The Best Places to Work in 2008

Thirty companies outshined the rest in our first annual study of the nation's most well-balanced workplaces


Finding Outside‘s Best Places to Work—companies that make it easy for employees to balance productivity with an active, eco-conscious lifestyle—was no easy task. That’s why we partnered with the Outdoor Industry Association and the Best Companies Group, an independent research firm in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The yearlong process included casting a wide net to find eligible applicants—nonprofit or for-profit companies with at least 15 employees working in the U.S. Next, we sent each company a confidential employee-satisfaction survey and an employer questionnaire so we could collect information about benefits, policies, and practices. The results were analyzed by BCG’s experts, who determined the deserving 30—ten each in three size categories. The competition yielded fascinating results: Who knew an employee-benefits consulting firm in Nashville would score so high? If you think we overlooked your employer, drop us a line at and watch for it next year.

Group One: 250+ employees

1. New Belgium Brewing Company
Fort Collins, Colorado
Walk in the front door at New Belgium Brewing, maker of Fat Tire Amber Ale, and the first thing you’ll see is a few employees pulling beer from the tap behind a bar, while dogs amble around and bluegrass plays in the background. So goes the nine-to-five “grind” at America’s most enlightened beer maker. “Shift beers” are available for free every day at quitting time; the 291 staffers enjoy an on-site climbing wall, $2 yoga classes, and a brand-new cyclocross track on 50 acres out back. “We have a pretty flexible schedule,” says media relations manager Bryan Simpson. “So as long as you get your work done, you can go for a ride, and it’s not even questioned.” Cycling is so entrenched in the corporate culture, in fact, that employees are given a cruiser bike—along with stock options—to celebrate their first year on the job. NBB’s commitment to shrinking its eco-footprint includes launching an innovative brewing process that uses fewer than four barrels of water to produce one barrel of beer—significantly less than the five-to-eight-barrel industry average.

2. Google
Mountain View, California
Working at Google is like checking in to a five-star hotel: While you’re otherwise occupied, the Google concierge (seriously) will book dinner reservations, schedule tickets to a show, or arrange an on-site massage or haircut. Mechanical engineer Daniel Ratner, one of Google’s 16,805 employees, typically puts in 12-hour days, but that includes three meals, weight training in the state-of-the-art gym, and a two-hour round-trip commute on the biodiesel GBus, which offers free rides to Googlers in the Bay Area.

3. Johnson Outdoors Inc.
Racine, Wisconsin
The maker of Old Town Canoes and Kayaks, Necky Kayaks, and Eureka! tents fosters a close-knit culture at all 24 of its offices. Everyone’s encouraged to test Johnson products for free: Maine-based staffers paddle the Penobscot River at lunch, and in Mankato, Minnesota, they occasionally close up shop to troll for musky. The company gives generously, both to community nonprofits like the Waterkeeper Alliance and to its 1,474 employees—the Sons & Daughters scholarship Program has awarded more than $500,000 since 1994.

4. Qualcomm
San Diego, California
No more squandering your lunchtime bike ride for a trip to the dentist. Qualcomm, a wireless communications firm with 13,111 staffers, employs a mobile dental RV that makes regular office stops (the program was so successful, they recently added a roving eye doctor). The company’s Q-Flex policy encourages job sharing, telecommuting, and plenty of freedom—ideal for parents or employees who just want to burn off energy in the ten spare-no-expense fitness centers spread among the company’s five main San Diego campuses.

5. REI
Kent, Washington
REI, with 10,060 employees across the country, offers first-come, first-served doggie daycare kennels and reimburses for “lifestyle prescriptions” like Viagra. In 2006, REI purchased renewable-power credits for 20 of its 96 stores, offsetting greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 percent.

The Runners-Up
6. Intel
Santa Clara, California
With 88,000 employees on the payroll, Intel puts a savvy twist on perks, offering employees free backup childcare, consultations with a personal health coach, about three weeks of vacation, and paid eight-week sabbaticals every seven years.

7. Deckers Outdoor Corporation
Goleta, California
The parent company of Teva Footwear, Ugg Australia Footwear, and Simple Shoes ponies up nearly 70 percent of its 404 employees’ monthly gym dues, provides subsidized chair massages, and donates $1,000 to a charity of choice when staffers trade their gas guzzler for a hybrid.

8. Aspen Skiing Company
Aspen, Colorado
Lunchtime powder runs are par for the course at this eco-conscious resort, but Aspen Skiing Co. ups the ante with a progressive profit-sharing program for instructors and a 401(k) plan that matches 100 percent of its 3,402 employees’ contributions.

9. Patagonia
Ventura, California
The company, with 1,394 employees, offers a $2,500 incentive for driving a hybrid or bio-diesel vehicle, $2 yoga and Pilates classes, and when the waves are up, employees go surfing. Plus, founder Yvon Chouinard co-created the 1% for the Planet campaign.

10. Avenue A | Razorfish
New York City
This 13-year-old interactive marketing agency looks after its 430 employees with free indoor bike storage—a huge plus in NYC—18 days of personal time off the first year, and a hefty bonus program that awards up to $1,500 for successful hiring referrals.

Group Two: 50-249 Employees

1. Clif Bar & Co.
Berkeley, California
Just a few reasons Clif Bar is the mack daddy of midsize companies: Employees have the option to log their 80 hours in nine days and can work out anytime in a health facility packed with fitness machines, two climbing walls, and a full schedule of free yoga, martial arts, dance, and Spinning classes. It only gets better. The energy-bar maker has a generous paid-sabbatical program for its 207 employees, which allows staffers to take two months off every seven years. Tom Richardson, the director of product R&D, moved to Provence with his wife and four-month-old son to focus on rock climbing. “The time away taught me that leading a more peaceful life is legit,” he says.

2. Superfeet Worldwide Inc.
Ferndale, Washington
Instead of selling Superfeet for a huge profit in 2005, CEO Scott Dohner and his partners decided to sell it back to the 75 employees through a stock-ownership plan. “It seemed like the best thing for everyone,” says Dohner. Then they began staffing up so that no one has to work overtime. “Come on, we make insoles,” says Dohner. “No one’s going to die if we have to push a deadline back two weeks.” The benefits at this laid-back footcare biz aren’t bad, either: Superfeet allows new moms and students to job-share, allowing for full-time benefits, and pays 100 percent of employees’ medical, dental, vision, and disability premiums.

3. SmartWool Corporation
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
The manufacturer of merino-wool socks, base layers, apparel, and accessories strives to be the ideal mountain-town employer, with an annual companywide ski day at Steamboat, a powder-day policy, and generous summer hours. It’s not just its outdoor ethos that puts SmartWool in third place. The 63 employees also get 40 paid hours a year working at the nonprofit of their choice, receive $3,000 toward the purchase of a hybrid vehicle, and can apply for $10,000 in adoption assistance.

4. Smith Optics
Ketchum, Idaho
At Smith, it’s flextime, most of the time: Get your work done, and you can establish your own hours. In a ski town with world-class mountain biking and fishing, that matters. To help employees of this sunglasses and ski-goggles manufacturer take full advantage, Smith gives each worker $900 per year to spend on a ski pass or gym membership. Each week, the 68 Smithies can take one 2.5-hour lunch to ski, bike, run, boat, or fish. As far as the company is concerned, as long as you’re wearing a Smith product while recreating, you’re product-testing (i.e., “working”). “The president is as interested in outdoor exploits as anyone else,” says Greg Randolph, PR communications manager. “He encourages us to get outside. That nails what it’s like to work at Smith.”

5. Alaskan Brewing Company
Juneau, Alaska
As if it isn’t already cool enough to make beer in the epicenter of Alaska, this brewery offers more than just suds. Profit sharing? Check. Tuition reimbursement? Done. Three weeks of vacation? That too. An environmental conscience? Yep: The company donates 1 percent of proceeds from IPA sales to helping clean up the Pacific coast. And then there’s the 100 percent covered medical, dental, and vision premiums. Drink up, you lucky bastards. —Grant Davis

The Runners-Up
6. Horny Toad
Santa Barbara, California
During lunch, the 56 staffers can take a sea kayak for a paddle or join a game of beach volleyball—HQ is only a block off the ocean. In Horny Toad’s Search for Adventure program, employees are matched with developmentally disabled adults to go on Appalachian Trail hikes or Pacific cruises. For parents, Horny Toad subsidizes childcare up to $2,500, then pays half of annual expenses up to $5,000. As for medical and dental premiums, you’re 100 percent covered.

7. Athleta Inc.
Petaluma, California
Why Athleta—the clothing catalog of choice for sweaty divas—made the list: three weeks of paid time off after the first year’s employment, access to the entire product line for testing, an on-site fitness center, and a matching fund for the 176 employees to use on massages, race registrations, gym memberships, or language classes.

8. Backwoods Inc.
Austin, Texas
This once family-owned gear retailer was recently acquired by Nitches Inc., but still offers three annual Use the Gear days, on which employees are paid to get outside to test products. Backwoods’ adventure-travel business allows employees and spouses to go fly-fishing in Wyoming or trek in Nepal at cost—or, in some cases, for free.

9. OCSC Sailing
Berkeley, California
The OCSC wants every employee to sail, so job training includes multiple slots in the school’s classes. Slow day at the marina? Take one of their 50 boats out for an afternoon on San Francisco Bay. That’s in addition to 100-percent-paid medical premiums, meals for instructors working more than three hours, and 100 percent tuition reimbursement for those interested in learning how to skipper a yacht in, say, the Mediterranean.

10. National Outdoor Leadership School
Lander, Wyoming
You gotta love a company whose sole directive is to teach thousands of outdoor enthusiasts how to charge confidently into the wilds. NOLS also covers all but $420 of employees’ annual medical insurance and puts up to $400 a year toward “wellness” costs such as gym memberships and vision exams.

Group Three: 1-50 Employees

1. Natural Habitat Adventures
Boulder, Colorado
The key to having 39 happy employees, says Ben Bressler, founder and director of Natural Habitat Adventures, is to keep them having fun. That’s why company-sponsored ski trips, picnics, and keg parties are standard fare here. Bressler’s “fun” mandate has passed from his staff to the company’s clients, transforming it over 23 years from a one-man show to the official travel provider for the World Wildlife Fund, offering trips to seven continents and more than 30 countries. The second key? Respecting employees’ individuality. “The people who work for us are incredibly qualified, but they don’t necessarily fit the normal mold,” says Bressler. “They may use the word dude too much, but they do a great job because they know their success here is up to them.” If they succeed, the work environment is sweet: Employees are given at least two weeks each year for a fully compensated “site inspection” at one of the company’s worldwide destinations, from Panama to Namibia; health insurance covers alternative healing like acupuncture and massage; and the nightlife never ends. It’s not uncommon for the staff to bar-hop on Pearl Street with a bagpiper in tow. “What can I say,” says Bressler. “We like to keep the party going.”

2. Planet Dog
Portland, Maine
You know you’ve got it good when you work for a company that encourages its 44 employees to bring Fido to the office, then tells them to go test new toys on the Maine seashore for an afternoon. Planet Dog, manufacturer of canine toys, collars, leashes, and travel bowls, offers human incentives as well, like indoor bike racks and a shower in the office, and will even pay half the sales tax on your new hybrid car. For Alex Fisher, founder and chief creative officer, these benefits were the logical result of following the social and environmental bottom line—not the immediate financial one. “We’re in it because we want to create a positive culture,” he says, “and we want to feel good at the end of the day.”

3. Paradigm Group
Nashville, Tennessee
Meetings at Paradigm Group aren’t always painful: The company counts snowmobiling in Breckenridge as a strategic-planning session and rafting down the Ocoee River as a team-building exercise. For this small employee-benefits consulting firm with 19 employees, positioning itself as a leader means attracting the best brains through benefits like year-round flexible work schedules, a generous profit-sharing plan, and balance between work and life. All employees take turns cooking for the weekly breakfast meeting, half exercise during business hours in the adjoining fitness studio, and nearly all take advantage of morale-building trips to a climbing gym or ropes course. “We recognize that we have a good thing going here,” says Bob Levy, founder and president. “We don’t take it for granted.”

4. Osprey Packs Inc.
Cortez, Colorado
“The ethics of good corporate citizenship are ingrained in this company,” says Sam Mix, associate marketing manager. “It’s been that way since day one.” Ethics, in Osprey’s case, most often involve the environment, as evidenced by everything from its line of recycled backpacks to green initiatives like using renewable energy and paying employees 50 cents per trip to walk or bike to work. Community is also essential: Osprey’s 29 employees get paid to volunteer on projects like cleaning up the Lower Gunnison River. As for work/life balance, first-year employees are given nearly three weeks of vacation time, including a floating powder day.

5. Petzl America
Clearfield, Utah
Petzl’s U.S. office has been operating on 100 percent wind power since 2006, and its France HQ will soon do business out of a state-of-the-art green building. But what the 44 American employees really value is a sense of community, nourished by an on-site climbing wall, a Ping-Pong table, and regular company cookouts.

The Runners-Up
6. Tabar Inc.
Bethel, Connecticut
Tabar’s 16 employees are always finding ways to get outside to use the private-label gloves and mittens they manufacture. The company makes it extra easy, with flexible working hours that allow everyone to enjoy the New England summers and snowy winters.

7. Western Spirit Cycling
Moab, Utah
It’s all about the bike at Western Spirit, an outfitter that offers guided cycling trips everywhere from Moab to Costa Rica. The 40 employees who work here get discounts on their guiding gear, bikes for the entire family at cost, and one trip each year (bring a friend!) free of charge.

8. EPT Design
Irvine, California
This progressive landscape-architecture firm offers perks like storage space for surfboards, an open-door policy on bringing family and pets to work, and an annual program called EPT Trek that recently granted two of its 40 employees a stipend to travel the world to broaden their architectural influences.

9. Adventure Cycling Association
Missoula, Montana
Your job: to get Americans psyched about cycling. Your rewards: Friday-afternoon staff rides and a free spot every year for you and a friend on one of more than 40 cycling trips the 28-employee association sponsors each year.

10. Kelty
Boulder, Colorado
Kelty—which runs a 100 percent wind-powered office—pays its 21 employees to test its outdoor products and organizes regular staff outings in the Rockies.

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