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Things are about to go high-velocity at the employee lounge at Discovery Benefits Inc.'s often snow-covered headquarters in Fargo, North Dakota.
Soon, a fireplace and pool table will join the scenery in the two-story break room that's already home to retro-yet-comfortable beanbag chairs, a lineup of ping pong tables, an aromatic popcorn machine, a foosball table, and free coffee with a taster's choice of up to 15 different flavors of creamers.
In addition, workers are now getting ready to saw into a railing on the second-story balcony of this elaborate break room to install a winding, covered tube-like slide. Like at a playground.
“The employee lounge idea has really snowballed ... It's North Dakota and it's cold outside,” said John Biwer, president of the benefits administration and claims management firm. “We are always talking about what's that next thing we can do to make people more comfortable. For those three months of the year when you don't want to go outside, we say there's this.”
Discovery Benefits aims to transform the complexity of employee benefits administration with innovative solutions and extraordinary customer service, delivered by empowered and knowledgeable employees, according to its mission statement.
Yet it's the word “empowered” that Mr. Biwer finds has made it easier to meet performance goals, a characteristic of Discovery's 347-person workforce that has earned the company's place among Business Insurance's Best Places to Work in Insurance for a fifth consecutive year.
Sandy Kjelvik, vice president of human resources, said the notoriety isn't surprising. “John is someone who listens,” she said.
Mr. Biwer said consistent input from employees has led to what almost every company seeks: performance and solid growth. “This is where we separate ourselves from the competition: take care of your people,” he said. “It's a simple thing: if you have happy employees, you'll have happy customers. We run with it.”
This open-door policy has not only led to an elaborate break room, but more telecommuting opportunities, wellness challenges, a relaxing lounge for nursing mothers, employee appreciation events, family-friendly Halloween and other holiday parties, anniversary lunches, birthday presents and more.
“Working from home has taken off,” he said, adding that at least 50 employees work primarily from home. “Productivity has gone up, and we haven't lost one individual in that. In this day and age, you have to be more flexible.”
The attractive array of fringe benefits will help Discovery Benefits grow, he said, from just 150 employees in 2010 to an anticipated 450 by the end of 2015 — adding more than 100 new positions in 18 months. In 2016, the company hopes to hire another 100 employees, Mr. Biwer said.
Kate Bjorklund, partner and integration executive, said it isn't tough to lure people to Discovery Benefits.
“It's an amazing place to work,” she said. “There's a work-life balance that's important. We are all about having fun in the office and getting your work done, but ... we say its OK to go to your children's games, just come in early that day.”
San Francisco-based Edgewood Partners Insurance Center Inc., which does business as EPIC, is a retail property/casualty insurance and employee benefits brokerage and consulting firm with more than 430 employees that aims to support work/life balance for its workers, including parents striving to spend time with their kids.