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The motivational power of ugly sweaters

Flowers for new hires, sing-a-longs, and stuffed goats are just some of the traditions at businesses around the region.

This article is part of the upcoming Top Places to Work issue. The names of the companies that made this year's list will be released online Thursday night.


SimpliVity is growing quickly, adding about 10 new employees a week, which means the data center infrastructure company is keeping some florists very busy. "Every employee who joins the company, regardless of what corner of the globe they sit in, receives flowers before they start," says chief marketing officer Marianne Budnik.

The founders of Westborough-based SimpliVity, which has employees in 22 countries, wanted to create not just a superior technology but also a winning company culture, she says. And sending flowers to every new hire — from interns to senior executives — was a way to set a tone of appreciation and teamwork from the start. "We want them to feel like this experience is really going to be extraordinary," Budnik says.



This year, East Boston Neighborhood Health Center’s holiday video has a “Star Wars” theme.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

At the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, employee gatherings aren't just for the workers; they are about them as well, focused on staff members' hobbies or skills. Recently, the staff gathered to watch a documentary about Juli Windsor, a physician assistant at the health center who, in 2014, became one of the first people with dwarfism to complete the Boston Marathon. (The filmmaker was Boston Globe staff writer David Abel.) Up next is a photography exhibition featuring the work of several talented staffers.

For holiday parties, the center puts together videos of skits and musical performances starring employees. Last year's video featured workers lip-synching and dancing along to Pharrell Williams's song "Happy"; a Star Wars-themed production is underway this year. "It truly is allowing people to express their personalities," says chief executive Manny Lopes. "It builds a deeper relationship."

East Boston Neighborhood Health Center employees perform for an upcoming holiday party video.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/Globe Staff



When an employee at Waltham-based Softworld wears an ugly sweater to work, it's not a fashion faux pas, it's a way to show team spirit. The technology staffing firm runs regular contest theme days — including a holiday ugly sweater competition — as a way of keeping team connections strong as the company grows. "It's a little break from the daily grind," says consultant coordinator Rebecca Grover. "It gets people talking."

In addition to the sweater contest, the office has held a Think Pink day, to support breast cancer awareness, and a college theme day. Depending on the contest, winners are awarded gift cards or team lunches. Each new theme day brings greater participation and more outlandish outfits, Grover says. For last year's ugly sweater day, one contestant even embedded a digital screen playing a holiday video into his sweater.


At the Institute for Health and Recovery in Cambridge, the departure of a valued colleague calls for more than just cake. For the past several years, Enid Watson, the nonprofit's director of screening and early identification, has marked such occasions with custom-written songs.

Watson rewrites the lyrics of well-known songs such as "Give My Regards to Broadway" or the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" to reflect the event being observed. The lyrics are distributed among the staff, so everyone can participate in the serenade.

Recently, a group of employees decided to turn the tables and compose a song in honor of the resident lyricist. "They wrote their own song and dedicated it to me because of the joy and support they have received from prior songs," Watson says. "It was quite moving."



Each month at EverQuote in Cambridge an exemplary employee is named “Goat of the Month” and given a small stuffed goat in recognition of his or her accomplishments.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

At Cambridge-based EverQuote, being called a goat is a badge of honor.

When cofounders and longtime business collaborators Tomas Revesz and Seth Birnbaum launched the Internet marketing company in 2011, they brought a habit they had picked up from a co-worker years before: using "goat" as an affectionate nickname for colleagues. And the practice caught on. "I don't know why, but people just love it," says Birnbaum.

The company has embraced the creature as its office icon. Every month an exemplary employee is named "Goat of the Month" and given a small stuffed goat in recognition of his or her accomplishments. Goat art adorns the lobby and executives' offices, and the company's internal reporting software is known as the GOAT system. Last year's company party featured a goats-only petting zoo.

Goats are excellent role models, according to Revesz. They are hard-working yet fun-loving, intelligent and determined, eager to keep climbing on any terrain. "The fact is goats are a fantastic mascot for a company like ours," Revesz says.

Some EverQuote employees wear slippers the company provided after a snowstorm last year so staffers would have warm, dry feet after their commute.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

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