A killer lake view from offices in the Prudential Plaza tower, staff parties at vacation resorts and sabbaticals after a few years on the job have been enough to help Slalom Consulting lure top consultants from bigger-name firms.
They've also been enough to earn Slalom a No. 3 spot in the small-company category of the Chicago Tribune's Top Workplaces survey, conducted by Exton, Pa.-based WorkplaceDynamics.
"I'm known among my friends as the guy who works for the most-fun company," gushes Alban Mehmeti, 26, a Slalom consultant who joined the Seattle-based firm nearly two years ago from another consultancy.
And his friends should know, because he often invites them to company get-togethers.
"There was one happy hour recently where I had 20 of my friends," he said.
Though 20- and 30-somethings aren't known for craving a lot of socializing with office mates, it's a huge part of the Slalom culture, employees say.
Family picnics and holiday parties welcome staffers' kids, and spouses and significant others are invited along on Rendezvous, an annual retreat that's been held the last few years at Wisconsin vacation resorts.
"It's by no means required, but we typically get 85 to 90 percent participation," said Tom Snapp, general manager of the 225-employee Chicago office.
The company provides business and technology consulting services, such as a mobile application that provides personal health information to members of a large health plan and redesigning the U.S. Olympic Committee's media site for the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
Beyond the parties, Mehmeti and other consultants said, the company culture, which emphasizes local client engagements to cut down on the grueling travel schedule that consultants typically endure, makes a big impact.
"For me, not being on the road is key. I'm home for dinner almost every night," said Sarah Korf Dill, who joined the company this year.
Other perks are less obvious immediately, but ultimately even more important, staffers said.
One of them is job stability, said Ellen Lubbers, 34, a Slalom consultant.
"I learn so much here, and that's extremely important being in professional services," she said.
Getting exposure to a variety of different industries by focusing on assignments in a particular geographic region helps keep consultants' skills marketable, she said.
Another perk is simply the quality of the colleagues at the firm, workers said.
When Lubbers interviewed at the firm, she said, every person she met was someone she wanted to get to know better. After joining, her gut feeling proved right on target, she said.
"I knew right away this was going to be a place I can grow," Lubbers said.
As with any workplace, there are challenges.
Some employees balk at the vacation policy (12 vacation days plus holidays to start) and the 401(k) match (25 percent on up to 6 percent of annual pay), which are both skimpier than other consulting companies.
Snapp acknowledges the complaints and said the company is considering some improvements.
Meanwhile, the sabbatical — a month off at 75 percent of pay after just three years — and the local-client focus are winning over prospective hires, Snapp said.
So are the $4,000 in adoption assistance offered to employees, $2,000 per year in professional development funds such as training and classes, and additional pay or time off after four years of service.
And, of course, the parties, including rooftop events to watch Chicago Cubs games, poker tournaments, costume balls and happy hours.
"We work hard at having fun," Snapp said. "It's a conscious thing we do, and I think it's missing at a lot of organizations."