Great Places to Work: Work Hard, Play Hard

It isn’t always fun and games at these six organizations, but with everything from staff barbecues to game rooms, they do believe work shouldn’t always be serious.

By: Sherri Dalphonse, Mary Clare Glover

There is no association between this article and the San Francisco consulting firm that uses the trademark GREAT PLACES TO WORK ®

So many companies describe themselves as “work hard, play hard” that the phrase has become a cliché. But some of our winning companies do seem to be especially fun places to spend eight hours a day.
That doesn’t mean everyone is goofing off. But at these six places, managers encourage taking breaks—perhaps in an office game room or at outings such as a staff barbecue or Potomac cruise. The work itself can be fun, too.

Other companies that believe in playing as well as working hard: Carfax, CustomInk.com, Distributive Networks, Envision EMI, Merritt Group, and Project Performance Corporation.

Edelman Financial Services
Industry: Financial planning
Total staff: 126
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 15/15
Typical dress: Business casual
Interesting perks: Half-day Fridays in summer; eight hours’ paid leave a year to volunteer; stock options; profit sharing; Rolex for tenth anniversary; Fun Bunch that plans everything from summer outings to holiday party to “drive-to-work-for-free month” with complimentary gasoline.

Ric Edelman couldn’t believe that one of his employees had never seen Star Wars, so several years ago he had three movie days in the office—one for each film that was out at the time. For the third, everyone dressed as a Star Wars character.
At Edelman, a financial-planning firm, there are “stress down” days when lunch is catered and everyone spends the afternoon playing games. One contest was to see who could build the best airplane using only spaghetti and marshmallows.
Edelman is a place to build a future, too. Many employees are doing jobs very different from the ones they were recruited to do. Will Casserly started in data entry and is now vice president of communications.
After six years, an employee is given a four-week paid sabbatical. Some have taken around-the-world trips; others have spent the time volunteering. Upon return, the person gives a presentation. Edelman admits that one purpose of the presentation is to make other employees look forward to their own sabbaticals.
Edelman Financial Services, 4000 Legato Rd., Ninth Floor, Fairfax; 703-818-0800; ricedelman.com.

Hirshorn Zuckerman Design Group
Industry: Advertising and graphic design
Total staff: 71
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 11/16
Typical dress: Casual
Interesting perks: Every year, employees are treated to a surprise gift—one year it was designer jeans from Denim Bar; another it was designer sunglasses. Last summer, employees took part in an eight-week boot camp to get in shape. Plus, profit sharing, kickball and bowling leagues.

When The Simpsons Movie came out in July, graphic designers at the Hirshorn Zuckerman Design Group created Simpsons-like versions of coworkers as a prank. A few days later, a “Simpsons wall” was born, with cartoon depictions of the 60-person staff—from the CEO down.
“We are very hard-working, professional people who are kids at heart,” says chief operating officer Glenn Watts.
Founded in 1987, HZDG is a hybrid between a graphic-design firm and an advertising agency; it creates brochures, invitations, Web sites, and more for clients ranging from condo buildings to Saks Fifth Avenue.
Employees say that their ideas are listened to and that an open environment fosters creativity. They also rave about the flexible schedules and family-first attitude.
Husband-and-wife owners Karen and Jerry Zuckerman put a lot of thought into rewarding staff. Past treats have included companywide trips to boutiques to pick out designer jeans and sunglasses.
HZDG, 725 Rockville Pike, Studio 3, Rockville; 301-294-6302; hzdg.com.

Motley Fool
Industry: Financial advice
Total staff: 180
Vacation/personal days to start/max: Unlimited
Typical dress: Casual
Interesting perks: Stock options; up to 15 weeks’ maternity leave—and $400 in takeout meals for new parents; 100% pay when out on short-term disability; free on-site yoga class; seated massage once a week; paid sabbaticals; monthly pizza lunch; No Fool Left Behind book club; movie nights.

“We have only three types of unacceptable dress at the Fool,” says Lee Burbage, senior vice president of human resources. “Viking helmets with strapless evening gowns, plaid with polka dots, and more than three colors not found in nature.”
While Motley Fool is in the serious business of helping people make better financial decisions—through its Web site, books, and syndicated newspaper column—the work environment is downright foolish.
A game room is stocked with everything from Ms. Pacman to Wii. There’s an hour each week when Fools get together to play basketball, soccer, and volleyball. An employee’s “foolaversary” is celebrated not with a check but with an experience, such as a weekend at a resort. Each “fool” is given $1,200 to be used on something personally meaningful: One bought a karate outfit; another bought pet insurance.
Fool’s Errands, awarded monthly by lottery, are two consecutive weeks off that must be taken before the next drawing, when a report about how the two weeks were spent is expected. Motley Fool, in fact, has no limit on vacation—“as long as you get your work done,” Burbage says.
The “Foolanthropy” committee puts as much analysis into the company’s giving as it does into stock picks.
One-third of employees are analysts and editors, another third are techies, and the rest are in marketing. Many began their relationship with the company as customers.
The Motley Fool, 2000 Duke St., Alexandria; 703-838-3665; fool.com.

National Beer Wholesalers Association
Industry: Nonprofit association
Total staff: 25
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 14/20
Typical dress: Business casual
Interesting perks: Free Old Town parking; free dinner when staff works late; staff events such as a Potomac cruise or pumpkin carving.

Many employees say their colleagues are like family, but how many can say their boss gave them away as a bride?
Marcia Jonas was with colleagues at NBWA’s conference in Las Vegas on September 11, 2001. That night, Jonas recalls, “everyone was so down.” A coworker suggested that she and her husband, who had come on the trip, renew their vows in the hotel chapel. “It really brought everyone’s spirits up. We pulled together,” says Jonas, NBWA’s manager of design and production.
NBWA represents and lobbies for family-owned beer distributors across the country. Walking into the Old Town office is like walking into a bar: Old-fashioned beer posters cover the walls, beer-logo umbrellas shade patio tables, and there’s an office bar where beer tastings—or “beer education”—take place every Friday afternoon.
One of its initiatives is to reduce underage drinking, but NBWA also looks out for its own: If an employee is ever unable to drive, even if out socially, NBWA will pay for a cab. “We take care of each other,” says president Craig Purser.
National Beer Wholesalers Association, 1101 King St., Suite 600, Alexandria; 703-683-4300; nbwa.org.

Parature
Industry: Software
Total staff: 100
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 10/15
Typical dress: Casual
Interesting perks: Stock options; trip to Bahamas for sales reps who hit 120% of quota; ten paid hours a year for volunteering during work hours.

It’s not unusual for new employees at a firm to be introduced at a quarterly meeting. But at Parature, the employee’s picture is projected on a large screen with two truths and one lie about him or her. Other employees vote on which is the lie.
Cofounder Duke Chung dreamed up Parature nine years ago in a Cornell dorm room. The company’s Web-based software helps more than 500 clients handle help-center “calls”—reducing phone calls by 80 percent and cutting customer resolution time in half.
There are Five Guys Fridays on the first Friday of each month when everyone mingles. Quarterly off-site events have ranged from a riverboat ride to dinner at Maggiano’s with a karaoke machine. The young workforce plays basketball, soccer, darts, foosball, paintball, and Ping-Pong. “Ping-Pong is taken seriously here,” says Gary McNeil, director of marketing.
Parature, 8000 Towers Crescent Dr., Suite 800, Vienna; 703-564-7758; parature.com.

Vocus
Industry: Software
Total staff local/world: 298/356
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 15/15
Typical dress: Casual
Interesting perks: Stock options; on-site gym; President’s Club trip for top performers; regular catered breakfasts.

Ask employees what they’d miss most if they left Vocus, and many mention the Ping-Pong table, half-court basketball, and frequent employee outings that have included everything from Orioles games to pig roasts to Annapolis boat rides.
You might wonder when employees of this Lanham firm—which provides on-demand software for public-relations management—work. Yet Vocus has posted 32 straight quarters of revenue growth and has almost doubled in size in two years. Since its initial public offering in December 2005, the stock has risen by more than 160 percent.
“Vocus recognizes that the success of the organization is due to the hard-working individuals,” says software specialist Kenya Goodman, “that without us Vocus wouldn’t be where they are and where they’re going to be. In return, they take very good care of us.”
Chair massages and yoga classes are frequent, as are catered lunches. An “It’s All About You” committee, besides planning outings, might bring in smoothies one afternoon or omelets one morning. Another committee, “It’s Not All About You,” plans charitable efforts.
Employees like the casual dress code and how well everyone gets along.
“Vocus provides a laid-back work environment that still manages to be one of the most productive in which I’ve ever worked,” says PR Web editor Matt DeVeau.
Vocus, 4296 Forbes Blvd., Lanham; 301-459-2590; vocus.com.