job satisfaction: employee perks pay off with loyal staff that works as hard as they play

Everybody has those days when they just don’t feel like going to work. Whether it’s a heavy workload, a looming deadline or a tedious coworker; nobody ever said it was supposed to be fun. Well, some area employers offer a little something extra to their employees to make coming to work a little less like, well, coming to work.
From an all-you-can-eat snack bar to pursuing outside interests on company time -- oh, and free beer! -- these companies offer some extras that make coming to the office a little easier to swallow.
Party on the Roof
When it comes to completing a project, thunder::tech’s 45 employees know how to work hard and get the job done. The integrated marketing agency handles everything from public relations and graphic design to complex advertising, web and multi-media projects.
But at the end of the day, thunder::tech knows how to play hard, too. With a two-tap Kegerator, a rooftop with views of downtown Cleveland, holiday parties, a volleyball team and outings to Indians games, thunder::tech offers its employees a bevy of quality-of-life perks.
“A lot of it just adds to the culture,” explains founder Jason Therrien. “Some of it attracts employees, some retains employees. The ability to blow off a little steam through sports or happy hour drives authenticity. It sends a message: We do value them, care about them. They’re not just another number.”
Many Cleveland employers recognize the payoff in rewarding workers for their dedication, long hours and a job well done. Additionally, group activities build camaraderie among employees, which in turn means better production and teamwork on projects. Simply put, it’s a way of saying thank you while motivating employees to work harder.
“I think it adds to the day-to-day sense of team,” says Therrien. “I hope it shows the team members we do value their contributions. If we can make their jobs more enjoyable, if we invest and get better production, it’s a win-win for everyone.”
At thunder::tech, Friday afternoons are known as “beer-30.” Instead of hopping in their cars and going their separate ways, employees make a bee-line for the roof for a little chill time.
“At the end of the day, it’s nice to stick around for a beer and go home,” says Therrien. “It allows people to wind down and really interact. A lot of team members don’t get the chance to interact during the week.”
More than just propaganda, these efforts go a long way toward increasing employee satisfaction in a time when job place morale is at an all-time low.
“These events encourage us to get to know each other as real people, not just as the developer, designer, account manager and communications-people labels that we wear during the day,” says staffer Marissa Mendel. “We are able to occasionally grab a beer, get out of the office for an event or celebrate a holiday with each other and it really builds friendships and extra appreciation for one another.”
Free Beer!
Great Lakes Brewing Co. is known for its quality craft beer and upscale pub grub. But it’s also known for treating its employees like they’re part of the family.
“We measure our success by the success of our employees, and take pride in providing our team with a stable, positive work environment,” says Sanda Brezo, human resources assistant. “GLBC boasts a fun culture and family atmosphere with several staff events and get-togethers throughout the year. We welcome collaboration and innovation from staff at all levels.” 
But what really sets the brewery apart from other employers is the free beer. Once a month, it’s “free beer Friday,” when employees get to walk out the door with a free case of beer – and they don’t even have to hide it under their shirt. Additionally, everybody gets a free “shift beer” at the end of each work day. Third shift workers can take home one growler per week since the shift ends after the restaurant closes.
That’s not all: GLBC employees get half off their meals while at work, 25 percent off when they come in on their days off and receive discounts at the store gift shop. Free or discounted tickets to partner organizations like Playhouse Square or the Cleveland Museum of Art also are passed out on a regular basis.
“In return, we ask for honest, fun and reliable team members dedicated to their work and committed to our quality standards,” says Brezo.
Snacks, Sneakers & Sick Days
College students often gain the “Freshman 15” when they first go off to school and enjoy unlimited food in the dining hall. At ONOSYS, which designs online ordering systems for the restaurant industry, that phenomenon is known as the “ONOSYS 15” thanks to the free snack options available to employees.
“You realize really quickly that you put on weight when you pound a lot of soda and eat of lot of chips,” says co-founder Stan Garber. “Coffee is a big deal in the office too, with four different types of coffee and espresso.”
And these aren’t cheap products, says Garber. From Cleveland Bagel Company to Rising Star Coffee and everything in between, the delicious perks in this workplace are all quality homegrown products.
Food offers a source of bonding among the 31 employees at ONOSYS. “We have lunches on Fridays for the entire team,” Garber explains. “It’s a time to pow-wow; an opportunity for development and operations to all get together.”
In addition to all the snacks you can eat, each ONOSYS employee gets a pair of orange sneakers upon employment. The practice started early on, as Garber and co-founders Alex Yakubovich and Oleg Fridman became known for theirs.
“We always wore orange shoes to trade shows,” Garber explains. “We became known as the ‘guys in the orange shoes,’ so that’s just a critical first thing we do.”
ONOSYS employees also receive unlimited sick days and personal time. Garber describes the system as self-policing, since everyone relies on everyone else to get a job done. “Make sure your work is done and make sure you can take it off,” says Garber. “If you’re falling behind or you’re not doing well, we do ask if this is the right thing to do at the time.”
Employees can join a volleyball team and a supper club and managers often take their teams out as incentive. And if you have to work past 6 p.m., dinner is on the company tab.
“It’s not the cheapest in the grand scheme of things,” admits Garber. “But the indirect benefits offset the costs.”
A Dog’s (and Cat’s) Life
At Embrace Pet Insurance, it’s no surprise that a lot of pet lovers work for the company. Founder Laura Bennett made it policy from the beginning that employees can bring their pets to work. In fact, as Embrace prepares to move from a 5,000-square-foot space in Beachwood to a 13,500-square-foot space in Warrensville Heights, the well being of those pets was a factor.
“It used to be, at the most, six dogs could come in because the space was small and it would get a bit crazy,” says Bennett. “Now we can coral off spaces. It’s up to each space to decide how many dogs they want. We get packs of dogs in here.”
The practice of having pets in the office brings the stress level down significantly. “Even if you don’t have a dog or can’t bring a dog in, I think it’s good for mental wellness,” says Bennett. “We love it. We think it’s a great thing to do.”
Cat lovers, don’t fret. “We have days when only cats come into the offices,” says Bennett. “It’s fun and feels really good.” That is, until the end of the day when some cats -- true to kitty form -- have found the perfect hiding places. Bennett shares stories of cats tucked between seven-foot-high boxes or on a lower shelf of a desk.
Giving Back
At Bialosky and Partners Architects, each employee is treated like an individual, and rewarded accordingly. Flex time and working from home are privileges that are earned, and then encouraged. The firm stocks iPads and laptops that workers can borrow when they want to or need to work offsite.  
“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to our employees,” says Hallie DelVillan, the firm’s marketing director. “Responsibility is taken as much as it’s given. With more responsibility comes more freedom on the job. We really empower employees to work as they need to.”
Furthermore, Bialosky employees are encouraged to bring their non-profit interests to the table for pro bono work. Whether it’s teaching or volunteering on an architectural project, the firm supports it. For instance, partner David W. Craun currently is working on the construction of Zygote Press’ Z-Ink House in Collinwood. Theodore Ferringer won Bike Cleveland’s 2013 Guardian of Transportation Award for his work on the organization’s Midway plan.
Of course, in addition to the fun and unusual benefits offered at these companies, these employers also offer medical and dental coverage, life insurance, paid holidays and retirement. Many of them also value continuing education and will compensate employees who want to take a class, seminar or go back to school.
And here’s the kicker: Most of these companies are currently hiring.

Photos Bob Perkoski

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
Signup for Email Alerts