1. Ice Cream Trucks and Plant-Based Prizes
When Cambridge robotics startup Pickle Robot Co. (No. 17 small company) moved from its original garage workspace to a traditional office in August 2021, the founders decided to involve the whole company in decorating their new space. Enter the Plant Award.
Every two weeks, the company honors an employee who has made important contributions with a potted succulent and a budget of $400 to buy something to improve the office. Winners have used their award money to buy art, a crushed ice machine, and a mural covering the side of the company’s headquarters featuring a space dinosaur battling a city-dwelling robot. A few winners pooled their budgets to get a foosball table.
Anna Rubin — whose job as “entropy manager” is roughly that of an operations manager — recently received the award for her above-and-beyond work arranging travel, meals, and other support during an especially busy time. With the $400, she arranged for an ice cream truck to come to the office and serve up treats. She got a Nutty Buddy ice cream cone and the satisfying sense that she and her colleagues are all working together to make a difference.
The award, Rubin says, “is a constant reminder that we’re all pulling in the same direction and that each of us has valuable things to contribute.”
2. An All-Encompassing Celebration
AFTER AVEO Oncology’s (No. 30 medium company) cancer drug Fotivda was approved by the FDA, company leadership wanted to celebrate with everyone — not just the commercial teams pharmaceutical companies tend to honor when such milestones are reached.
“To achieve the success of commercialization takes a village,” says chief executive Michael Bailey. “It’s important to recognize the contributions that everybody has made to get there.”
So Boston-based AVEO rented out a hotel in Ogunquit, Maine, and invited the entire company — some 120 people — for a week of professional development and relaxation, including golfing and whiskey-tasting.
Senior director of program management Gina Bailey, who in previous jobs has worked in research and development as well as on the commercial side, was blown away by AVEO’s dedication to including everyone from junior scientists to senior sales staff. “It allows people to feel that they are appreciated in their work,” she says.
And the commitment continues: A companywide trip to Florida, celebrating the launch of Fotivda, is already in the works for next year.
3. A Dream Team
Over the summer, Rachael Coulombe’s 7-year-old Shih Tzu-terrier mix got sick and had to be euthanized. Coulombe, a talent acquisition coordinator for Telefluent, the Northborough-based customer service arm of the Rhode Island window-replacement company Renewal by Andersen (No. 28 large company), found herself struggling to pay her veterinary bills, so she asked her boss to keep her in mind for overtime.
Instead of having her work more, Coulombe’s boss nominated her for the company’s Dream On program, which makes gifts to employees based on their wants and needs. Employees can nominate themselves or a co-worker, and a committee with an annual budget of up to $20,000 decides which requests to grant. Launched five years ago, the program has sent employees on trips to visit elderly relatives, funded a child’s first birthday party, and paid for new tires. More than once, it has helped employees escape abusive relationships by helping to pay for housing.
Coulombe was given a Visa gift card that helped her catch up on her expenses, and was overwhelmed by the kindness of the gesture. “I’ve never worked for a company that’s thought of doing something like that,” she says. “It made a really terrible situation seem not so bad.”
4. Happy Anniversary! Here’s What’s Great About You.
Brandon Wade had just hit the 10-year mark at the health care consultancy Health Advances (No. 17 medium company) in Auburndale — which meant it was time for his mentor to get to work.
At Health Advances, work anniversaries mean more than just a commemorative plaque or a bonus (though there’s a monetary gift, too). Every five years, employees’ mentors put together a presentation to honor their mentee’s anniversary, including comments on what they’ve contributed, praise from co-workers, and photos from their time with the company.
The goal is to show that employees are valued as individuals and reinforce the family feeling the company hopes to cultivate, says chief operating officer Kristen Turner.
Wade, now a senior director, appreciated that his mentor’s presentation included photos of Wade running the Boston Marathon for charity. The whole experience gave him a chance to reflect on the great work and professional growth opportunities that have kept him at the company for a decade.
“It’s been a really great ten years and I still feel like I have a lot to learn,” he says.
5. Bringing Your Stories to Work
In February, it was Black History Month trivia. In June, a pride brunch catered by LGBTQ+ vendors. In October, a Diwali-themed happy hour. At the Cambridge biotech Beam Therapeutics, (No. 4 large company) each month brings a new celebration to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The focus on creating regular events to cultivate connections and respect began a little more than two years ago. Activities are tailored to what seems most appropriate. During Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a panel of employees spoke about their experiences as part of their communities. For Diwali, the tone was lighter, with celebratory food.
Events are planned with lots of feedback and input to avoid accidental misrepresentations, stereotypes, or appropriations. The goal is always to help group members feel seen and understood, while giving other employees the tools to be valuable allies, says Ashley Jefferson, associate director of early career and talent outreach and co-leader of the inclusion, diversity, and belonging team at Beam.
And having some fun doesn’t hurt. “There’s always that mix of fun and education that really makes it accessible for folks,” Jefferson says.
6. Making A Splash
One day in May, Nick Ferreri stepped up to a dunk tank, took careful aim, and rocketed the ball directly at the target. Then he watched as his boss, the chief executive of Seurat Technologies, (No. 5 small company) fell with a satisfying splash.
Ferreri, a materials engineer, was one of dozens of employees who lined up that day for a chance to dunk executives and managers at the Wilmington metal manufacturing company.
The activity, part of a quarterly team event, was intended to make it easier for staff to spend time with the leadership team, says senior director of marketing Joyce Yeung. After his dunkings, CEO James DeMuth donned a bathrobe and mingled with workers.
“It shows that they don’t take themselves too seriously, which is a great character trait in anyone,” Ferreri says.
Sarah Shemkus is a writer on the North Shore. Send comments to email@example.com.