W+K’s top-floor deck is a hot spot for work breaks.

Superior Perks

When some employers are offering to buy their workers hybrid vehicles, the standard benefits package (health coverage and two weeks vacation) can seem downright stingy. Although companies undoubtedly are feeling the pinch of rising benefits costs (on average, they account for 44 percent of payroll), many employers feel that innovative perks are a great way to attract—and keep—employees. Here are three such companies whose workers are buoyed by exceptional fringe benefits.


Business: Advertising agency
Location: 224 NW 13th Ave
Employees: 350
1-yr Job Growth: 25%
Hiring: Applicants with
creative backgrounds
Contact: www.wk.com

This year, when employees arrived for his advertising agency’s 25th anniversary party, cofounder Dan Wieden had a surprise for them. It wasn’t a trinket as pedestrian as a Cross pen or a gold watch. It was something much cooler: the Beastie Boys, live.

The company famous for making other companies famous via creative ad campaigns (ESPN and Coca-Cola are among W+K’s current clients) is storied for having the kind of perks that go big. Aside from private rock concerts, W+K offers paid six-week sabbaticals to anywhere in the world after seven years with the firm, as well as opportunities to work from one of the agency’s six international offices, in cities from Amsterdam to Shanghai.

Though Wieden doesn’t consider himself a “benefits junkie,” he has purposely created a corporate culture where play and humor are part of the work environment. Tour the company’s steel, wood and glass building in the Pearl designed by Brad Cloepfil, and you might find employees—usually in their 20s or 30s and clad in jeans and T-shirts—playing “Bump” (a basketball free-throw game) in the gymnasium or challenging each other to pinball in the fourth-floor game room. Others might be taking a free yoga class or power napping in one of two spalike “nap rooms.”

The formal benefits are all-encompassing as well, and include naturopathic health coverage, pet insurance and a corporate membership with the Flexcar car-sharing program. “Anyone can pitch an idea for a benefit,” says benefits manager Sandi Hildreth, “and we’ll do our best to make it happen.” To wit: Last year, when an employee suggested that artificial insemination be subsidized, the company had its health plan approve it.

Though the perks may sound quixotic, the reason behind them is simple: “We care very much about the people here,” says Wieden, noting that the hours are often long and intense. “And we want to make them feel safe in an unsafe industry. I mean, next to show biz, it’s one of the most unstable industries out there.” Looking at the agency’s success, you might not think so. But then, when it comes to talking about the business of advertising, Wieden invokes the smart, dry humor the agency is known for. “The whole thing is really one big cosmic joke,” he quips. It’s no accident that the company’s birthday is April Fool’s Day.

Policies & Perks:

Health insurance premium: 80%. Hours per week required for benefits: 30. Retirement plan:401(k): 50% match up to 6% of salary. Vacation days: 10 years, 10 days; 4-9 years, 15 days; 10+ years, 20 days. Yearly turnover rate: 10.9%. Vision/dental plans, domestic partner benefits, subsidized commuting, subsidized continuing education, fitness facilities/ discounts, and paid sabbaticals.


Gerding Edlen


Aaron Jones, a Gerding Eden contractor, lines up a shot.

Business: Sustainable commercial development company
Location: 1120 NW Couch, Ste 600
Employees: 38
1-yr Job Growth: 60%
Hiring: Retaining résumés for
all positions
Contact: www.gerdingedlen.com

With 12 Priuses and 3 Honda Civics, the firm’s underground garage in the Brewery Blocks is a hotbed for fuel-efficient vehicles. And no wonder. Gerding Edlen gives employees $400 a month toward their hybrid car payments. Inside the bike-storage closet sit a dozen bikes—also reimbursed $250 per first purchase.

Though you might expect this from the city’s largest sustainable developer, employees here are thankful not only for “being given the resources to live a greener life,” as one worker puts it, but also for the fact that the company cares about their lives outside of work.

Accountant Jane Holtry, who three weeks after being hired tore her rotator cuff, recalls that she “was completely prepared to be let go.” Instead, she was given the two months of flex time that she needed to recover. During her absence, Holtry continued to benefit from Gerding Edlen’s health plan, which covers 100 percent of premiums. In addition to matching employees’ 401(k) donations at 50 percent and paying annual bonuses up to 20 percent of an employee’s salary, Gerding Edlen pays for work-related continuing education, which is important to a company that takes the job of cutting-edge urban design quite seriously.

But some perks are purely for fun. Every Friday at 4:30, employees gather for “Beer-thirty” to shoot pool in the rec room, throw darts, clank together pints from the kegerator, and possibly discuss this year’s Mount Hood Ski Day, when the whole office will bus up to the slopes. But inevitably, even conversations go green: “When plug-in cars become available,” says Stephanie Bastin, human resources director, “we’ll offer those too.”

Policies & Perks:

Health insurance premium: 100%. Hours per week required for benefits: 24. Retirement plan: 401(k): 50% match up to 6% of salary. Vacation days: 0-4 years, 12 days; 5-7 years, 18 days; 8+ years, 24 days. Yearly turnover rate: 10%. Vision/dental plans, domestic partner benefits, subsidized commuting, and subsidized continuing education.


River City Travel

Business: Corporate travel agency
Location: 9600 SW Oak St, Ste 380
Employees: 80
1-yr Job Growth: 25%
Hiring: Corporate agents, business development associates
Contact: www.travelpdx.com

From his home in Northeast Vancouver, travel agent David Jarrett uses a Voice Over IP (Internet protocol) to clock in to work each morning. Jarrett can plug the company-provided phone into a high-speed Internet connection anywhere in the state and log on to River City Travel’s main system. He can then dial extensions as though he were sitting inside the agency’s office near Washington Square Mall.

River City, one of the Northwest’s largest corporate travel agencies, has an employee turnover rate of less than 5 percent a year, a figure it attributes to benefits such as telecommuting, job sharing, part-time employment and flexible work hours. The firm also awards dedicated employees with the kind of perks that most can only stare out from their cubicles and daydream about—vouchers and free tickets to destinations around the world.

In-state freebies aren’t bad either, notes Jarrett, citing game tickets for the Portland Trail Blazers, one of the company’s long-standing clients. However, he says the work-hour flexibility has made the greatest difference in his life: “Now I can coach my kid’s soccer league, and if I do have to work overtime, it’s no problem—I hang up my phone and I’m home.”

Policies & Perks:

Health insurance premium: 70%. Hours per week required for benefits: 32. Retirement plan: 401(k): 50% match based on an unfixed rate. Vacation days: 0-2 years, 10 days; 3-5 years, 12 days; 6-10 years, 15 days; 11+ years, 20 days. Yearly turnover rate: less than 5%. Dental plan, domestic partner benefits, formal flex-time policy, formal telecommuting policy, formal job-share policy, subsidized continuing education, and fitness facilities/ discounts.