L.L. Bean gives workers an outdoor adventure while on the job

Maine-based outdoor goods retailer L.L. Bean last appeared on Fortune’s annual list of great workplaces in 1999 at No. 100. Since then, the company has grown—headcount rose 22% to 4,966 employees, many working at its 26 stores and 10 outlets—and it has added many perks and benefits programs, including free on-site health screenings, fitness classes, and on-site massages. Now headed by the fourth generation of the Gorman family, L.L. Bean celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012 and committed to keep its pension plan—one of few retailers to still have one. And just last year the company increased its tuition reimbursement from $2,750 to $5,250 per year. All of these added programs have inspired employees to rave—resulting in a return to the list at No. 56.

By far the most singular and popular perk at the retailer is its paid workdays dedicated to enjoying the outdoors.

On a sunny afternoon in March, Katie Livesay and 69 of her co-workers from L.L. Bean’s corporate marketing and e-commerce group went on a field trip. They drove two miles from the company’s headquarters in Maine to Fogg Farm, a 700-acre plot of wooded land with a nine-hole golf course that the company has owned for decades. They enjoyed a day of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing along three miles of landscaped trails. “Day to day, you’re just so intent on working,” says Livesay, an online marketing manager. “This was a great opportunity to get to know new people outside of a work setting.”

Depending on years of service, salaried employees receive three to five days per year—on top of 10 to 15 days of vacation—that are designated for outdoor activities with colleagues.

Emily Carville, director of online marketing, spent one of them learning to roll a kayak and used another to kayak with a colleague near the islands in Maine’s Casco Bay. She has also traveled with colleagues to Rangeley Lake, 95 miles north of Freeport, where the company owns seven cabins. Carville, who moved from Boston to work for L.L. Bean a decade ago, says the outdoor days “are meant to be about team building.”

The benefit also allows staff to work with the products that they’re selling. Employees are welcome to borrow or rent gear and equipment, including tents, cross-country skis, and kayaks, from the headquarters “use room.” The more employees experience L.L. Bean’s products in real-world settings, the better they are at explaining them to consumers, says Marie McCarthy, VP of human resources. When employees explore the outdoors, she says, “it gives them a chance to live what we want to impart on customers.”

That philosophy started with founder Leon Leonwood Bean, whose emphasis on valuing employees as well as customers still informs the company, much like its 100% satisfaction guarantee. “You are what you say you are, and when you follow up with a guarantee, there’s a genuineness to it,” McCarthy says. 

Company snapshot
Number 56 on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list
Headquarters: Freeport, Maine
Revenues: $1.6 billion
Perk: Employees can receive discounts of 33% to 40% off company-made items

This story is from the May 1, 2015 issue of Fortune magazine.

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