Perks is a 15-year-old incentive software company that Tracy Cooper, their Finance Director, believes is one of the best-kept secrets in Arkansas. Last year they were named one of the “Best Places to Work” in their state, so their reputation as an excellent workplace seems to be growing quickly.
“If you walk in, you’ll feel it,” Tracy says. “You’ll know it’s a fun place and people want to be here.”
The word “fun” comes up frequently when people talk about Perks. It’s unsurprising, yet still refreshing, to hear that when Perks formalized their core values about a year ago, one of them was simply “laughter.” (The others, also articulated in single words, are “strive,” “team,” and “innovate.”) Tracy describes Perkies as a group of open-minded people with diverse interests who work hard, have fun, and don’t take themselves too seriously.
Motivation is what we do. We work on the science of that, we sell that, and we live it.
Their open office environment exudes a comfortable informality. The first thing you see when you walk in are their ping pong tables, and guests are typically greeted by the office’s mascot, Xee (also known as CEO Jeff Ford’s dog), who is known to show up even without Jeff on some days.
Earl Kieselhorst, Perks’ Customer Care Manager, says the company’s location in downtown Little Rock lends a special feeling. “We’re right next to the River Market. You can walk down and grab your lunch and go to the river, or go up to the roof if you want. We overlook the river, so I brought my wife here and we watched the fireworks on the Fourth of July.”
It’s unsurprising, yet still refreshing, to hear that when Perks formalized their core values about a year ago, one of them was simply “laughter.”
Life at Perks is replete with unique traditions beyond the typical company happy hours (although they have those too). Once a year, the whole company goes to the lake and rents a huge houseboat for everyone to spend time together. Another event, “field day,” involves playing games like kickball and other outdoor team-building activities. Then there’s the “Turkey Bowl” — the day before Thanksgiving every year — when everyone “knocks off early” and goes bowling. Sometimes, just for fun, the whole team will load up in a bus and drive down to Hot Springs for the horse races.
“There are always things like that going on,” Earl says. “And they’re always thinking of new ways to make you realize they appreciate what you do. It’s a great place to be.”
Being in the “business of motivation” means offering generous benefits
For a company of their size — roughly 40 employees — Perks has an elaborate benefits package. The company pays 100% of employees’ medical and dental insurance. Perks also offers supplementary insurance, which covers hospital packages, cancer treatments, and short- and long-term disability. On top of those benefits, they have a bonus program, 401(k) plan, as well as a generous vacation policy that scales with tenure (one week for your first year, two weeks your second, and so on).
When my father passed away, they not only sent beautiful flowers, they also catered food for my entire family. For three days, we didn’t eat anything but what Perks had provided.
Tracy says Perks offers benefits beyond what’s expected of a company of their size. For example, they just announced a tuition assistance program: “Our CEO and exec team truly understand the value of our staff, our people, and giving our people rewards appropriate with the kind of stuff that they’re putting out for you.”
A lot of that has to do with the business they’re in. “Obviously we’re very into the business of motivation,” says Tracy. “Motivation is what we do. Yes, we buy into that; we work on the science of that, we sell that, and we live it.”
Living real life inside the work environment
Perks is consistently trying to recognize people, and part of that means celebrating holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones. “We try to celebrate holidays and have events and live real life inside the work environment just like it happens outside,” explains Tracy. Birthdays at the office are marked by everything from cake, a decorated cubicle, a silly email, or a special lunch.
At their monthly company-wide meeting, employee anniversaries are recognized with pizzazz. People go into the company’s own Perks platform to comment on the anniversary and tell others why it’s great working with them. Then in the meeting, those comments are read out to the group. Recently, two employees, Chuck and Chris, reached a tenth anniversary with Perks — so naturally, the company threw them a surprise party (complete with a personalized Beavis and Butthead cake).
Earl remarks that Perks cares for employees when they experience other significant personal events as well. When he and his wife had their first baby a few years ago, everyone surprised him with gift certificates and other presents. “It’s the same thing with marriages — the company does a great job acknowledging big life events for employees,” Earl says. “When my father passed away, they not only sent beautiful flowers, they also catered food for my entire family. For three days, we didn’t eat anything but what Perks had provided. If it means something to us, it means something to them.”
Finding new ways to appreciate employees at Perks — through their own product
Perks uses their own product internally, which means peer recognition flies around the office virtually. Employees rack up points from their colleagues for doing a great job or being helpful, and those points are redeemable for physical gift cards, online certificates, merchandise, and more. They can even be used to earn time with a massage therapist, who comes to the Perks office once a month. Tracy says “It takes five minutes for the person to choose to do that, but it makes me feel really good, and I start my day happy. Further down the road, I get to spend those points and enjoy something tangible as a result of what I did.” It’s an obvious incentive for the team to continue the cycle by paying it forward.
It really has to come from the top. It can’t just be words. You have to believe in it and you have to live it.
Earl says one of the best incentives at the company is for business improvement ideas. Anyone can submit an idea through the Perks platform, and if it’s something they determine is a good idea, the employee not only earns points, they can even receive a percentage of the savings the business experienced as a result of their suggestion. “A lot of times the best ideas don’t necessarily come from the very top,” says Earl. “You’re making sure you let people know that you value their input and hey, if it works, they’ll be rewarded for it.”
Appreciation for employees even shows up on the Perks website and in their product. Part of their branding includes little cartoon characters — called Perkies — that represent actual employees. The graphics team affectionately creates caricatures of each employee and enjoys surprising people with their likeness. Tracy explains, “It’s a constant source of fun and excitement and we have coffee cups with all the Perkies on them. It’s a little thing, you know, just a cartoon. But people joke about it, like ‘No, I have more hair than that!’”
Learning on the job — how Perks offers opportunities for career development
Perks puts an emphasis on professional development by giving everyone the tools to build whatever skills they need, whether it’s offering online training courses or sponsoring employees for various conferences. “The skill set we come in is not the skill set we end up with,” Earl says. “We learn as we go. The new tuition reimbursement, to me, goes perfectly with the way they’re willing to foot the bill for you to be your best.”
I can do a great job and have it mean something. I’ve learned — I still have the ability to do a great job and be part of something that’s going to last.
Deb Broderson, Chief Marketing Officer at Perks, says that the tuition reimbursement program will appeal to their young, millennial workforce. “They’ve come from college fairly recently and are ready to keep learning. Offering them a way to enhance their business skills will not only make them more successful, but might also motivate them to stay with us longer.” She says the best examples of this are Chuck and Chris (if you’ll recall the Beavis and Butthead cake). After 10 years with the company, Chuck, who started as a web developer, is now their VP of Technology. Chris began as a graphic designer, and now? Meet Perks’ Senior Marketing Manager.
Being part of a smaller company like Perks inherently offers some advantages when it comes to the work itself, Tracy explains: “I enjoy smaller companies where I can be a jack of all trades. I want to be involved in forming ideas and processes — building something, and having influence in many different areas instead of being in a siloed job. Perks is of a size that really allows me that freedom.”
Earl says he has endured “a string of not so great jobs” before joining Perks. Since working at Perks, however, Earl says he gained a lot of that confidence back: “I can do a great job and have it mean something. Here, those efforts are noticed. I’ve learned that I still have the ability to do a great job and be part of something that’s going to last.”
Great culture starts from the top
Tracy credits Perks’ founder and CEO Jeff Ford for investing in making the company a great place to work: “It really has to come from the top. It can’t just be words. It’s easy to focus on the bottom line and to lose sight of how you’re getting there. The long-term appreciation of your employees will cause that bottom line to balloon way faster than making short-term decisions, like skipping on raises and benefits, or not allowing the culture to build itself.” When you’re in the business of motivating others, though, that’s the perk.
“You have to believe in it and you have to live it.”