Company perks keep morale high, turnover low

BALTIMORE — Planit's sleek orange floors in the lobby lead to a sweeping view of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The trendy-looking bar table in front of a gigantic refrigerator is filled with beer, wine, energy drinks and other beverages. A few short steps deeper into the 15,000-square-foot space reveals colorful art, funky chairs, a slew of gumball machines, a pool table, a couple of guitars and a ukulele.

Planit isn't a swanky lounge. It's an advertising and marketing agency. And while the workplace — especially in these tough economic times — might not conjure images of lively happy hours or flip-cup and pool tournaments, Planit and other businesses continue to provide free perks and discounted benefits to workers. The employees love the treats. And management says that the extras help foster a productive environment that thwarts turnover.

"A lot of us work late hours," said Brent Hoffman, a Web designer for Planit. "When you spend a lot of your life in the office, it helps to have fun things to do. It makes people more relaxed."

Companies such as Under Armour, a sports apparel maker; gkv, a communications agency; and PayPal have perks such as farmers markets for employees, on-site concierge service, access to box seats at Baltimore Ravens football games and periodic happy hours on the company's roof deck.

Companies across the country are rolling out the red carpet for employees. In Arizona, one company's CEO rewards the employee of the month with his parking space and car — a Maserati — for the month, according to Marcia Rhodes, spokeswoman for WorldatWork, a global HR association, which has offices in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Washington.

Google is considered the creme de la creme of employee perks. It gives employees with a newborn $500 a month for takeout food; employees can bring pets to work; there's also an on-site dry cleaner and doctors, a gym and a gourmet cafeteria.

"When everyone looks to perks, they look to Google," Rhodes said.

Rhodes says she's not surprised that a number of companies continue to offer perks despite the current economic climate.

"With all the pay cuts, freezes and layoffs, employers can't give pay raises," she said. "They have to give (employees) reasons to remain motivated and engaged. If you can't get them motivated, it is not good for business. Employers are coming up with ways to motivate the employees that they do have."

Rhodes' company just released survey results showing that 60 percent of employees plan to pursue new job opportunities if the economy improves this year.

"That is why employers are doing all they can to maintain their employer brands," Rhodes said. "When times get tough, that is when their true colors come out."

With 890 employees at its Baltimore location, Under Armour is one of the region's larger businesses to offer such widespread, lavish perks.

The sports apparel company offers a discounted membership to its state-of-the art Combine Training Center. Meals are also discounted at the newly opened Humble and Hungry Cafe, where employees are served specialty foods such as gluten-free pizza, bison burgers and sushi.

On "Sweet Treat Thursday" the company foots the bill for desserts including ice cream and smoothies. During the World Cup, employees watched games in the cafeteria — and when games involved the United States, the company provided food.

The company also offers a concierge service for everything from discounted tickets to concerts and sporting events to restaurant reservations.

Twice a year the company hosts an Armour Day celebration — think super-sized pep rally — that culminates with free tickets for all employees to a game at Camden Yards, the home of the Baltimore Orioles.

Once a week the company hosts a farmers market where local food and produce are sold. Employees who volunteer for a day receive a day off work in exchange. Under Armour encourages a casual dress code every day.

The benefit to Under Armour: a low turnover rate.

"I don't know of as many businesses our size who can make the same claim," Melissa Wallace, senior vice president of talent, said of her company's turnover rate of less than 10 percent.

At PayPal's Hunt Valley, Md., office, the company's 400 employees benefited from a spontaneous perk recently when the company brought in a Good Humor ice cream truck and let the workers chow down. PayPal workers in Hunt Valley are treated to weekly farmers market type sales, free yoga lessons, reduced-price membership to a gym, and Ravens box seats. Meals are often provided, and free sodas, coffee and tea are everyday fixtures. The office has a number of lounges outfitted with comfy seating, club tables and couches. Employees look forward to annual Halloween parties and picnics, where families are also invited.

The fact that many of the perks revolve around family is a perk in and of itself, according to Sara Parker, a spokeswoman for PayPal, a national e-commerce company that allows for online transactions and payments.

"I think what is wonderful is that we are a very family-friendly environment," Parker said. "This is really important. You are able to bring your children to a Halloween event or a family picnic. That does wonders for morale. Even our colleagues without children get involved in decorating the department and giving the kids candy. For those of us who juggle family and work, it is wonderful."

The Planit perks, many of which can be traced to the company's launch 16 years ago, are tied to the co-founder's desire to have fun in the workplace.

"It's a very hard place to work — it's intense, and there are long hours," explained Ed Callahan, co-founder and creative strategist for Planit. "We try to build a very collaborative environment from the top down. We are not these ivory tower executives."

As he spoke, Callahan was standing near the office's computer server room, which also serves as a wine cooler refrigerator. Nearby, the office's break room is adorned with large posters of employees dressed in elaborate Halloween costumes. The company rewards costume contest winners with additional paid days off.

"People want to come work here," Callahan said. "We typically don't ever use a head hunter."

Company perks keep morale high, turnover low 09/04/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 3, 2010 12:31pm]

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