From counterculture to workplace culture: Inside BI Worldwide’s ‘Summer of Love’ benefits

In 1967, the hippie movement centered in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco helped define a generation with the “Summer of Love.”

Today, an employer in Minneapolis has redefined the concept as an annual benefit for its employees. And in many respects, it sounds as innovative and creative as the original.

BI Worldwide, a global engagement agency that specializes in employee engagement and sales incentives with 900 employees in the United States, features a season of benefits they dub the Summer of Love, which combines a menu of summertime perks with live music, extra time off and more.

“The Summer of Love speaks to our appreciation for our associates. They work hard to deliver results for our clients, and in exchange, we strive to provide them with a rewarding and fun place to work,” says Nancy Martinson, BI Worldwide’s chief human resources officer.

Employment experts say that summertime perks, which come in all shapes and sizes, can have a major impact on an organization. They can improve an employer’s ability to attract and retain talented employees while allowing employers to communicate how much they value their workers. Seasonal perks can also be inexpensive ways for companies to build morale and create outcomes that benefit the employer’s goals.

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“I think the right benefits package is part of an organization’s employee value proposition and that proposition is becoming more and more important to organizations,” says Brad Shuck, who teaches organizational leadership and learning at the University of Louisville. “An employee value proposition is the reason someone is recruited and it’s why they come to work for an organization and it’s also why they stay. When companies get that right, they’re more likely to retain their talent.”

See also: 8 summertime hacks for keeping employees engaged

One perk for BI Worldwides’s employees during its Summer of Love is a relaxed work environment. For a dress code, employees are simply encouraged to wear anything as long as “they can’t be arrested for it.” During the rest of the year, BI Worldwide employees are under a business casual dress code, which means apparel such as tennis shoes, tank tops, shorts, T-shirts and yoga pants are out. But during the Summer of Love, they are in.

Employees receive seven afternoons off that can be taken on Fridays between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Martinson says many employees take every other Friday off during the summer months. Employees need only make sure their department has coverage. During Summer of Love, employees are permitted to bring in pets during select work days. The Summer of Love also features a summer concert series that in the past has included such national acts as Jonny Lang, Los Lobos, the Gin Blossoms, Grace Potter and the Suburbs. Concerts take place at a patio on the company’s five-building campus.

The Summer of Love usually features a creative theme that’s part of the communications for the benefit. It’s used on banners throughout BI Worldwide and at all events and merchandise. 2018’s theme features lakes and water.

Thanks to employee-engaging initiatives like the Summer of Love, “BI Worldwide experiences lower turnover than other companies in Minnesota and in our industry, which can lead to better service for our clients,” Martinson says. “And, of course, everyone knows that happier employees equate to happy customers.”

Each year, the company tries to add something new to the Summer of Love menu. Recent additions have skewed toward physical activities including volleyball, bean bag toss, bocce and basketball tournaments.

BI Worldwide Owner Larry Schoenecker created the concept in 2010 to boost morale, have fun and recognize employees. The program begins before Memorial Day each year and runs through Labor Day. The company has been recognized by local media outlets for the program and promotes it to potential employees.

Employees are also encouraged to provide input on the benefit.

“[Employees] give feedback about certain aspects about the Summer of Love directly to our event manager, but also informally to managers,” Martinson says. “Small suggestions, like rotating the days that food trucks are invited on-site — no complaints, really. It’s very popular.”

Amy Jensen, an employee engagement and events manager who has taken part in three Summers of Love with BI Worldwide, says she’s come to look forward to the season each year, as have her colleagues.

“I use all of the benefits: the relaxed dress code, bringing my dogs in on Fridays, attending concerts, helping with the volleyball tournament, and taking a couple Friday afternoons off,” Jensen says. “I like them because it makes it that much easier to enjoy Minnesota’s already short summer. Dressing comfortably and being able to head to the cabin a little earlier makes summer feel like summer again.”

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