This company's employee perks create 'a workplace that feels like you're not at work'

See what kind of perks Pro Athlete Inc., a Northland online retailer of sporting equipment, provides for its employees to help create a less stressful work environment.
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See what kind of perks Pro Athlete Inc., a Northland online retailer of sporting equipment, provides for its employees to help create a less stressful work environment.
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Business

Ten KC companies that spoil employees with unbelievable perks

By Sarah Gish

sgish@kcstar.com

August 30, 2017 07:00 AM

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Henderson Engineers looked more like a downtown arcade bar than a corporate office in Lenexa.

Employees wearing shorts and Birkenstocks played pingpong and darts in the lobby next to a sleek bistro with a glass garage door. Meanwhile, a dozen staffers downed pizza and beer in a nearby conference room as they drafted players for their fantasy football teams.

No one flinched when CEO Rich Smith walked by — probably because he wears sneakers, keeps a Nerf Vortex Pyragon Blaster in his office and practices his disc golf putts on the lawn.

Henderson Engineers CEO Rich Smith follows his company’s “work hard, play hard” philosophy. “I have the most kick-ass Nerf gun in the history of the world,” he said during a recent tour of the engineering firm’s Lenexa office.
ALLISON LONG along@kcstar.com

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“I bet we’re the only firm in town that has a Frisbee hole out back,” he said proudly.

In honor of this Labor Day weekend, The Star scoured the metro for 10 companies that make work feel more like play, pampering employees with eye-popping perks: Free massages. Gourmet lunches. Unlimited beer.

Warning: If you keep reading you may want to ditch your day job, like yesterday.

Henderson’s “work hard, play hard” philosophy means lots of enviable perks for the 460 employees at the headquarters at 8345 Lenexa Drive. Among them: arcade games, a nap room and a gym called “The Pit” with three classes a day, from yoga to high-intensity interval training.

Henderson Engineers designers (from left) Kim Pham, Eric Rodda and Jason Cornett played pingpong on a recent Tuesday afternoon. The table is located in the Lenexa firm’s lobby, just steps away from conference rooms reserved for business meetings.
ALLISON LONG along@kcstar.com

Other benefits include flexible hours and paid parental leave for men and women.

“This is not your normal engineering company,” Smith said. “It’s almost like a second home.”

Employees who enjoy where they work, he added, are more engaged and tend to stay with the company longer. And happy employees result in happy clients.

Pro Athlete Inc.

The offices of this online sporting equipment retailer are in a nondescript business park by KCI that looks straight out of the 1999 movie “Office Space.”

But step inside and you’ll feel as if you’ve landed in a sports fan’s fantasy. Stitched leather wallpaper in the front entryway smells like a freshly oiled baseball glove.

Just beyond the lobby, there’s a gym with a lap pool, racquetball court, batting cages, hot tub and sauna.

“We used to have a baseball field built by the Royals grounds crew,” said chief operations officer Andrew Dowis, “but we got rid of it in 2007 when we expanded the building.”

The 52 people who work at Pro Athlete Inc., 10800 N. Pomona Ave., get free massages on Mondays at the in-house spa. Also free: personal training sessions, protein shakes, Roasterie lattes and meals cooked by the company chef.

Free meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner — are just one employee perk at Pro Athlete Inc., a Kansas City company that sells baseball and softball bats and gloves online. On a recent Thursday, the lunch menu featured stuffed bell peppers, red wine-braised beef and lobster bisque.
Jill Toyoshiba jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com

On a recent Thursday the office cafeteria, Ballpark Bistro, was serving lobster bisque, lemon basmati rice and beef braised in red wine. Upstairs there’s a bar called 643 — that’s baseball slang for a double play — with Boulevard and Kansas City Bier Co. brews on tap.

“We tried to create a workplace that feels like you’re not at work,” Dowis said.

Employees also enjoy a super-casual dress code — some show up in sweats — a laundry service and free hair cuts on Fridays. Each worker is also given $1,500 per year to donate to the charity of his or her choice.

So it makes sense that most visitors to Pro Athlete Inc. end their tour with this question: “Any job openings?”

NBKC Bank

In April, NBKC Bank relocated its headquarters from Overland Park to 8320 Ward Parkway. The new digs are much more reflective of the bank’s “live boldly” motto.

Picture a state-of-the-art gym and an outdoor patio with a gas grill. Arcades on every floor and a putting green room have become popular meeting spots, said senior vice president Jessica Eggers.

Playing on the job, Eggers said, “gives us the opportunity to take a breath and find our creative juices.”

Employees gather in the auditorium for quarterly visits from inspirational speakers such as Wendy Booker, the first person with multiple sclerosis to reach the summit of Denali, the highest mountain in North America. The space is also used for parties.

“Just last week we had 50 teams participating in our annual water pong event,” Eggers said, explaining that the game was a lot like beer pong, except employees drank beer at their leisure.

“I wouldn’t say we encourage beer chugging,” she said.

NBKC Bank also lures employees with four weeks of paid vacation per year, flexible scheduling and options to work from home.

All are designed to recruit and retain top talent, she said. The swanky new office, she added, “reminds me of a Google campus — but in KC.”

Dairy Farmers of America

You can’t get beer at the bar inside Dairy Farmers of America’s new headquarters in Kansas City, Kan. But you can pour a chilled glass of milk — 2 percent, whole or chocolate.

The milk bar is also a hot spot for ice cream and cheese tastings.

Employees burn off those indulgences on the basketball and bocce courts outside the building at 1405 N. 98th St. There’s also a walking trail and a fitness center with yoga, strength training and kickboxing classes.

Dairy Farmers of America’s new corporate headquarters feature basketball and bocce courts for employees.
Chris Ehresman

A cafeteria serves breakfast for $2 and lunch for $4. Breakfast might be made-to-order burritos or omelets, and lunch options have included salmon with grilled veggies or a nacho bar.

Senior vice president Monica Massey said many staffers take their meals on outdoor balconies. Others grab a spot on one of the office’s many rocking chairs or couches.

Closed-in offices have been replaced by open cubes and tables that encourage employees to converse, collaborate — and maybe have a little more fun.

“You could shoot a rubber band from one end of the office to another,” Massey said.

Burns & McDonnell

The Burns & McDonnell campus at 9400 Ward Parkway is designed so employees rarely have to leave.

The 3,000 people who spend their 9 to 5 at the construction engineering company’s headquarters have access to a coffee and juice bar, cafeteria, a gym, a dry cleaning service and a health center with a nurse practitioner and pharmacist on-site.

Active employees gather for yoga on the lawn and group runs, and recently the company started offering bike rentals so workers could get in a quick ride over their lunch break. They can also book appointments with a massage therapist who visits the campus every couple weeks.

But one of the most popular perks is the in-house day care center, said chief administrative officer Melissa Wood. MacKids Learning Academy has space for 144 kids, from 6-week-old infants to pre-kindergarten.

Burns & McDonnell employees have access to an in-house day care center called MacKids.
Bryan Fairbanks

“It’s science-based learning for kids,” Wood said, “with a beautiful outdoor space and a giant indoor slide.”

Webcams allow parents to keep an eye on their kids throughout the work day; a private room allows mothers to nurse infants.

The day care isn’t free or cheap — Wood said it’s priced similar to other high-quality day care centers in the area — but it’s popular among employees who want to ditch the stress of finding good care, or getting to and from pick-up on time.

“It’s all about what we can do to make their life easier,” she said.

VML

At VML, a marketing and ad agency with offices near the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport, employees unwind over locally brewed beer during happy hours on the upstairs deck.

They also rock out with VML’s regular music showcase, On the Fly, which invites musicians traveling through Kansas City to pop in for a midday concert.

VML workers get a time out from the daily grind during the ad agency’s regular “On the Fly” concerts.
VML

The gym offers sessions with a personal trainer and nutritionist, and there are 11 flavors of LaCroix sparkling water in the office fridges at any given time.

In the summertime, employees can leave at noon on Friday guilt-free, and no one comes to the office (or checks email) between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

The agency builds community among employees with the VML Foundation, a nonprofit that allows workers to volunteer together, and donate to favorite causes via an automatic paycheck deduction that’s matched 2 to 1 by the company up to $200.

John Mulvihill, executive director of the VML Foundation, says giving employees the opportunity to give back nurtures “the whole person — not just the worker bee.”

Crema

At Crema, a tech agency at 1815 Central St. in the Crossroads Arts District, employees get free locally roasted pour-over coffee and flexible schedules.

“I don’t care where and when you work, as long as you get results,” explained founder George Brooks.

On nice days, those who come in to the office enjoy breezes that drift in through glass garage doors, and happy hours at nearby bars and breweries such as Brewery Emperial.

Crema employees enjoy a relaxed office atmosphere with free local coffee, beer and the occasional game of Jenga.
Crema

Oh, also: Unlimited vacation. Employees are encouraged to take time off as they need it — as long as deadlines are met.

“We actually have to encourage people to take time off,” Brooks said.

Other companies with sweet perks

▪ Sullivan Higdon & Sink, a marketing and advertising agency at 2000 Central in the Crossroads, offers employees free sessions with a life coach and started in-office yoga sessions on Thursday.

Workers get $500 per year to pay for gym memberships or exercise classes, and many participate in an annual sheep-themed art show that transforms the office into an art gallery on a First Friday.

▪ Barkley, an ad agency at 1740 Main St. in the Crossroads, allows workers to indulge their playful sides with virtual reality stations, pingpong tables, pinball machines and a coin-operated rocket. You can find beer on tap or in fridges throughout the office, a mid-century modern building that formerly housed the world headquarters of Trans World Airlines. Employees often take their laptops (or their beers) to the rooftop deck, which boasts sweeping views of downtown.

▪ Populous, an architectural design firm known for sports arenas, has weekly raffles where employees can enter to win tickets to Royals, Chiefs and Sporting Kansas City games. Company meetings at the Kansas City office, 4800 Main St., are made more fun with giant Jenga and corn hole, and health nuts love the gym, complete with showers, towel service, a personal trainer and Plaza views.