Top Places to Work

Top Places to Work

10 creative perks designed to make workers feel appreciated

From holiday turkeys to emergency funds and student loan repayment, these policies send a caring message.

photos by bruce peterson for the globe; globe staff photo-illustration

CHRISTIAN SILES PODEROSO

KEYS TO THE CASTLE

Vacationing with the boss probably doesn’t sound very appealing. But how about vacationing without your boss at one of his luxury vacation homes — free?

That’s one of the job perks available to employees of Waltham- and San Diego-based Commonwealth Financial Network, an independent broker-dealer and investment adviser.

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The company’s 66-year-old founder and chairman, Joseph S. Deitch, owns 11 vacation properties (you read that correctly — 11): the Bahamas; Cape Cod; the Dominican Republic; Key Biscayne, Florida; Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire; Las Vegas; and the Sunday River ski resort in Maine. Any employee with at least three years’ service is eligible to stay at one of them at no cost for up to seven days a year.

With Deitch’s “Sunday River Club” (it’s named after the first vacation home he bought), employees can take trips “they couldn’t necessarily afford on their own,” he says, “but even if they could afford them, the fact that it’s free or a gift means it’s received in a different way.”  — Sacha Pfeiffer

DEBT RELIEF

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Young employees are transforming the workplace — foosball tables and Twister mats, anyone?

But, like their elders, they’re also shaking up corporate benefits. Where double-income boomers pushed for family leave, millennials want employers to pay attention to their biggest financial woe: student loan debt.

Several Massachusetts companies, including Fidelity Investments and Natixis Global Asset Management, launched student loan repayment programs this year. Companies are betting that less financially stressed employees will be more productive.

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Ultimately, these workers will be able to get out of their parents’ garage and move on to other life milestones, such as buying homes, having children, and saving for retirement.

Plus, in a tight labor market where companies are fighting for talent, student loan debt repayment plans have an added benefit, says Tracey Flaherty, senior vice president of retirement strategy at Natixis.

“The halo effect and good will is well worth it,” she says.  — Deirdre Fernandes

CHRISTIAN SILES PODEROSO

HELPING HAND

When Waltham’s Benchmark Senior Living hit its 10th anniversary in 2007, CEO Tom Grape wanted to do more for his staff than just throw a party. So Benchmark launched the One Company Fund, a program that offers grants to employees dealing with sudden financial emergencies: chronic illness, house fires, deaths in the family. The initiative is funded by contributions from workers as well as donations from partners, fund-raising golf tournaments, and employee-led raffles and contests within the company’s 52 residential communities.

Since it began, the fund has distributed more than $1 million to more than 600 associates. During large-scale disasters like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the fund streamlines its application process to offer quick $500 grants to associates with relatives affected by the event.

“It is a huge morale booster,” says the fund’s director of engagement, Ashley Studley. “People are just so happy to work for a company that cares about them.” — Sarah Shemkus

CASUAL CHARITY

Wearing jeans to work at the end of the week has long been a favorite ritual of many employees. So some area employers have figured out how to make casual Friday pay — for charity. At companies like Quincy Mutual Group and Best Automotive, employees must make a contribution to charity for the privilege of sporting jeans.

Quincy Mutual raised $15,700 for charity with its donations-for-denim program in 2015, and another $13,187 through November 7. At Best Automotive, employees pay $5 to wear jeans on Friday. Each month, contributions are matched by the company and donated to a different cause — breast cancer awareness, local food pantries, veterans groups. In a good month, the total donation is about $1,000, says office manager Faith Bermingham.

“We do a lot of philanthropy,” she says. “This is just a way to get the employees involved on a personal level.” — Sarah Shemkus

CHRISTIAN SILES PODEROSO

TURKEY TIME

In an enduring tale of employer benevolence, a redeemed Scrooge buys his only employee, Bob Cratchit, a turkey for the holidays. Keep in mind, that’s only one turkey.

Generations after Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, a young businessman named Herb Chambers had a similar idea for his copier distribution company. “The company was really small — it was like a family thing,” Chambers says. “At Thanksgiving . . . a family holiday, I said, ‘Let’s go out and buy everybody turkeys.’ ”

That year, it meant 15 birds.

Now, Chambers runs the Herb Chambers Cos., which have nearly 2,500 employees and include 57 car dealerships. He never stopped giving a gobbler to every single employee.

“It’s not a really big deal until you start giving away 2,500 of anything,” he notes. By a different measure, Chambers distributes at least 30,000 pounds of turkey for Thanksgiving.

That’s roughly the combined weight of 12 Honda Civics. — Lucas Phillips

CHRISTIAN SILES PODEROSO

CREATIVE CONFERENCING

Head to Porterhouse for project updates and take a seat in Malala for monthly reviews. For employees of some local businesses, meeting rooms become an exploration of company culture.

Public relations and marketing agency PAN Communications names conference rooms at its offices in Boston and San Francisco after local landmarks. Marketing software company HubSpot draws inspiration from people admired by staff, including Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, musician Jerry Garcia, and plenty of Boston Red Sox players.

“Often they are people known for rethinking conventional wisdom,” says Katie Burke, HubSpot’s vice president of culture and experience.

At Lexington-based Imprivata, conference rooms are all named after foods, many specific to the location of the office; workers might meet in Bangers and Mash in England or in Chardonnay on the West Coast.

“It’s used as a way of breaking bread and creating conversation,” says chief people officer Kelliann McCabe.  — Sarah Shemkus

STEPS TO SUCCESS

With the dangers of sitting for too long grabbing headlines, some wellness-focused employers are taking steps to get workers moving by making Fitbits a company perk.

At Lexington-based Imprivata, workers can buy the fitness trackers at a roughly 15 percent discount. Imprivata’s Fitbit program then allows them to compete with colleagues and participate in companywide challenges. Fitbit users concerned about sharing their data can choose not to enroll — this is a tech company focused on privacy, after all — but so far everyone has opted in, says chief people officer Kelliann McCabe.

For the past year, new employees at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge have found a Fitbit Flex in their welcome materials. Employees have organized internal step-counting contests, but individual data are not shared with the company.

“It’s gone over exceptionally well,” says Carmen Perry, director of compensation, benefits, and HR systems at Alnylam. “It makes a statement about our commitment to wellness.” — Sarah Shemkus  

CHRISTIAN SILES PODEROSO

A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN

The Boston-based consulting firm Analysis Group began renovating and expanding its Back Bay offices this year, adding an employee cafe, lounge areas, nap rooms, and showers. But there is one change it did not make: Every consultant at Analysis Group still has a private office.

Even as the open office trend continues to sweep across corporate America, Analysis Group is sticking with its tradition. Individual offices are a perk that employees enjoy, but they also help with productivity, says Coreen McCool, co-chief administrative officer.

The company, which has about 350 workers in Boston, employs a lot of brainy people who often need quiet while they’re crunching numbers. “We hire a lot of highly analytical people, a lot of economics and math PhDs, who are accustomed to doing that sort of brain-intensive work on their own,” McCool says.

That doesn’t mean employees are isolated. The office, spread across seven floors of the tower at 111 Huntington Avenue, includes plenty of shared spaces where they can collaborate.

McCool says switching out its individual offices for smaller and less private workspaces came up but was quickly dismissed. “It obviously adds to our [real estate] costs,” she says, “but we think the benefits are worth it.” — Priyanka Dayal McCluskey 

SWEAR-FREE ZONE

The restaurant industry has something of a reputation for rough talk. Steve DiFillippo, however, has made it his goal to create a kinder, gentler kitchen by taking a hard line against swearing at the eight locations of his Davio’s steakhouses. Employees caught cursing are given a written warning; repeated infractions are grounds for termination (so far, no one has been fired).

The reason for the policy is simple, DiFillippo says. Swearing creates a negative atmosphere for employees and guests alike. It is neither pleasant nor productive.

“Words matter,” he says. “You can’t just say whatever you want — it hurts people, it bothers people.”

The rules may be strict, but DiFillippo says there is no room for compromise on the issue. Swearing can be contagious, he says, and tolerating even the occasional offensive language can lead to a cascade of cursing.

“You can’t have a gray area with it,” he says. “You have to cut it all out 100 percent.” — Sarah Shemkus

CEOS WHO CARE

Most workers want to impress their CEOs. At least a handful of Boston-area chief executives, however, are having noteworthy success in winning their employees’ approval on Glassdoor, a website that lets employees rate companies and executives. Bob Bechek of Boston consulting firm Bain & Co. tops the site’s list of highest-rated CEOs with an approval rating of 99 percent. Aron Ain, chief at Kronos in Chelmsford, has a rating of 94 percent, landing him at the No. 18 spot, and Michael Hennessy, head of Concord’s SmashFly Technologies, has earned an approval rating of 100 percent (he isn’t at the top because his number of ratings is small).

“It just energizes me even more to keep doing what we’re doing,” Ain says of the honor. “It helps make us a better company, it helps us recruit better people.”

The secret is communication, the chief executives say. Ain records regular video messages for the staff and refuses to look at his phone while walking the halls, instead greeting and chatting with employees. Hennessy presides over the company’s quarterly meeting and gets down in the trenches on a daily basis; he is always ready to use his engineering background to help developers solve problems. — Sarah Shemkus

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