Geri Stengel

 
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Employee Perks Build Small Business Success

What do the New York Jets, Patagonia, a landscaping company in Massachusetts, and a catering company in Illinois have in common?

employee benefits, profit sharing, small businessWell, they are all among the Top 20 Small Company Workplaces, selected because they, like the other 16 winners, are successful small businesses that trace their success to their culture, particularly the way in which they treat employees.

The Top 20 list is compiled by Inc., and Winning Workplaces each year.

Benefits among the 20 range from paid time off for nonprofit volunteer work to cross-training, from English language help for employees for whom English is a second language to free house cleaning every two weeks (Yes, you read that right: free house cleaning, offered by Akraya, a $32 million job-placement company in California.)

Employee benefits beyond those mandated by law represent "enlightened self-interest because the cost of [employee] replacement is high and the benefit of continuity is great," according to Ken Lehman, co-founder of Winning Workplaces and former CEO of a manufacturing company.

Companies chosen for this award also rank high in social responsibility. PortionPac is a chemical company founded in 1964 and bringing in around $20 million per year. The environment benefits from its focus on waste reduction and safety in the use of janitorial supplies. Its employees benefit from equipment designed to operate quietly so the employees can talk to one another.

Biomark, an Idaho company that makes tags for wildlife studies, believes in cross-training and variety so much that everyone from CEO to customer service reps do fieldwork and "get their hands dirty tagging fish and animals."

In an interview with Inc., Lehman says small businesses should focus on "open, two-way communication. Open-book management, for example. Employees want to do a good job. But they need to know what is going on and how they fit in. Frequent, open communication – including financial information – equips people to do their best."

Also high on the list of things that promote workplace satisfaction and business success are:

  • openness to employee ideas
  • consideration of changing employee needs, from child care to subsidized fuel costs
  • profit-sharing or employee ownership
  • lack of hierarchy, in that managers eat with employees, meet with them, and share information
     

Funny thing about that list of profitable employee benefits: It's almost the same as last year's.

As to the New York Jets, all their employees can use the team gym and can quality for $15,000 tuition reimbursement.

Patagonia allows employee flextime to an unusual degree: if you want to surf in the afternoon and come in at 7pm, go for it!

The $1.4 million landscaping business, A Yard and A Half, offers English language lessons and flextime to its employees.

And Tasty Catering in Illinois encourages employees to come up with new business ideas and subsidizes their start-up costs.

Do you know companies whose employee-benefits are unusual? Are they successful?