No picture of the fulfilling workplace at BambooHR is complete without the panda suit.
There may be a perpetual supply of free ice cream sandwiches in the break-room fridge. Or regular velociraptor contests in the office. Or a loose policy on when workers put in their eight hours. Or random days off during the year.
But when the privately owned Lindon software company's CEO Ben Peterson dons an office panda costume and strolls around to chuckles from employees, the Bamboo method for balancing intense work and the joys of life becomes clear.
"We want to be engaged. We want to do meaningful things," Peterson said. "People feel that. They know it. This is not an excuse to be lazy, but when you're done with work, go home."
BambooHR ranked as the best workplace among small Wasatch Front companies studied recently by Pennsylvania-based WorkplaceDynamics, which surveys employee satisfaction. The pollster also singled out the 6-year-old company as being especially adept at encouraging new ideas from rank-and-file workers.
"Ideas are welcome from all employees," one BambooHR worker told WorkplaceDynamics. "I have the freedom to make decisions to do my job. The culture is friendly and the workday is consistent and fair. Overtime is nearly unheard of."
Another employee said: "This job is so focused on the product and the customer and being positive that there is no choice but to have a good time and do good work."
BambooHR develops, sells, installs and supports personalized software for managing employee information at small- and medium-sized businesses as they outgrow spreadsheets. Created in 2008, the information-techology firm is among the top software providers in its field and is growing rapidly.
Not surprisingly, given its niche, BambooHR appears to know a thing or two about creating a flexible workplace and happy staff. A major theme: balancing work and life. Employees are limited to 40 hours a week and shooed out of the office between 4 and 5 p.m. They're given schedule flexibility when it comes to time with family, along with 11 holidays and 15 vacation days yearly.
"It has an excellent culture, with happy people, realistic expectations and family values," one BambooHR employee put on the survey response.
Peterson said a key step in building a positive environment is clearly defining the prevailing culture and vision.
"You need to know what you have now and what you are trying to accomplish," he said. "Companies give lip service to this all the time, but it means so much more."
And truly effective vision for a company doesn't come from top managers alone, Peterson said. "You need feedback from everyone. You need feelings."
BambooHR's brand centers around being human, inclusive and flexible, while keeping things simple. In terms of culture, it emphasizes transparency and trust.
"One of our core values is being open," the CEO said.
That applies even when things go wrong. Employees have a tradition they call the "oops" email, in which foul-ups are acknowledged and written up, along with a way to correct them. The email then gets sent to everyone in the company.
"If someone makes a mistake and keeps it hidden or siloed, who is going to learn from it?" Peterson asked. "When I see a mistake, I think, 'Wow, that person should get a raise! That mistake is never going to happen again!' "