5 Lessons Learned from ‘Best Places to Work’

Date: August 28, 2013

Best Places to WorkFrom telecommuting to playtime to gift cards, even small businesses can offer up big-biz style perks.

When mega-corporations are singled out as great places to work, they typically have big money on the table. SAS handed out 100,000 hours of subsidized massages last year. Google has a seven-acre sports complex, complete with roller hockey rink, basketball courts and horseshoe pits.

Smaller business can’t get in that deep, but they can still be great places to work, even on a budget.

Consider Richard Schutt, president of Tenaker Pet Care Center in Aurora, Colorado. While he can’t give out lavish goodies, he can deliver something employees really need: pet sitting when they go on vacation. “They feel comfortable bringing their pets in because they know how we take care of them. They don’t have to look around for a friend to do it or look around for something else,” he says.

Best of all, the perk costs him nothing more than the price of dog food. Clearly, employers who use a little creativity can do a lot to create a great workplace, without breaking the bank.

Really telecommute.

Many businesses now offer employees the chance to work from home once in a while. At RepublicBancorp, one of Fortune magazine’s Best Places to Work, 60 percent of workers do some telecommuting. It works for the 35-person team at Flexjobs in Boulder, Colorado, too. Every staff member telecommutes. People enjoy the popular benefits of working from home and the company saves on overhead, with literally no headquarters.

RELATED: How to Create a Teleworking Policy

Make play time.

At online commerce site FatWallet.com in Beloit, Wisconsin, employees enjoy a monthly Game Day, with Boggle, mini putt, badminton and ping pong. “Ultimately, it brings us closer together as we cheer each other on, create friendly rivalries and celebrate something in our workplace that everyone looks forward to,” says spokesman Brent Shelton. “Mostly, you want to choose games that will create as much participation as possible, switching it up so some are athletic, some academic, and some can be totally made up. The more fun and engaging, whether everyone plays or just supports, the better.” Cost: Almost nothing.


A great place to work is one where people talk openly and often. It’s a sure route to employee satisfaction, and it’s literally free. Autodesk, another Fortune magazine Best Place to Work, says its culture is based on “mature directness,” which encourages employees to be honest with feedback and in dealing with their superiors.

At small business CSB Training in Burlington, Massachusetts, “We have everything from our CEO weekly messages—called Bill Unplugged—to a monthly newsletter, [and] quarterly company meetings where we talk about company performance and new initiatives, introduce new employees, and give out awards to top performing employees,” says President John M. Greene Jr. You’ll have to find the time and make the effort, but it’s a lot cheaper than your typical ropes course.

Coddle the kiddies.

Big companies woo loyalty with major annual bashes at big hotels. At A&N Mortgage in Chicago, President Neene Vlamis’ two oldest kids suggested the company ought to bring children in on the fun. Now company gatherings include face painting, DJs, cookie decorating and craft stations. There’s still a bar for the adults, and jugglers cost less than the divas who entertain for the larger companies. The big companies, too, make room for the kids, if on a sometimes grander scale. Novo Nordisk, another Best Place to Work, hosts a take-your-child-to-work day. [Here are some take-your-child-to-work-day resources] And Meridian Health, another winner, subsidizes child care, with employees paying just $632 a month for a 3-year-old, well below the national average of $972.

Offer inexpensive rewards.

Here’s one where a small business can stand toe to toe with the corporate giants: gift cards. Best Place to Work winner Wegman’s Food Markets, for instance, lets employees reward one another with gift cards for good service. They may be handed out to individuals as a surprise bonus for a job well done, or gifted to an entire team for its efforts. “Inexpensive gift certificates can be done by partnering with other businesses for bulk discounts. There may be a local restaurant or gift shop that would deeply discount gift certificates in order to increase business,” says Heath Suddleson, a professional speaker and leadership coach. With some energetic negotiating, or even bartering, a small business can offer this “great place to work” perk, even on a slim budget.

Read Next: 5 Small Business Employee Perks that Big Business Can’t Match


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