Paternalistic Benefits at Work

I’ve long been a fan of Basecamp the company. Their thought leadership is strong, and I think this is something that comes from the top of the organization.

I use an “@hey.com” email address and listen to their podcast Rework. I’ve read several of their books and it’s had a positive impact on my work process.

One thing I’ve particularly admired from Basecamp was how much of their employee benefits were focused on activities outside of work. Reimbursements for gym memberships, sabbaticals, and mandatory paid time off. They were also pretty vocal about working a maximum of 40 hours a week- no overtime unless it’s an emergency.

The thinking was that if you can recharge outside of work then you’ll be rested and ready to do your best work at work. I like this approach and think it makes sense. It’s easy to not do something when you have to pay for it directly, but if your employer is paying for something (that wouldn’t otherwise go into your pocket) it gets used more.

Yesterday, Jason Fried posted about these benefits ending, and I think this is unfortunate. I advocated for similar benefits in the past and was shot down. 

2. No more paternalistic benefits. For years we’ve offered a fitness benefit, a wellness allowance, a farmer’s market share, and continuing education allowances. They felt good at the time, but we’ve had a change of heart. It’s none of our business what you do outside of work, and it’s not Basecamp’s place to encourage certain behaviors — regardless of good intention. By providing funds for certain things, we’re getting too deep into nudging people’s personal, individual choices. So we’ve ended these benefits, and, as compensation, paid every employee the full cash value of the benefits for this year. In addition, we recently introduced a 10% profit sharing plan to provide direct compensation that people can spend on whatever they’d like, privately, without company involvement or judgement.

Jason Fried, Changes at Basecamp

I’ve seen some companies paying for a Spotify premium account, or reimbursing for annual parking passes at State Parks, etc. So, these can take many forms and they are a nice perk. Removing them stings, and I’m sad that this voice from Basecamp could be lost.

The post also touches on other changes- such as not political discussions, no more peer reviews, no more forgetting what we do here. It’s a great post, and you can easily see they are making wholistic changes at their company- something leaders must do as companies grow and evolve. So respect where respect due, and agree to disagree on some level.

Both are okay.

2 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the changes at Basecamp.
    It’s really unfortunate that they’ve decided to give up promoting shared values of health and other positve activities.

    I understand the need to tone down political and societal comments in venues that are internal Basecamp communications, which can end up being distracting and pull energy away from business.
    But getting rid of what they call “paternalistic” benefits seems counter productive. Healthier employees should make more productive employees. Also it’s a declaration of shared values. When someone is hired by the company, they know that these things are availble to them. It’s nice to think that a company can reward it’s employees with something other than cash. There’s positive intangibles that go along with that – sense of community and shared values.

    They had a company culture that promoted healthy and positive activities. Now they sound like every other purely profit driven company.

    Work-life seperation is an insane way to live, that’s why I prefer to freelance.

    1. I agree, Michael. There’s no denying the benefits of being healthy. When our population is healthy, we all win- as individuals, as a species, and as friends/family members and even employees. I wish more companies would support this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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