News & Politics

Great Places to Work: Work Hard, Play Hard

The work may be serious, but employees at these companies don’t take themselves too seriously. If you like pie-eating contests and Wii tournaments, one of these places may be for you.

From a round of darts to a lunchtime trivia contest, Carfax employees are game for almost anything. Photograph by Vincent Ricardel

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At Carfax, employees sometimes sing for their supper.

Every Friday, the staff gets a free catered lunch. Once a month during lunch, there’s a crazy contest such as a relay race or a pie-eating challenge. Recently, during a talent show, one team dressed in drag—à la the Redskins Hogettes—and did a provocative song-and-dance routine.

It’s all part of a larger culture that embraces everything from Halloween costumes to practical jokes—one colleague left a dead mackerel in another’s locker.

“I haven’t been this happy at work since I was a lifeguard,” says Carfax account executive Diane Beran. “And this pays a lot better.”

While a culture like this isn’t right for everyone, it’s also not all play and no work. The fun is often a way to break up days that can be fast-paced.

Work-hard, play-hard companies tend to attract young, energetic professionals who love collaborating in teams and who often get together outside of work.

The Motley Fool has employee clubs for dog owners, wine lovers, guitar players, rock climbers. As at other play-hard firms, the company has no dress code—staffers can wear jeans and flip-flops.

These offices can be colorful. At, some walls are blue and orange and work areas are decorated with everything from Redskins helmets to Jerry Garcia posters to Hello Kitty collections. Rooms are named for Internet terms: A conference room is called Blog; the kitchen is Download. The lobby? It’s called Home.

Organization; Location and Web Site; What It Does How Do They Play Hard? Full-Time LocalStaff Vacation Days to Start/Max Typical Dress Besides Being a Fun Culture, What Makes It a Great Place to Work?
Carfax; Centreville;; Provides used-vehicle-history reports In-office putting green, basketball, darts, and Wii; pie-eating contests; NASCAR-watching parties. 241 15/30 Casual Staffers are driven by the mission—helping consumers buy safe, reliable used cars. Free lunch every Friday and the fact that the firm is growing don’t hurt. Turnover averages just 5%; McLean;; Web site for custom T-shirts and other products Dress Up Like Your Supervisor Day; Art Night to paint or make pottery; lots of snacks. 232 20/25 Casual This fast-growing firm hires lots of new grads and promotes them quickly; there’s a professional-development coordinator. Free breakfast on Mondays and lunch on Fridays. Gave $60,000 last year to charity.
Dataprise; Rockville;; Technical services and support for small-to-medium-size businesses Game room with Wii and Rock Band; monthly events such as happy hour and kickball. 103 15/20 Business casual This 14-year-old firm says it has never laid off an employee or frozen salaries. It’s an open culture—the CEO has lunch with one employee each week. Frequent recognition and lots of charitable work instill a positive vibe.
Merritt Group; Reston;; Public relations for technology companies Volleyball; “chill out” room with pool table and air hockey; committee-planned outings. 21 20-30/30 Business casual Employees feel challenged and thanked for their efforts—80% say the pay is higher than the industry average. They give back, too, with pro bono work and one volunteering day a quarter.
Métier; Arlington;; Portfolio-management software and consulting Unusual bonus: private flying lessons with the CEO. Also Wii, Ping-Pong, massage chairs. 49 15/30 Usually business casual One of the nation’s fastest-growing firms, Métier gives new grads lots of responsibility. Other perks: $100 monthly transportation subsidy, “green” initiatives, open office with no cubes.
The Motley Fool; Alexandria;; Financial advice through Web site, books, syndicated column Intern “Olympics”; massages; cake day; movies; game room; weekly soccer and basketball. 210 Unlimited Casual With unlimited vacation and flex hours, the Motley Fool is an easygoing culture. Managers encourage everyone to go outside on nice days—and never schedule meetings after 3 in summer. Turnover is just 6%.