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No. 1 Small Employer

At ALKU, work and play go hand in hand

AKLU employees, with CEO  Mark Elridge (upper right), raise money for youth mentoring programs in the Rodman Ride for Kids.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

AKLU employees, with CEO Mark Elridge (upper right), raise money for youth mentoring programs in the Rodman Ride for Kids.

Mike Bakies and other employees were recently treated to free massages.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Mike Bakies and other employees were recently treated to free massages.

The chief executive of ALKU readily admits that his Andover consulting and staffing firm’s vacation, 401(k), health care, flex-time, and other benefits are “pretty standard.”

What separates ALKU, he said, is the fact that it’s a growing company with an environment that stresses that life is too short to treat work as if it’s merely work.

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“It basically comes down to what I was taught by my parents, the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do to you, and we follow that here,” said Mark Eldridge, 48, who founded the firm in 2008 after spending years as an executive at Sapphire Technologies.

ALKU’s motto is “have fun working hard” — not to be confused with “work hard, play hard,” the latter suggesting that the two have to exist separately, Eldridge said.

ALKU, Finnish for “start,” came in first among small companies in the Top Places to Work survey, and it backs up its philosophical boast with a $100,000-a-year “internal entertainment” budget aimed at rewarding its 51 employees for their hard work and positive attitudes.

The closer Arthur Billotti (left) and Michael O’Brien get to their goal, the closer they get to a Caribbean trip. The sunburn on the photo of VP David Bruner’s face tracks their progress.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The closer Arthur Billotti (left) and Michael O’Brien get to their goal, the closer they get to a Caribbean trip. The sunburn on the photo of VP David Bruner’s face tracks their progress.

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Every month there is an “Employee Honor Day” for a worker whom colleagues believe deserves extra recognition. Each honoree gets breakfast or lunch on the company, as well as candy, balloons, and notes from managers left on their desk.

There are company-paid trips to Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean for employees who hit sales goals, as well as outings to Red Sox games and performance-based contests with prizes such as a one-night stay at Foxwoods Resort Casino — plus cash to gamble with. ALKU also holds an annual all-day getaway for the whole company: The latest was at a private oceanside mansion in Beverly, where employees were treated to a clambake and an open bar.

And yes, there are free bagels on Thursdays, early dismissal on Fridays, and a kitchen stocked with yogurt, chips, and freeze pops.

Micaela Damiano and Dan Alberico shared a fist bump.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Micaela Damiano and Dan Alberico shared a fist bump.

Employees also meet regularly with managers to develop “personal business plans” that help them advance.

“You can work real hard, long hours at this job, making [recruiting] calls to people and getting rejected a lot. So the work can get negative at times,” said David Tuell, 23, a tech recruiter. “But the company really tries to offset that with ice cream sundae parties and other events that make you feel good about yourself. You want to be passionate about your job and have fun. And that’s what we do here.”

Jay Fitzgerald can be reached at jayfitzmedia@gmail.com.
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