gone above and beyond on the job. The previous week’s honoree chooses the new winner.

Another weekly motivator is the Interview Challenge, in which the person who schedules the most interviews for his or her clients receives a gift card to Rocky Top restaurants.

“I want my people to be happy. I have these really bright, smart, highly effective employees who have caused me to redefine the way I operate,” she said. She credits them with nudging her toward a different management style that she believes allows for the best of both worlds, a balance between happy workers and getting the job done.

Benefits extend outside the office as well. "We get a salon allowance for our hair," said Kathleen Mongero, a former assistant account executive. A previous perk was Massage Mondays, an embodiment of the belief that happy, relaxed workers are better workers.

Every employee is offered free tickets to all N.C. Theatre productions — for the whole family. And Mudcats baseball games are yet another place the MMI team goes to celebrate a job well done.

Signs of appreciation from coworkers surround Michael Castro, a videographer at MMI Public Relations. The Cary business recognizes employees with appreciation days that include adorning employee offices with party favors and personalized messages.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *