Midsize companies: Looking far beyond paychecks

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 16, 2013 - 6:48 AM

Periscope COO/CFO Virginia Hines and CEO Greg Kurowski took care of the grilling.

Photo: JOEL KOYAMA • joel.koyama@startribune.com,

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Walk into the Periscope ad agency in downtown Minneapolis on any given day and it’s possible to bump into a basset hound, puggle, Shih Tzu or a host of human types working their creative magic around a fireplace or at the free-snack counter.

Periscope, which creates ads, buys media time and organizes events for the likes of Andersen Windows, the Minnesota Twins, Exxon Mobil Corp., Target Corp. and others, believes in making work fun since “our people spend so much time here,” said COO/CFO Virginia Hines. “Our business is our people. So we need to treat them well.”

Treating them well means having yoga classes, free parking, free health care, Twins games, private concerts, sports leagues, sandwiches on St. Patrick’s Day and a philosophy that says “dogs are welcome to bring their owners to work anytime.”

It also means that Hines, CEO Greg Kurowski, HR manager Donna Brown and other executives fire up the grill and serve burgers to most of their 410 employees several times a year, as they did last month.

“We try to do something different once a month,” Hines said. “We all go to a Twins game or do a spelling bee, anything to get their juices flowing so they can unwind. It gives the groups time to integrate and to just stop and have a little fun.”

Periscope’s attention to employee rewards and well-being helped it place fifth among the 30 Top Workplaces for medium companies.

Home aide services firm Right at Home, Bell State Bank & Trust, Anytime Fitness and Pediatric Home Services were among the top-ranked in the category. Employees at these and other notable firms said they love their jobs because their firms emphasize fun, benefits, community giving and creative workplaces that inspire hard work, loyalty and results.

Firms winning the loudest praise seemed to look far beyond time clocks and paychecks to create environments that scream appreciation, fun and wellness. Among this year’s winners, dynamic wellness plans proved common at health-care and home-health companies. Ad agencies and fitness and software firms boasted rugged extracurricular games, adventurous outings or fundraising events to boost camaraderie. Pay was competitive, but not the first mention on anyone’s list.

Instead, turnover proved low and loyalty high thanks to a host of intangibles.

Kim Strandlund, president of Human Resource Professionals of Minnesota, noted that some companies “go over the top” to engage their employees. “But you don’t have to do that,” she said. “Make sure that they have a purpose and are recognized, and you are going to have engaged employees.”

And it doesn’t hurt if you have a little fun. “If it’s not a fun or a positive or happy environment, who wants to go to that every day for eight hours?” she said.

Surveyed employees all around Minnesota agreed.

“I love working at Periscope because of the atmosphere,” executive assistant Brittany Hestad said. “You just kind of feel it when you walk into the building. Everyone is in a good mood and enjoys being at work. The culture is very positive and uplifting, and so you really want to work hard.

“It was not that way at my old job, so this was a welcome change.’’

Fun on the job comes in many forms. And the oddest may be found at Anytime Fitness’ corporate headquarters in Hastings. Confidence-building exercises have had employees jumping out of airplanes or scavenger hunting inside a massive mud pit. During a recent event, employees dove into the pit to find envelopes containing money, Twins tickets — even coupons for hugs from the co-founders.

“It was a little crazy; it was lot of fun,” executive assistant Leesa Lund said. “We just try to create little events to create team bonding.”

Anytime Fitness participates in dozens of local events such as the Tough Mudder obstacle course. During one team-building exercise, employees and franchisees carried a teammate through the entire muddy obstacle course in an effort to raise team spirit and cash for charity.

“It’s fun, and it’s important to help build these communities,” said Dave Mortensen, president and co-founder.

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