The perks. The paid time off. The retreats. All the things that keep employees happy and productive and loyal: Which Houston businesses do it best? Houstonia put out a survey asking that very question, and workers from across town wrote in, filling us in on all the things their employers are doing right, and all the reasons they love their jobs.
Best View: Buffalo Bayou Partnership
The Sunset Coffee Building, which houses the BBP, was originally built in 1910. Overlooking the spot where the Allen Brothers founded Houston in 1836, it’s a rare historical gem in a city known for its full-throttle embrace of the future. The Partnership—whose 20-year master plan for the waterway gave the city Buffalo Bayou Park—moved into these new headquarters in June of last year. Restored by heavyweight Texas architects Lake Flato and local firm BNIM, the space is modern inside, with gorgeous maps of Houston’s bayous hung on the walls and pops of color accenting the unfinished-on-purpose touches. But the half-dozen employees love the building’s views the most: Large windows overlooking the water make for such a bright space, they rarely need to flip the lights on, and a rooftop garden, complete with native landscaping by SWA Architects, makes for an ideal spot for a lunch break or after-hours event.
Runner-up: Adhere Creative
The 15 employees at this marketing agency get prime views of Memorial Park and, beyond that, the downtown skyline from their Woodway Drive office tower. The kitchen and office bar are kept fully stocked, too, and there's a "Do Epic Shit" victory wall plastered with employees' best-of moments.
Best Breakroom Goodies: Re/Max Inner Loop
The firm's 50-odd real estate agents are usually out roaming the city with clients, so they use their EaDo office as a landing pad and a place to relax. The stocked bar includes snacks, liquor, beer, soda, "and Excedrin, for emergencies," says broker Freddy Rodriguez. The lounge area includes multiple TVs and videogames, and there's even a locker room with a shower for brokers who don't have time to make it back home between events. "There's a good vibe—it's not just another boring office," Rodriguez says, laughing. "We may have shots to start a meeting, who knows?"
Best Holiday Party: 5 + 8
For the past five years, this advertising agency has hosted its Halloween Boooonanza volleyball tournament at Wakefield Crowbar, inviting the public to join its team of seven employees. The evening brings cocktails, a smoke machine, team tees and prizes like a one-night stay at the Round Top Inn and a survival kit from Texas Tamale Co. One longtime attendee called it “the best volleyball tournament in the world for adults who like drinking beer and playing recreational sports.” And according to the company’s Boooonanza website, “If Jean Claude Van Damme were a real person, he’d be in attendance. You should consider it too.” (Don’t overthink it.)
Best Amenities: BMC Software
The 890 employees at the company’s Houston headquarters have convenient access to high-end amenities: Their west Houston campus includes a convenient onsite Goodyear mechanic, car butler, dry cleaner and dentist, in addition to two free fitness centers and two cafeterias. The open-concept office includes sitting, standing and treadmill desks.
Best Employee Appreciation: Zeus Mortgage
This Houston-based mortgage lender actually has a “fun committee” dedicated to planning monthly outings for its 20-person staff. Activities have included inflatable obstacle courses, movie viewings, picnics, and the staff’s favorite, an Escape Room challenge. Javi Fernandez, committee member and loan officer, says these appreciation events help enforce the company’s open-door policy. “All the bonding we do outside the office makes it a lot easier for me to walk across the hall and ask a question or sit there for 10 minutes and chat, or even go to the CEO’s office and express a thought or concern the moment I have it, not just over email,” he says. “These are some of the closest people I’ve ever had in my life, and I’ve only been here seven months.”
Runner-up: SpaceMan Home and Office
The 21 employees of this custom-closet company get to choose how they want to be rewarded for their hard work. Quarterly outings have included games of laser tag and golf.
Runner-up: Forthea Marketing
This digital marketing agency’s management has been known to surprise its 34 employees with half- and full-day outings from time to time. When quarterly goals are met, the staff enjoys activities like bowling or murder-mystery dinners.
Best Office Space: Vanderbloemen Search Group
Husband-and-wife founders William and Adrienne Vanderbloemen opened their agency, which does staffing for religious organizations, in 2010. And they decided to create an open, collaborative workspace where both introverts and extroverts could thrive. The result is an open plan with private features designed by local firm Ziegler Cooper and Charlotte-based church-facility consultants Cool Solutions Group. Today, the company’s nearly 40 employees work at communal desks, but there are phone booths where they can make calls plus private offices they can reserve. There’s a gathering room where they hold weekly all-staff meetings, complete with a fully stocked pantry, a sparkling water bar with 25 flavor options, and the company’s very own Vanderbrew coffee. One wall lists the company’s nine values in a giant word cloud. “One of our values is constant improvement, and another is contagious fun. So we work really hard, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” says Holly Tate, the company’s director of business development. “When you stop and think about how many hours you spend at work—to be on a team that brings out the best in you, that really is a gift.”
Best PTO: Manske Wealth Management
There is no hard and fast time-off policy here. Okay, that’s not entirely true: Manske’s eight employees are required to take an entire week off during the summer. Elijah Lopez, a financial advisor at the firm, followed orders and took his honeymoon in July. “I was able to enjoy my honeymoon with my wife and not be stressed,” he remembers. As an added bonus, new moms and dads are given generous maternity and paternity packages. Mothers can take three months of paid time off, while fathers receive two weeks of PTO to bond with baby. “Having that time off and not having to worry about what was going on at the office was a really nice luxury,” says Sam Ali, another financial advisor at the firm who welcomed a baby boy this summer. The best part, he adds, was that his teammates held down the fort and managed his clients without bugging him once.
Best Retreats: Sandcastle Homes
When Mike Salomon, company president and co-owner, takes a vacation that he enjoys, he thinks of ways he can bring his entire nine-employee team of homebuilders next time. Every two to three years, they take an office-wide, all-expenses-paid trip to destinations of Salomon’s and CEO/co-owner Mike Dishberger’s choosing—places like Puerto Vallarta, Costa Rica and Las Vegas. Employees even get to bring guests. “You can reward them financially, which we do,” Salomon says. “The money they will remember for about a month, but the trip, they will remember for a long time. That trip is team-building, and it’s something that they can share with their friends and family. It’s good business, and it’s good karma.” And no, there are no trust falls involved: “The only thing we ask is, we get together for dinner each night.”
Runner-up: Newberry Architecture
This firm’s 24 employees are always looking to the future and learning from the past. Each year, the staff takes a Texas retreat, where they reflect and plan together. They also go on Houston outings every couple of months.
Runner-up: Peli Peli
The leadership team at the South African restaurant takes stock and plans for the future at biannual retreats to locales that, in the past, have included Napa Valley and Tahoe.