One startup’s benefits strategy: collective PTO, onsite childcare

Podium is taking aim at burnout—and trying to retain talent—with a host of offerings designed to support and unite workers.
By: | July 28, 2021

As workers at a fast-growing tech startup, employees at Podium—a communication and payments platform—are used to working long hours and exceeding expectations. And that means some are hesitant to take advantage of their time off.

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“We move so fast. It feels like a million miles an hour, and we expect a lot out of our people,” says Katie Morrow, Podium’s senior director of people operations. “There’s a sentiment that there’s never a good time to take time off when you’re working at a startup growing as fast as Podium.”

Katie Morrow of Podium

Acknowledging this, the company decided to shut down operations for a week this summer to give its 950 workers a chance to recharge. And although a handful of companies, including Mailchimp, LinkedIn, Bumble and more, recently implemented collective weeks off for their employees, Podium has been doing its summer reset since 2017, giving workers a week’s vacation in addition to their paid time off and company holidays. This year’s reset was held July 5-9.

Related: Mailchimp’s burnout strategy? Collective PTO, summer hours

The program has been a big success, Morrow says, and can provide a guide for other employers that are considering a similar strategy to combat employee stress and burnout. A common week off among employees, she says, can alleviate some of the out-of-the-office pressures that many workers often feel during a typical vacation.

“A lot of times when you go on vacation, it feels like you’re making this tradeoff of having a week off but then coming back to a crazy-full inbox and being bombarded with internal messages on Slack when you’re out,” she explains. “[The collective week off] was just a really great way to make sure that while everybody was out, they were truly able to take a break and step away, then come back refreshed and ready to run toward our second half of the year goals. So far it’s been something that people truly value, and that’s a lot of the reason we started and also continue to do it.”

The yearly summer resets have been valuable for employees’ mental health—and surprisingly, their social health too. Morrow says one unexpected result of the collective week off has been a greater sense of camaraderie between workers. Employees share pictures of their vacations or what they’re up to on their time away in a Slack channel so they “get to share a piece of themselves outside of work, whether it’s their family or unique hobby,” Morrow says. And groups of employees have even traveled together during the break.

“There’s a lot of community and culture that happens when everybody takes the same time,” she says. “It creates really deep relationships.”

Related: How this survey company uses its own tool to support employees

This year’s reset came at an important time as many employees are struggling with the effects of COVID-19. Research finds that mental health has worsened due to the pandemic and that burnout, in particular, is soaring among workers nationwide as they work longer hours, deal with more stress and have taken little to no time off. Although taking aim at those problems have been vital for the last year and a half, the importance is perhaps growing as scores of employees look to leave for new jobs as the talent market rebounds. Many workers cite burnout as a reason they are looking to leave their jobs.

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Related: ‘Astounding’ number of workers looking for new jobs; What’s HR’s move?

In addition to the summer reset, Podium has taken aim at burnout and mental health issues with mental health workshops, mindfulness benefits, capping meetings and putting limits on Zoom calls. “We’re really encouraging thoughtful meetings so workers don’t have Zoom burnout,” Morrow says. “Some departments don’t have meetings on Wednesday for instance.”

That strategy and focus are continuing as Podium starts to bring some of its workers back onsite to its Lehi, Utah, headquarters, Morrow says. 

The company is beginning to host in-person fitness classes again—keeping them small to stay safe in the COVID-era—for its employees onsite, and it bought a fleet of e-bikes so workers can take breaks and go on a bike ride during the day. “Moving your body and getting some connections in your community is a really good stress reliever,” she says. “Things like that really, really make a difference.”

(Image courtesy of Podium)

And to help its working parent population, Podium opened an onsite childcare center earlier this month. Operated in partnership with onsite childcare provider Bright Horizons, the facility, called Little Founders, serves a capacity of 50 children, ages 6 weeks through 5 years old. It’s open to the children of benefit-eligible Podium employees, and the cost is in part paid by Podium. The childcare center is part of an effort to help working parents, particularly female employees. Research has found that many female workers are considering leaving, or have already left, the workforce as they struggle to balance their work and family lives.

“The tech industry struggles specifically with gender diversity at senior levels, and a lot of that has to do with the tradeoff working parents, specifically working moms, have to make to find high-quality childcare that is accessible and they feel confident in,” Morrow says. “This is a way to make them feel confident and to attract people who would be excited about a company that would make investments in supporting them in one of their biggest struggles in either returning or staying in the workforce.”

One of Podium’s most important strategies, Morrow says, is simply adaptability and flexibility in meeting employee needs—an approach that has become even more necessary during the pandemic.

“We’re not too stuck in our ways,” she says. “And we’re willing to learn and see what works in trying new things.”

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.

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