10 creative perks companies are using to tell workers they’re valued
Day camp for offspring, winter escapes, and in-office dental visits, are just some of the ways employers let workers know they matter.
1. Baby boon
New parents typically take a few months off from work — paid, if they’re lucky — and maybe get a gift or two from co-workers. Cambridge biopharmaceutical company Sage Therapeutics, which is developing a drug to treat postpartum depression and wanted to do right by parents on staff, takes it much, much further.
Primary caregivers get four months paid leave, followed by two months of full-time pay for part-time work. Secondary caregivers get six weeks paid leave; even grandparents get three days off to welcome a little one.
Wait, we’re just getting started. The company also pays for a six-month supply of diapers and wipes, a $200 TaskRabbit gift card so parents can hire someone to, say, assemble the crib, and premium access to a suite of child-rearing apps that provide guidance for everything from trying to conceive to grappling with a cranky toddler.
And to top it all off? A Sage Therapeutics onesie.
2. Happy campers
Beaver Country Day School wants to make sure its employees — and their children — are happy campers, all summer long. The private Brookline prep school offers the families of staff and faculty up to eight weeks of free summer camp a year. Open to children from preschool to eighth grade, the program offers a classic summer camp experience combining arts, outdoor games, swimming, and nature activities. Breakfast and lunch are provided.
More than a quarter of employees send their children to the school’s camp, and new parents often count down the months until their kids can participate. Many campers come back later as counselors.
“They absolutely love it,” says chief financial officer Joanne McDaniel, whose four children have all attended the camp. “They can’t wait for it.”
3. Time is on their side
Boston housing developer Beacon Communities tries to take some of the pain out of dealing with sick days. Employees get 10 sick days a year, which roll over indefinitely, and workers can donate time to a sick-day bank for other employees in need. A co-worker fighting cancer or a new parent tending to a hospitalized infant, for example, can request up to 30 days of additional paid time off from the bank.
As soon as these policies took effect a decade ago, the company noticed attendance rates increasing, says chief administrative officer Darlene Perrone, as employees no longer felt they had to use their time or let it go to waste. And the program has improved engagement and morale, Perrone says: “People enjoy feeling good about helping each other.”
4. Cleaning up on adventure
When recruiting employees, many companies promise prospects the world. Boston-based house-cleaning franchiser MaidPro delivers with “adventure trips,” expeditions to dramatic destinations — from the depths of the Grand Canyon to the heights of Machu Picchu. The trips show appreciation for employees and franchisees, act as a compelling recruiting tool, and create bonds across the company, says brand manager Madeleine Park. “There really is significant return we see from it in terms of the building of the community,” she says.
For home-office employees, these adventures are all or mostly paid for by the company, depending on the total cost. Franchisees pay their own way but are offered a significant discount on travel.
“They’re an opportunity to visit some places I never would’ve been able to experience,” says Michelle Spitzer, owner of six MaidPro franchises in Florida and a dedicated adventure tripper who has visited a private island in Belize and sailed the British Virgin Islands. “They’re absolutely incredible.”
5. Warm wishes
The leaders of Boston software company Annkissam recently started noticing a pattern: When an employee left the company, the resignation usually came in February. Perhaps, they reasoned, the harsh Boston winters were wearing people down.
The solution: the winter escape. Each January or February, the company books a large house somewhere warm for up to three weeks. Any employee who wants a break from the bone-chilling cold is welcome to stay there and work remotely. Workers cover the cost of their travel to the destination.
Employee surveys help determine a location workers want. Past destinations have included New Orleans and Austin. This year the winter-weary will escape to Puerto Rico.
The chance to bask in the sun is appreciated, but participants also form better working relationships with their colleagues, says relationship management specialist Alyssa Clark, who went on the Austin escape. “You really get to know them in a different way,” she says.
6. Words to live by
The mission at Cambridge’s EF Education First is to help people expand their horizons by exploring new cultures — a philosophy that applies to customers and employees alike.
To achieve this goal, the company makes sure every employee gets out to see the world at least once a year through a combination of work trips, contests, and deep employee discounts on tours. To keep the global connections going even at home, the company also offers free, in-house language classes. The offerings change according to demand, but have included Spanish, French, Arabic, Mandarin, and Swedish — the native language of founder Bertil Hult. Classes meet weekly for six months.
“Language is such an important piece of connecting with different cultures,” says North America chief executive Edward Hult, son of Bertil. “So if we believe we can make the world a little better by getting people to connect with other cultures, we want that for our staff as well.”
7. House calls at the office
Employees at the Boston software firm Salsify no longer have to worry about getting out of work for dental or optometry appointments. These days, teeth cleaning sessions and eye exams come to them.
Once a quarter, a dental hygienist from the company Virtudent comes to the office with cleaning and X-ray equipment and sets up shop in a spare conference room for a few days. The program is so popular that the 30-minute appointments generally fill up within minutes when the dates are announced.
More recently, Salsify contracted with 2020 On-site, which provides visits from a mobile optometrist’s office. Employees can even buy new glasses on the spot after their exams.
8. College course
At Bright Horizons Family Solutions, the teachers are becoming the students. In July, the child-care provider launched a program that will pay the complete cost — including books and fees — for employees to earn their associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education at four institutions: Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania and three online for-profit schools. Unlike many tuition assistance benefits, this program pays for everything up front so employees have no out-of-pocket expenses. In-house educational advisers help aspiring students chart their course to a degree.
In the first two weeks after the program was announced, some 2,000 employees indicated interest; by September, 400 were in school. India Jessamy, a lead teacher at the company’s Fan Pier center, is eager to resume work toward her bachelor’s degree, hoping it will make it easier for her to move into a leadership position.
9. Let there be light sabers
They may not be able to move spaceships with their minds or read people’s thoughts, but a select number of employees at the Cambridge marketing software provider HubSpot have joined the ranks of the Jedi — and they have the light sabers to prove it.
HubSpot’s JEDI (or Just Effing Do It) Award is the company’s highest and rarest honor: Only four people have received it since it was launched in May 2015. Winners are given a custom sword reminiscent of the iconic Star Wars light sabers.
“The award is for those who have done remarkable work, in a super-humble way and an honest way, without drama or pretense,” says Sophie Hamersley, public relations and communications manager at HubSpot.
Anyone can nominate a co-worker for the award, but the executive team makes the final decision. Previous winners have been recognized for increasing attendance and engagement at the company’s annual conference and managing the training needs of a rapidly growing office.
10. Vacation extravaganza
Boston-based Yesware doesn’t just give employees time off to travel; it foots the bill for the trip of a lifetime. Since February, employees who reach their five-year anniversary with the sales software company are given a $5,000 stipend to use toward travel of their choosing. The idea was to show veteran employees the same appreciation that is so often lavished on new hires, says talent acquisition coordinator Camilla Santos.
So far, seven employees have taken advantage of the offer. Software engineer Rafal Boni recently used the benefit to take his wife and three sons to Belize, where they explored caves, floated down jungle rivers, and even held a wild boa constrictor. “It is wonderful to have that sort of appreciation from the company,” Boni says.