Companies offer quirky perks like guitar lessons, tattoos

  • Jul. 19, 2017 12:30 a.m.

NEW YORK — Sabbaticals, massages, or a home maid service? Bike maintenance, tattoos or guitar lessons? Some small and medium-sized companies are offering quirky and enviable perks to try to attract and keep the best workers.

The hundred staffers at marketing firm Velvet Media can periodically spend a month working at any of its offices — Denver, Tokyo, Bangkok or Venice, Italy — with the company paying their expenses, co-CEO Daniele Gatti says.

Many businesses provide such out-of-the-norm perks because they want staffers to have a rewarding environment — something likely to resonate as people who deal with work email and respond to texts at all hours demand more satisfaction at work.

“We extend work into employees’ lives,” says Neil Vaswani, CEO of Corestream, a benefits consulting company. “We have to start extending them a little bit of quid pro quo.”

A look at the unusual benefits at some companies:

QUIRKY PERKS: Monthly maid service, money toward “whatever makes you happy” — like yoga, manicures or pottery classes.

WHO’S OFFERING THEM: The Zebra, an Austin, Texas-based car insurance comparison website, with about 100 employees.

WHY: “When you design perks, you think about providing tools that are differentiators when you’re trying to attract top talent,” says chief operating officer Joshua Dziabiak.

OTHER BENEFITS: Unlimited paid time off, a company gym, or reimbursement for an outside gym membership.

PUSHING THE EDGE: “We were trying to be kind of radical about it. If someone is working all day, putting their efforts into their job, what is something people can’t stand doing when they come home from work? Cleaning,” Dziabiak says.

QUIRKY PERKS: Monthly massages, Uber and Lyft rides.

WHO’S OFFERING THEM: C3 Metrics, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based company that analyzes advertising and website viewership, with about 40 employees.

WHY: “Technology work can be stressful at times,” says co-founder Jeff Greenfield. “Massages not only counteract some of the impact of standing in front of the screen, they’re a move toward a healthier lifestyle.”

The company began offering free Uber rides after one staffer was charged with a DUI. Employees can use them for any reason.

“We want employees to make the safe and smart decision not to drive,” Greenfield says.

OTHER BENEFITS: Catered lunch daily, gym memberships, weekends that begin by 3 p.m. on Fridays.

PUTTING HIS MONEY WHERE HIS HEART IS: “Whenever I hire someone, I kind of fall in love with them,” Greenfield says.

QUIRKY PERKS: 30-day paid sabbatical every three years, vacation expenses, $1,000 reimbursement for any kind of lessons, including guitar, cooking or flight school.

WHO’S OFFERING THEM: Basecamp, a Chicago-based maker of project management software, with about 50 employees.

WHY: “We want to find opportunities that benefit people outside of the office,” says CEO Jason Fried, who says the perks were the result of employees’ suggestions “plus our own thoughts about what makes a better company.”

OTHER BENEFITS: Four-day workweek in the summer, massages, free dry cleaning

WORTH THE COST?: Fried estimates Basecamp spends about a quarter of a million dollars annually on these perks. But, he says, “we think this is some of the best money we can spend.”

QUIRKY PERKS: Performance rewards of a staffer’s choosing can include tattoos, massages, dinner or concert tickets; employees can work at home one day a week and be on call or work remotely the day after a national holiday.

WHO’S OFFERING THEM: Tinsel, a New York-based event design and planning company, with about 10 full-time staffers.

WHY: Co-owner Erica Taylor says she and her business partner, Adette Contreras, wanted to reward staffers whose jobs include odd hours, early mornings, nights and weekends. “We want to make sure they feel we’re investing in them, that it’s reciprocal.”

The partners also wanted to treat their staffers better than their own bosses treated them.

OTHER BENEFITS: Staffers can bring dogs to work; the company has outings like beach days, New York skyline cruises or roller skating days.

BEYOND MONEY: “We asked, what goes beyond ‘Here’s another bump up in your check.’ We wanted something that feels more personal and thoughtful,” Taylor says.

QUIRKY PERKS: Bose noise-cancelling headphones, soccer tickets, Amazon gift cards, daily lunches at nearby restaurants.

WHO’S OFFERING THEM: Geniuslink, a Seattle-based company that manufactures software to streamline online retailing, with about a dozen full-time employees

WHY: “It allows us to compete against startups that have a lot of money to throw around,” says CEO Jesse Lakes. Another reason for the headphones: Those who need to concentrate can have a hard time in an open work environment where other people are talking.

OTHER BENEFITS: Unlimited snacks and beverages, free parking or public transportation.

THAT’S NOT WHY THEY CALL IT WORK: “If we’re not having fun, then what’s the point of doing a startup,” says Lakes, who previously worked at Microsoft.

QUIRKY PERKS: New mothers can bring babies under six months old to work (no new fathers have asked yet), the company pays for bicycle gear and maintenance, and Pilates classes are held in the office twice a week

WHO’S OFFERING THEM: Adventure Life, a travel company based in Missoula, Montana, with about two dozen employees

WHY: “We need to walk the talk by encouraging people to do many of the activities that we offer to our customers,” says CEO Brian Morgan.

OTHER BENEFITS: Gym membership, dogs are allowed at work, 50 per cent reimbursement for classes like cooking, learning a language, continuing education, also a 50 per cent reimbursement for fees on activities like marathons.

WORKING WITH BABIES ON BOARD: Moms can walk the babies around when they’re on phone calls, and co-workers can take breaks with the babies when mothers have to focus. “Babies do such a great thing for us,” Morgan says.

QUIRKY PERKS: Yoga equipment, shuffleboard, a pool table, a rock climbing wall, and bicycles at the office.

WHO’S OFFERING THEM: The Melting Pot, a restaurant franchisor with about 65 employees at its home office in Tampa, Florida.

WHY: “Take a look at job satisfaction. There’s been a steady decline since the late 1980s,” says CEO Bob Johnston. “We have an obligation to give people a good work environment.”

OTHER BENEFITS: Employees can bring their dogs to work, and can work from home one day a week.

GRANOLA BARS AREN’T ENOUGH: “The idea is to surround employees with perks that make them better versions of themselves — not just full from a snack bar,” Johnston says.

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