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Seven workplace perks you’re going to wish you had

One employer says stay home when it snows. Another sends employees to Italy.

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Some 75 percent of Acorio’s 200 full-time employees work remotely. It wants its far-flung team to feel connected to the company, so last year it started the Acorio Ambassador program. Each month it brings an exemplary employee to Boston to work from Acorio headquarters for a week, all expenses paid. The ambassadors meet co-workers and steep themselves in company culture. The visits usually overlap with new employee training, so ambassadors share advice with new hires and go to happy hours and group dinners.

Kendell Abrams, a business process consultant based in Indianapolis, was an ambassador in December. She arrived at her desk to find balloons and chief executive Ellen Daley waiting to greet her with a hug. Abrams went to a team meeting, ate pasta in the North End with colleagues, and grabbed plenty of coffee with co-workers. “I only see most of these people via video chat,” Abrams says, but “every time we meet in person they feel like lifelong friends.”


Massachusetts is ahead of most states in requiring employers to provide paid family and medical leave. But Wellesley-based employee benefits provider Sun Life Financial is way ahead of the state.


As of January 1, company employees, full or part time, who give birth will get up to six months of fully paid leave. (The state program, which starts in 2021, is capped at three months and is only partially paid.) At Sun Life Financial, non-birth parents receive four months of fully paid leave, as do those taking care of sick family members, or those who have a family member who is on active duty service, has donated organs or bone marrow, or is dealing with domestic violence or sexual assault. Family can include friends and loved ones who are not related by blood or law.

Employees recovering from an illness or injury are eligible for six months of paid leave, with the first four at full pay.


“We really felt it was something that was important and necessary,” says Sun Life president Dan Fishbein. “It has generated a genuinely emotional reaction.”


Twice a month, a bland white-and-gray conference room at Framingham’s Definitive Healthcare fills with treacherous forests, magical spells, and the occasional dragon. The transformation is wrought courtesy of the health care analytics company’s in-house Dungeons & Dragons club, one of seven in-house social organizations, including a book group, a whiskey tasting club, and a choir. The company picks up incidental expenses, such as food, or a guest yoga instructor for the wellness club.

The clubs, some of which meet during the workday, grew out of an informal weekly pickup basketball game that included the chief executive. As other employees began enjoying their hobbies together, the company actively promoted the groups, which encourage cross-team collaboration, says engagement manager Dani DeVirgilio, an avid member of the book club. Plus, they’re just fun. “We spend so much of our life at work, to be able to integrate something you enjoy into your day-to-day is really great,” DeVirgilio says.


When Massachusetts was hit with record-breaking snow in 2015, Ed Thomas, vice president of marketing at ProcessUnity in Concord, spent about half the month of February working from home. And his employers were completely fine with that. Whenever snow is falling — no matter if the forecast calls for 2 inches or 2 feet — employees at the risk-management software company are encouraged to work from home and shovel the driveway or build a snowman with the kids between client calls.


While some offices like to micromanage attendance expectations, ProcessUnity prefers what Thomas calls a common-sense approach. When the weather outside is frightful, staying at home is just safer, more productive, and easier for families, he says. This show of respect for employees’ competence and autonomy helps build a stronger workforce, Thomas says. When workers don’t think management is constantly looking over their shoulders, they “will be more loyal to the company.”


Lots of companies encourage employees to be mentors. Alira Health flies them to Italy to do so. The Framingham consulting firm runs an annual case study evaluation competition for business students at top international graduate schools. Alira sends 10 employees, from a pool nominated by managers, to help students hone their presentations for the two-day contest, held at the SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan.

Participants get to share expertise with rising professionals in their field and network in one of Europe’s most dynamic cities. Alix Dossin, a marketing manager, was a judge in 2018, and says the trip let her both give something to the students and hear new perspectives on the industry from people who could be its future leaders, and possibly her colleagues. She says the different points of view were “very eye-opening.”


Last year, biotechnology company Neon Therapeutics decided to shake up its swag and put its logo on sneakers. Its 90 employees got to choose high-top or low-top Converse Chuck Taylor All Star sneakers in navy, white, or brown, with plain or rainbow laces. “It was a fun opportunity to provide something a little bit different,” says Teresa Regan, Neon’s chief of people and culture.


Neon’s employees are proud to work at the Cambridge company, she says, and the colorful sneakers have become a staple of employees’ wardrobes. Even the CEO wears his — navy low-tops with rainbow laces — around the office and to public events.


At Callahan Construction Managers in Bridgewater, the Olympic spirit isn’t just about cheering on athletes from the break room; it’s also about taking to the field to compete against — and bond with — colleagues.

A few months after the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, Callahan held a daylong off-site event of its own. The staff was divided into eight teams, designed to match up employees who had not worked together regularly. Each group represented a different country and had a budget for uniforms. Among the events were Olympic sports such as golf and basketball, but also dodgeball and laser tag. Gold, silver, and bronze medals — and, of course, bragging rights — were awarded.

Teams will be formed soon for summer 2020, says Phil Dinan, business development and community relations manager. And with them, he says, “The friendly trash-talking will start.”

Sarah Shemkus is a freelance writer. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.