The world of work is competitive and one way for employers to attract – and hang onto – good staff is to offer them special perks. Whether it’s being able to go sailing from the office’s doorstep, choosing free new footwear or taking ‘paw-ternity’ leave for a new puppy, businesses have learnt to be creative.
David Chipperfield Architects
David Chipperfield Architects has left its mark on Berlin. The practice, which also has outposts in London, Milan and Shanghai, has applied its signature minimalism to buildings all around the city, most notably in a recent touch-up of the Neue Nationalgalerie. However, architects at the studio say that Berlin cab drivers are less likely to recognise the office’s name for its stellar CV than for its lunch canteen, which they regularly ferry visitors to. “If you search for us online, the first thing that pops up is Chipperfield Kantine, not the Chipperfield website,” says managing partner Eva Schad.
Housed in a pale concrete building in the courtyard of dca’s campus in Mitte, Chipperfield Kantine serves a mostly vegetarian menu with a daily changing main course, salad and soup option, prepared from organic regional produce by in-house chefs. Though its primary function is to feed the studio’s employees (who pay half price), anyone is welcome to stroll in for lunch or a coffee that, in the summer, is best enjoyed in the yard on tables decked out under a sycamore-tree canopy. “The idea is that it’s our kitchen, living area and garden – and people are invited to join in,” says Schad. “It’s made for us but we’re very happy to have lots of guests.”
The canteen came to be fortuitously more than a decade ago, when an architect at the office proposed that a friend could set up a restaurant inside a neglected building on the studio’s grounds – in exchange for cooking a midday meal for the staff. Word spread quickly about the Kantine’s hearty, high-quality lunches. Today, the canteen has turned into a place where dca’s architects gather to mix with the neighbourhood’s cultural crowd. According to Schad, it’s now impossible to imagine the studio without the canteen at its core. “It has a catalyst function regarding new relationships, knowledge and ideas,” she says. “We spend most of our daytime here in the office but if you’re in the Kantine it feels like life, not work.”
Tom Stuart Smith Studio
Abbots Langley, England
The green belt is a halo of untrammelled land that surrounds London, protecting the English countryside from being encroached upon by its capital. Landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith grew up here, on the Serge Hill estate, a large house and grounds nestled in the greenery near Watford. His eponymous studio, founded in 1998, has produced gardens for public and corporate clients across the UK and Europe, and been awarded eight gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show.
Until last November it was in an office building in the inner-city neighbourhood of London’s Clerkenwell. But Stuart-Smith felt that there was a disconnect between the team’s practice and their environment. So he invited them all back to his place – sort of. In 2020 he began work converting some outbuildings in Serge Hill into studios: at the same time, he broke ground on a new plant library – a garden that acts as both learning device and appealing recreational space for his recruits.
“A lot of people I employ are in their twenties and thirties,” says Stuart-Smith. “Living in London, they often don’t have access to a garden, so they can’t learn all they can about plants.” When monocle visits, his staff, whose work is mostly carried out on screen, are out picking beans and herbs to supplement their lunches. Today the plant library is home to about 1,000 species, including fruit and vegetables such as aubergines, tomatoes and melons.
Eighteen people work in the studio and have access to the garden for a soothing spot of horticulture. There’s a nursery being built next to the plant library, which will be run by Sunnyside Rural Trust, a charity that supports adults with learning disabilities, some of whom will be working there. “A lot of this came out of a book that my wife wrote, The Well-Gardened Mind, that is about the therapeutic benefits of gardening,” says Stuart-Smith. His team’s wide smiles attest to its theories.
Mexico City, Mexico
“One day at a party, I met a tarot reader and said, ‘Do you mind coming into our office and doing a team reading?’,” says Adolfo López Serrano Reyes, founder of Mexico City-based PR firm Base Agency. “I thought that the company needed a bit of a boost.” His idea proved providential: when the reader came to meet his staff last year, she drew cards that encouraged greater openness and better communication. Her perspective – supernatural or not – helped to dissolve tensions that had built up. The young team of twenty-somethings had grown quickly in the preceding year, expanding from seven to 22 members of staff, which had brought its own problems.
Reyes soon had two astrologists-cum-tarot readers on retainer; employees can now see them for some analysis whenever they sense a cosmic need. In part, he compares this perk to having a therapist at hand. “It really motivated our team,” he says. “I understand that they have personal things that they’re going through and being able to talk to someone helps.”
Reyes does not wear his beliefs lightly. Even before the clairvoyant hires, Base would tailor its output to the astrological Good Timing Guide, which tells you whether it’s a propitious day for tough conversations, taking action or, perhaps, doing nothing at all. “I can be spiritual but I can also be very sceptical,” he says. “We started timing our work with moments that felt good and when our intentions matched what we’re seeing in the calendar.” Clients, he says, responded well to this quixotic yet – in its own way – structured approach.
And Reyes takes hints from the in-house astrologist no less seriously. In spring 2022, when he was advised by the stars to be more receptive to other energies and opinions, he brought on a new partner to help run the agency – and he hasn’t looked back since. “The partnership? It’s going great.”
Some of the best company perks aren’t of great monetary value but serve as a way to tease out employees’ passions and personalities. Jamie Wilde and Taylor Host founded Miro in Hong Kong in 2017; their company uses software to analyse sports data for advertising and other purposes, working with clients including the nba, the nfl and soccer teams around the world. It might be a small start-up but with employees spread across Hong Kong, the US and the Philippines, the founders need to ensure that they organise initiatives that keep staff engaged and motivated in three different time zones.
That’s why they decided that all joiners should receive a pair of sport shoes. Aspiring marathon competitors can take their pick of running shoes, while Premier League fans can opt for football boots. Wilde believes that the playful perk helps Miro to stand out to anyone looking for work in Hong Kong, where corporate jobs in finance and accounting are the norm and plucky tech start-ups are a minority. “Recruitment can be really difficult, especially in Hong Kong,” he says. “What we have found is that trying to be a little bit different gets people interested.” Something as simple and specific as a conversation about well-designed trainers helps break the ice with new employees, letting the rest of the team learn about their colleagues’ hobbies and preferences. It’s also a good way to tell whether someone will fit in at sports-focused Miro. If someone isn’t fussed about which shoes they’d like, Wilde says, “They’re probably not going to be as engaged with the kind of content we have.”
Miro also runs team activities including company- wide tournaments for big events such as basketball championship March Madness and the Asian Games; winners can claim prizes including sports kits or vouchers. “It helps to keep everybody engaged and it’s related to the work we do,” says Wilde. “We have a tight-knit team – and try to have a little bit of fun.”
A small town an hour’s drive south of Stuttgart, Burladingen is a picture-perfect version of a rural German idyll. It is the home of Trigema, one of the last large-scale textile manufacturers in Germany. Here, about 1,200 employees – roughly one tenth of Burladingen’s population – help spin and sew yarn into millions of sports and leisure garments every year. The company is the biggest in town and it’s aware of its responsibility towards both its location and its residents. The century-old family business has never moved any part of production elsewhere, and in the 50 years that it has been helmed by ceo Wolfgang Grupp, there has been no downsizing. Once hired, people can count on a position forever. “Of course, if you steal or something, it’s a problem,” says Bonita Grupp, Wolfgang’s daughter, who leads personnel and recruitment. “But if everything works the way it should, you have a job for life.”
Trigema goes one step further by guaranteeing a job contract for all employees’ offspring as soon as they finish school. Making this promise seems risky but Bonita explains that the policy works both to gauge worker satisfaction and as an almost foolproof way to find trustworthy new recruits. “Parents wouldn’t recommend our company to their children if they weren’t happy with the job themselves,” she says. “And they wouldn’t recommend their children to apply if it had a bad reflection on them.”
Almost two-thirds of Trigema’s workforce have been on the job for more than a decade and many employees’ ties to the company stretch back generations. Staff loyalty has clear upsides for an employer, and Bonita believes that it is a key reason why Trigema is thriving while most of its German rivals have long since shut up shop. Having grown up in the business herself (even as a sometime model for kids’ collections), she also knows the rewards such continuity can bring to the individual. “Taking one company into the future is a nice task in your life,” she says. “It’s a tradition you’re inheriting.”
Sesto San Giovanni, Italy
Nothing says that the working day is done quite like a well-stocked bar – ideally one staffed by smart bartenders trained to make classic cocktails. Campari, Italy’s biggest spirits group, has grown from humble beginnings in 1860 as a company making a distinctive red herbal aperitif to now owning more than 50 brands, including Aperol, Skyy vodka and Grand Marnier. Therefore a bar – or two, as there are in the drinks firm’s HQ on the outskirts of Milan – is a fundamental part of the workplace. The office was designed by architects Mario Botta and Giancarlo Marzorati, who were inspired by the advertising campaigns created by the futurist Fortunato Depero for Campari in the early 20th century.
The office bars are not just for the good times, either: they are also places of learning where the Campari Academy bar teaches the “proper” way to mix an Aperol spritz or negroni. All employees receive a special kind of bar-side onboarding – “cocktail introductions” – that the head of commercial capabilities, Patrick Piana, says are where “Camparistas start their journey.” The experience of enjoying a few drinks at work – though it might make for a wobbly walk home – “means really being able to understand the celebratory spirit of the company and what it does,” says Piana.
The other office bar functions as a party space, hosting birthdays and events – a sort of fully stocked meeting room with professional bartenders and unlimited booze. But only on special occasions, as Campari management is quick to point out. Technically, these are chances to “get to know the business and our brands but also strengthen a feeling of belonging and drive creativity,” says Piana. Networking, then, only slightly soused. The convivial notion of workplace bars carries on in Campari’s international outposts in Singapore, Munich and New York, where the office conceals a speakeasy, a getaway for employees but also for in-the-know New Yorkers. Cheers to that.
Spending your lunch break by the lake is quite a normal occurrence in Zürich. But heading out on the water is rather more unusual. The employees of Zurich Insurance can do just that: a three-minute walk from their newly renovated office leads them to the Enge port, where three sailing boats are always ready to be taken out. The idea for this initiative was born back in 1994, when two attentive employees noticed that many of the boats at the port were never moved. They contacted the owners and offered to move and maintain the ships for free. One owner agreed – and the perk was born.
Over time, Zurich Insurance’s sailing group grew so much that the company acquired its own ships. Sailors with the required licence can use the boats at their convenience, while those who require a skipper can jump on board on Wednesday afternoons, for a trip along the shores. “It has become very popular this year,” says today’s skipper and Zurich Insurance employee Koen van Loocke. “I only started sailing once I began working here and had the chance to experience the joy that this activity brings.” As he speaks, he skilfully instructs his colleagues to prepare for a slight turn to avoid an incoming vessel.
Employees are also allowed to bring friends along on these tours, which increases the initiative’s popularity even further. Other than a great chance to feel the wind in your hair, going out on one of these boats is an opportunity to relax and hang out with colleagues away from the office (though it’s always important to keep a watchful eye on swimmers bobbing along). Much as this might seem an extravagant perk, the company’s idea is one of the many initiatives needed to win over new employees in a job market as competitive as Zürich’s. Most of the technology, banking and sports giants in town provide excellent canteens, gyms and discount vouchers but none other can offer such offshore benefits (of the freshwater kind).
Having a place in your office where employees can get together in the nude and hang out during working hours might sound unwise to some, but in Finland, which is a land with more saunas than cars, such spaces are a common company perk. Elsewhere, businesses may try to lure employees with offers of long holidays or discounted lunches but in Helsinki, giving your staff the chance to sweat their stress away whenever they feel the need to do so is just as important.
Companies from mobile-game developer Supercell to IT-services provider Frog all boast an in-house sauna for their staff to use. The facility is also known to have helped as a seat for negotiation in diplomatic circles (Finnish embassies from London to Washington have sought to export the perk abroad too).
Located on the top floor of the six-storey office building in the city centre, Finnish technology company Reaktor’s sauna is accessible to staff members and their families. “Sauna not only relaxes you and diminishes stress but it also serves an important social purpose as a place where people gather together,” says Reaktor’s talent growth lead, Aini Leppäkorpi.
This particular wooden sauna is heated to 80c and the space fits between 10 to 15 people at a time. After sweating profusely in the steamy, scorching space, staff can often then be found relaxing on the expansive outdoor terrace overlooking the city or perusing the adjacent lounge’s ample drinks offering to replace lost fluids.
For an international company with 650 employees from various countries around the world, experiencing the in-house sauna is somewhat of a rite of passage into Finnish culture that leaves some new starters more than a little surprised. “It takes some getting used to, seeing people walking around the office wearing nothing but towels,” says Leppäkorpi, laughing.
New York City, USA
Once a stray foxhound from South Carolina, two-year old Rory now has a pampered Brooklyn life, hundreds of social media followers and a coveted TV appearance on Puppy Bowl xvii, hosted by Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg, and broadcast to about 2.6 million viewers on Discovery1.
Rory has international marketing tech company mParticle to thank for her rags-to-riches story. “A big reason we adopted her was because of ‘paw-ternity’ leave,” says her owner Nina Kratter Levine, mParticle’s talent acquisition partner. The company offers two weeks off when employees decide to bring home a rescue pet.
The generous policy is just one among many other benefits, which also include unlimited time off. As a company that collects large amounts of data for its platform, mParticle needs to recruit highly specialised staff: developers and web engineers are so in demand that tech businesses keep upping the outrageousness of their perks to attract employees. The firm must be doing something right, as it’s doubling its headcount year on year.
Chief marketing officer Jason Seeba says that they feel it’s important to give employees the time to care for their new pups. “Many of the executives are involved in animal rescue and pets are a big part of their life,” says Seeba. “The two weeks can be useful if you need to get adjusted to your new dog or if you have to travel to adopt. Our employee handbook makes the point though: it’s specifically around rescue animals – not from a breeder.”
Kratter Levine was happy to oblige. “A dog is like a child in the beginning,” she says. “I appreciated that I could be there for those early crucial bonding moments.” The company has always been dog-friendly: the office near Union Square has an open floorplan and there can be as many as four pets there at a time. “It’s the kind of environment where you could find your dog on someone’s lap on the other side of the office,” says Kratter Levine.
Photographers: Felix Brüggemann, Dan Wilton, Jimi Chiu, Ana Hop, Conny Mirbach, Luigi Fiano, Joan Minder, Juho Kuva, Clark Hodgin