When Reddit brought Katelin Holloway on as its VP of people and culture in early 2016, she kicked off her tenure with a listening tour about benefits. "By asking people what they wanted, it affirmed my thesis that people want choices," Holloway told HR Dive in an interview.
Her listening tour gave way to a number of benefits-focused projects Holloway said she built with Reddit Co-Founder and CEO Steve Huffman, who "was very open to doing things differently," Holloway said.
Though creative and non-traditional, Huffman and Holloway designed Reddit's benefits to prioritize growth. "Towards this end, many of our benefits are designed to help our people grow, whether they're starting a family, learning more professional skills, or even taking on a new hobby," Huffman told HR Dive in an email.
With an overarching goal and buy-in from a founder, Holloway could implement her thesis, giving Reddit workers access to a highly flexible benefits model. "It has become of the people, by the people, for the people," she said. "It is very much owned by the employees in terms of sharing and getting people to opt in."
A holistic approach to leave
When Holloway joined Reddit, she expanded and individualized its leave programming. "We blew up everything, not just parental leave programming," she said. Holloway and her team formalized leave options for miscarriage, domestic abuse, military service and military spouses. "We thought about a lot of different life circumstances," she said. "It's a very holistic approach to leave."
These additional options made leave accessible to more people, and Holloway expanded the flexibility around the company's leave programming to make it even more approachable. Reddit employees can work with their teams and supervisors to craft a leave plan that best addresses their individual circumstances, Holloway said.
Reddit uses a service called LeaveLogic "to help individuals plan potential leaves without having to inform their managers or even HR," she said. "This empowers employees to understand their company benefits, state and federal benefits and how they might work in concert."
Reddit uses another service, Cleo, which enables parents taking family leave to plan their transitions out of and back into the office. "All transition plans are reviewed with the employee, their manager and their colleagues for group sign off," Holloway said.
Making benefits accessible
As it competed for talent in Silicon Valley, Reddit had picked up a wide and "weird" array of perks and benefits by the time Holloway joined the company. "It was very much the Silicon Valley arms race for benefits," she said. The resulting model, while generated by employee demand, didn't allow for much individualization. Reddit offered a gym stipend as one of its wellness perks, for example. But this benefit, while common, excluded some people — people like Holloway's little brother, she said, who would rather surf than go to the gym.
"If you can't actually utilize your benefits, what's the point?"
VP of People and Culture, Reddit
Holloway needed a way to consolidate Reddit's slew of benefits and somehow make them adaptable. "Every person, every family is different. How can I serve the needs of 75 people when they all have very different needs?" Holloway asked. "If you can't actually utilize your benefits, what's the point?"
Holloway divided benefits usage into two categories: personal development and professional development. Reddit workers receive stipends for each area and have flexibility in how they use them.
Employees can use their personal development stipends for anything that helps them become "better, healthier" people, Holloway said. The gym rat can use it to fund a membership. Someone like Holloway's brother can put it toward new surf gear. Employees can use their professional development stipends to go to conferences or take courses that relate to their jobs. "It's about choice," Holloway said. "Because of that, our utilization rates have gone way up."
The pursuit of flexibility: a culture-dependent quest
The spike in Reddit's benefits usage rates did not shock Julie Stich, vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. "I do think what they're doing is incredibly flexible," she said. "The more individualized you make it, the more appealing it is to employees."
Individualized plans like Reddit's reap other benefits, too. "With the job market the way it is, employers are looking for ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors or from others in the same area, in the same region and city looking to hire employees," Stich said. "Benefits are always a great attraction and retention device and can be a great way to increase loyalty and morale."
"When a policy like this is put into place, the company culture has to support it and managers have to support it as well. [...] Convince people that you mean it."
VP of Content, International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans
Still, highly flexible models may not work for every employer. "It really depends on your company culture," according to Stich. In addition to its other individualized benefits, Reddit also offers unlimited vacation — "a neat idea if it works for your company culture," Stich said. But at another company, in another industry, such policies may not work as well. A manufacturing company, she said, may not be able to coordinate an unlimited vacation policy with the demands of scheduling and production.
Managers must cultivate trust with the people they supervise to ensure these ultra-individualized benefits are being used. Workers sometimes take less vacation than they need after a company implements an unlimited vacation time policy, she said. Companies discovered employees feared retribution for taking too much time off.
"When a policy like this is put into place, the company culture has to support it and managers have to support it as well," Stich said. "Convince people that you mean it."