Fancy bringing your pooch to the office? How about creating a short film, ducking out for a personal training session or serving in a soup kitchen on company time?
Australian businesses are becoming increasingly imaginative in the way they reward — and keep — their staff, with seemingly nothing off-limits.
Over at Madman Entertainment, a company that distributes Australian and international films, as well as Japanese anime and manga, the staff are creative — and so are the perks.
Tim Anderson, one of the company’s two managing directors, says that they’ve always held to the theory that work should be a fun place to go, and they’ve held everything from art exhibitions to their own film festival.
We know that work is not just about how much you’re being paid, it’s also about being in a place that you enjoy being.
Among other things, there are also subsidised massages and gym memberships, free DVDs and tickets to film screenings.
“We know that work is not just about how much you’re being paid, it’s also about being in a place that you enjoy being,” says Anderson.
He says that they try and recruit for people and attitudes, rather than ticking a box when it comes to qualifications and experience. “Around that has grown a fun, youthful, informal culture.”
In the past, the bosses tended to organise interesting activities, but that’s now being taken over by a “secret committee” of staff who are given a small budget for the purpose.
“Every couple of years we have an art exhibition … everyone’s invited to submit some form of art,” says Anderson. “We’ll book a gallery space and get it catered for the evening and make a night of it.”
Last year, Madman held its own short film festival, giving staff time during work hours to create their entries.
“A few people curated teams around the business. A bit of a goal there was to mix up departments and teams a little bit,” says Anderson. “It was great — there were so many really fun creative, clever films.”
Giving back to the community
Torsten Kasper, managing director at real estate agency Chisholm & Gamon, is amused when people give him the “back-handed compliment” that his business is not like other real estate agencies.
After having a strong social conscience drilled into him by his parents, Kasper has made giving back to the community a priority as he’s grown his business from five staff to 75.
Kasper and his employees are heavily involved in helping Melbourne’s Sacred Heart Mission, which helps people who are homeless or living in poverty.
Each year, Kasper and his team help to organise one of the Mission’s four main fundraising events, Dine with the Champions, which usually raises about $80,000.
Staff also take on other tasks such as serving food at the Mission’s soup kitchen.
Kasper believes that by getting involved, rather than just donating to the cause, his staff become more well-rounded, empathetic people.
He believes that many clients “like the fact there’s a moral compass” and staff enjoy the fact that their workplace is a little bit different to other real estate agencies.
“My feeling is that it creates just a sense of belonging and that they’re doing something with a bit more depth.”
Kasper says the program has also underpinned one of the highest staff retention rates in the industry.
Fancy a 75% discount on your travel?
Meanwhile, a host of other Australian companies are trying different approaches.
The Intrepid Group, which includes adventure tour companies Intrepid Travel, Peregrine Adventures and Geckos Adventures, has an array of perks for globe-trotting staff, including 75 per cent off all trips (and discounts for friends and family), free educational trips to a variety of countries and discounted travel guides and insurance.
One lucky staff member a year also gets three months off work to experience the group’s trips through Intrepid’s Travel Scholarship program. Last Christmas, every staff member at the Melbourne office was given a raffle ticket, with the winner bagging a trip to Antarctica.
Bring your dog to work
Cotton On is among a handful of businesses encouraging staff to bring their furry friends to work. Its Geelong head office has 850 staff, with 10 to 20 dogs in the office each day. The idea is to reduce stress and encourage staff to not only get up from their desk, but to talk to different colleagues.
There are also two annual “bring your kids to work” days, as well as yoga classes, eight on-site personal trainers, a physiotherapist, an osteopath and a podiatrist.
Pharmaceutical company MSD offers a host of different incentives to staff, including three “Reward Yourself Days” per year after employees clock up their first two years’ service. Employees can also spend up to 20 hours of work time each year volunteering elsewhere.
Over at Madman, Tim Anderson says it only takes “a few grand here and there” to run their kind of events.
“It doesn’t take much if you consider if you had a terrible working environment, if the culture didn’t stand for much, and you had to pay more to make people stay,” he says.
But whatever the reward is, it can’t be a “free-for-all to just dine out on the company dollar”, he adds. It must also be authentic.
“I’m very sceptical about teamwork and teambuilding and all that stuff because it needs to be authentic and it needs to come from the heart,” he says.
“It’s completely obvious when this stuff is just tossed out like candy.”