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Dress shoes sit rinkside as IT Weapons Inc. employees warm up to play some hockey on the company's indoor plastic hockey rink in their Brampton offices


David Beckham fences. Céline Dion's got a thing for golf. Angelina Jolie collects daggers.

Everyone's got a hobby. But if you think the only time to indulge in yours is off the clock, you might be surprised.

Some small-business leaders are choosing to merge work and play by bringing their favourite pastimes to the office. And they're finding it's not just good for them, it's also good for business.

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Here are examples of four head honchos from three companies who've brought their passion to work:

Hitting the ice (sort of)

IT Weapons CEO Ted Garner and president and chief architect Jason MacBean brought their love of hockey to the office when they had a rink installed earlier this year at their location in Brampton, Ont.

Mr. Garner calls the duo's fondness for hockey "a Zionistic pursuit." For the past several years, the pair, both of whom started playing hockey as kids, organized office games at a local rink two days a week. When a staff member suggested at a brainstorm session last year that the owners install a hockey rink at the IT consulting firm's office, their initial reaction was to laugh.

"But then we did some research and realized that with synthetic ice, it was plausible," Mr. Garner says.

The cost of the rink, which is made of plastic, was about $20,000. "We thought we'd be the number one and two players out there," Mr. Garner says.

But in the short time since the rink was installed, the staff of about 40 has already scratched it up. "They love it," Mr. Garner says. "They just can't help but smile every time they see it."

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The rink - which looks authentic but on a smaller scale, can be used with regular ice hockey equipment, and accommodates three on three - is also a highlight on the company tour. "People can't believe it when they see the rink there," Mr. Garner says. "I don't know how many times they've said, 'Man, can I get a job here?' And it's great for employees to hear that too."

Aside from the opportunity for the owners to blow off steam at will, employee satisfaction might be the biggest benefit. "People actually come in on the weekend with their kids to use it," Mr. MacBean says. "One of our biggest challenges is retaining young, smart people, and young, smart people need a blend between their personal lives and work," he says. "The people we want to attract are people who will appreciate this."

An (art) show of solidarity

For André Douchane, bringing his hobby of art collecting to work isn't just about his passion. It's also about showing solidarity to the region in which his company does most of its business.

Mr. Douchane, president and CEO of Toronto-based mineral exploration company Starfield Resources, has been drawn to art since he started making it as a small child. As an adult, his interest turned into collecting art for his home, and about 15 years ago, he tried his hand at sculpting. "I got a piece of white alabaster and started carving it and it turned out to be a pretty decent looking buffalo," he says.

Upon joining Starfield three years ago, Mr. Douchane felt an Inuit art collection was the perfect way to represent the company's largest project, at Ferguson Lake in Nunavut, in its Toronto headquarters.

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"It's a way for us to support and promote Nunavut," he says, adding that visitors from the region who come through the Toronto office are always impressed by the collection of paintings, sculptures and carvings he's acquired - some from dealers outside of Nunavut and some from his trips there, including his favourite piece, a bear carving of soapstone.

The art collection, which the small staff of six "just loves," gives Mr. Douchane personal pleasure but it also "tells about our conviction to the area where we do business. And it just gives us something happy to look at."

A cottage that works

Employee satisfaction is a big part of what drove Karen Galley, co-owner and president of Patient News Publishing, which produces customized dental newsletters for the industry, to turn her office into a quasi-cottage.

Ms. Galley, who grew up in Toronto, spent her summers cottaging with her parents in Haliburton, Ont. When her hospitality and tourism background landed her a sales and marketing job at a resort in the region, she happily moved. She left that job in the mid-90s to join Patient News, which at the time occupied a single-room, windowless office. Today, the company of 65 employees is located on a lakeside property, complete with dock, BBQ and outdoor volleyball court.

"Providing that type of environment within our community feels like the right thing to do," says Ms. Galley, who calls cottaging a part of her "family tradition and heritage."

"I think many people relocate to a small community like Haliburton to enjoy the lifestyle, so we want to provide opportunities for our staff to do that while at work."

The setting has spawned an entire culture, which includes BBQ competitions and annual volleyball tournaments, even in the winter.

"We've had tremendously high marks from staff for this," she says, and in fact, Patient News Publishing has been named one of Canada's Top 100 Employers, an annual competition that recognizes the country's best places to work, for four consecutive years.

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