The perks of the 100 Best

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Archives - March 2009
Sunday, March 01, 2009
100BestBrand3.jpgTHE PERKS OF THE 100 BEST

What do the other Top 10 companies have that puts them heads above the others? For starters, there’s the free massage, car repairs, gratis hotel rooms and let’s not forget the chicken enchiladas.



No. 2 Small Company

If you have a thing for Star Wars, this Lake Oswego-based health-care staffing agency might just be the place for you. New and senior employees participate in the company’s “Jedi Program.”

The program was set up five years ago to mentor new employees in talent recruitment and job placement, says Tim Mulvaney, president and CEO of the 45-employee company. New employees, or “Junior Jedis,” are trained and supported by more experienced Jedis. “We try to build a family culture,” Mulvaney says. It’s an employee perk that rejects the drabness of adulthood and cumbersome professional attire. “We stopped wearing uniforms two years ago,” he says.

But it isn’t easy to become a “Master Jedi.” Only two get the designation, Mulvaney being one of them.

If an employee doesn’t make Master Jedi, they might find better luck in Las Vegas. The company is taking employees to Las Vegas in April if company goals are met in the first quarter.

Bad weather making it difficult to get to the office? No worries here because employees at the company have the option to work from home. “Employee retention is a pie with a lot of slices in it,” Mulvaney says.



No. 3 Small Company

Sure, this Portland-based design and marketing firm specializing in technology offers 100% paid health benefits to employees. But maybe even more important to your typical techie and gamer, employees get access to the latest video games. “Our boss is a huge gamer,” says Tom Briggs, a content manager at the company. “It’s in the name of research.”

If video games aren’t enough to loosen up employees at the end of the day, it’s nothing a good old-fashioned massage can’t fix. Relaxation is essential to the creative process of marketing and design, says Briggs, so the company brings in a massage therapist every other week for all of the office’s 18 employees.

Briggs also says the company’s location and interior office design was made with being a great place to work in mind. The company recently moved to a new office in Portland’s South Waterfront. The company traded lonely and isolating cubicles for half-cubes so everyone could easily communicate with each other. All the desks are clustered in the middle of the office while the perimeter is reserved for couches. “It creates a feel of equality,” Briggs says.



No. 2 Medium Company

A day of cleaning ambulances and detailing emergency vehicles isn’t usually cited as a great employee benefit. And it certainly isn’t what Kendra Fuller, director of human services for Sparling, would call a traditional employee perk.

But that’s what some employees at the Seattle-based technology engineering and design consulting company in Portland recently did for their “Day On.” It’s a program that started at Sparling’s Portland office in 2008 that allows employees to volunteer in their communities for one day out of the year and still get paid their normal wage.

Sounds like more work instead of a flashy employee perk. But the company instituted the program after employees suggested it in a staff survey. “They said we would like a hands-on opportunity to give back,” Fuller says. “Writing a check doesn’t feel the same.” Philanthropy aside, it’s also a great team-building exercise when employees volunteer together, says Fuller. “Employees like the freedom of [the program],” she says. Sparling has 166 employees nationwide, 17 in Oregon.

Sparling employees often work overtime to make sure a project is completed. But the company promotes a healthy work-life balance for workers by paying full overtime to salaried staff who work more than 40 hours in a week. Last fall the company also began offering on-site “life strategies” workshops for employees. One upcoming workshop: how to survive the financial crisis.



No. 3 Medium Company

Offering extensive health benefits to employees is an essential part of business to this Tualatin-based company. After all, many of the company’s 58 employees work in dangerous industrial construction areas. “Our field guys work in harsh conditions. Knowing that they have a health plan for them and their family keeps them focused at work,” says David Rich, chief executive and co-owner of the heating and air-conditioning construction company.

But if an employee’s car also happens to need some care, the company’s on-site mechanic will gladly take a look free of charge, especially if the car’s air conditioning is busted. “[Employees] utilize that quite a bit,” Rich says.

Burn a lot of gas commuting to work in the morning? Rich says the company picks up the gas bill for many employees.

In this economy people are looking to broaden their skills and marketability. That’s great, Rich says, so he will foot the bill for the education. The company is currently paying the tuition of 12 employees going to the Northwest College of Construction in Portland. “If they are willing to put in the time,” says Rich, “we’re willing to pay for it.”



No. 4 Medium Company

This Lake Oswego-based firm specializing in business legal services knows work hours can be long and stressful, so perks of the job are that much more important to hold onto employees. The firm contributes 12.5% of an employee’s pay to their 401k retirement plan; 3% is the norm for company contributions.

The little things matter, too. It’s what Bev Root, chief operating officer of the firm, describes as the importance of information sharing.

The company consistently shares strategic and financial information about the company with its 63 employees at monthly luncheons. It’s a practice that promotes effective and open communication on the health and direction of the company, says Root. “We’ve never had a problem with employees spilling the beans,” she says.

Open communication leads to community building. The company sends out a daily email report that includes jokes, colleague birthday alerts and updates on who is out of the office for the day and why. When summer rolls around the employees are encouraged to leave the office early on Friday.

But great perks are often as simple as good food. The monthly luncheons are popular with everyone. “One of the main things about them is it puts everybody in the same room as equals,” she says. It’s also the chicken enchiladas from Elephants Deli that win them over.



No. 2 Large Company

In the grand debate over employee health-care costs and benefits it’s easy to forget about the cherished four-footed members of one’s family. At San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotel and Restaurants Group, which operates two hotels and three restaurants in Oregon, employees also have the option to purchase discounted health insurance for their beloved pets. “We are a pet-friendly company,” says Stephanie Pol, director of human resources in Oregon. The company has a director of pet relations to make sure the paperwork goes smoothly.

Getting to work shouldn’t be a financial hurdle either. The company pays for 50% of a TriMet pass for employees. For some of the 174 Oregon employees of the company, riding public transportation might also ease the stress of juggling school with work. Kimpton’s education reimbursement program pays up to $1,000 for tuition and $500 for books.

After all that working and studying, a mini vacation could be in order. All Kimpton employees get two free nights and additional discounts at any of the 56 Kimpton hotels and restaurants nationwide. Multiply that by the company’s 6,585 employees and that’s a lot of sleepovers.



No. 3 Large Company

When Qualcomm’s Oregon employees took the 100 Best survey late last summer, they had a lot of good things to say about their culture. “Management consists of good humanists and this shows throughout the organization,” said one employee of the San Diego-based wireless technology company. “They realize that happy people make good products.”

And even though the 69 employees of the Tigard office have been caught in the downturn, and Qualcomm has announced plans to close that office this year, the culture that made that office a great place to work is still notable.

Employees enjoyed extensive health benefits and 100% paid premiums for themselves and their families. The benefits coverage ranged from dental and vision to alternative health care.

The company also matched one-for-one the amount an employee donates to an IRS-recognized nonprofit. The founders’ ethics “flow through the organization” said another employee.

Health benefits and a dedication to giving back to the community were notable employee perks, but the company’s wireless device subsidy for employees was also a great perk. Every two years the company reimbursed employees who purchased any wireless device or laptop outfitted with Qualcomm technology.


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