One of the things we’ve always been interested in doing at Buffer is looking at compensation differently and transparently.

In the latest update of our transparent salaries formula, one key change was that we began to pay teammates more money if they had dependents, or family members who depended on their income.

The formula that we originally came up with offers an extra $3,000 a year for every family member that immediately relies on your income. This can be quite broad—for example, a spouse or partner going through school or out of work, or a grandparent to whom you’re sending money to help with expenses. We trust each teammate to make the decision that feels best for them, no questions asked.

Buffer’s dependents policy

  • $3,000 per dependent who depends on your salary
  • Can be for spouses, partners, children, grandparents, aunts or uncles, etc.
  • Can have as many additional family members as you need

Along with The Good Life Curve, this was one of the elements that got the most questions and comments when we shared the new formula recently.

I wanted to take the time to explain why we originally made it an option for team members to factor into their salaries those who depend on their income—and why we now have a different path, after hearing great insights from many of you.

Why include dependents and family?

Why bring family or dependents into the equation at all?

One of the things both Joel and I experienced growing up in Europe is the idea of supporting families from a government perspective. In Austria, my family got $2,000 in support per year per child, and a similar program exists in the UK for certain levels of income.

We have always felt that was a good thing to do, and as Buffer’s cofounders we now have the opportunity to show support for our team in a similar way.

Raising children, and other familial responsibilities, costs a lot of money. We have an opinion that it’s something we should show support for.

It’s our intuition that $3,000 isn’t quite enough money to incentivize anyone to have children, and that’s not the goal of this stipend. Rather, we want to help our teammates feel taken care of if they happen to have children or others in their family who rely on their income.

This is a partially a selfish, self-serving attempt to take some challenges away from people so they carry fewer worries about money around when they work on Buffer (or do everything else).

We know there are a lot of other circumstances people can be in that might also require support—for instance, student loans, or a mortgage on your house—and we don’t want to dismiss any of those.

In the long term of evolving Buffer’s culture and values, I expect us to tackle many more of the kinds of issues that are a burden for team members.

To start, we picked one dependents because it felt like a common, applicable, useful starting point.

Listening to your feedback: We removed this element from salary

It’s been incredible how many amazing, thoughtful comments and discussion points were raised around this. We’ve been listening to all of them!

After all the conversations we’ve had, we continue to feel it’s the right thing to do to support teammates with these fairly small grants.

But we got a lot of helpful feedback that having this money folded into a person’s overall compensation felt off, as if we were valuing people with family obligations in a different way than other teammates.

Here’s a sampling:

We hear you, and we completely agree.

It doesn’t make sense to pay someone more because of their family circumstances. Especially when it comes to equity—in our existing formula, people with kids or others who depend on their salaries would have gotten more equity, which wouldn’t feel quite right at all.

Therefore, we’ve moved the family element out of the salary formula entirely. It’s no longer part of our formula on our working spreadsheet or represented in our salary calculator.

Instead, we’re adding a new dependents grant into our benefits. We already have a number of perks and benefits that Buffer provides and pays for, and the dependents grant feels like it has a much more reasonable place there.

We’re still developing a process around it, but this will be a yearly grant that any teammate can apply for by sharing their particular family circumstances. (Teammates who were previously receiving this money through the salary formula have already been grandfathered in for this year).

The formula before this change:

(overall base + location base + cost of living)* role value * experience + risk + dependents = salary

The formula after this change:

(overall base + location base + cost of living)* role value * experience + risk = salary

Here’s an example, putting all this together:

An advanced engineer, living in Cape Town, who chooses more equity and has 2 kids and a husband depending on her income, would previously have made this:

  • $60,662 x 1.20 + $9,000 + $0 = $81,794

Now this same teammate makes:

  • $60,662 x 1.20 + $0 = $72,794

However, she can apply for a dependents grant of up to $9,000 to help support those who are depending on her salary.

We feel we’re painting a clearer picture with this change, and we’d love to hear how it feels to you.

Is this fair?

A question that we feel might remain as we continue to support teammates with these fairly small grants is this one: Is this fair?

We’ve thought about this question a lot, and we’ve come to the conclusion that fair does not always mean equal.

We could pay everyone the exact same wage (something we’ve actually considered in the past!) but we’re not the exact same people. We have different locations, preferences, and life situations. And we believe that those differences should have the opportunity to be reflected in our compensation.

On the whole, Buffer’s goal is to be as generous as possible and take money out of the picture as a concern for any teammate. So for those who face an extra burden from a monetary perspective, we want to be there to support them.

We want to look at compensation with wholeness, empathy and compassion.

This image helps me understand this concept the best:

equalityvsjustice

Dependents is perhaps the first example of our move in this direction, and I have an intuition these changes won’t always feel fair to everyone.

In the future, we’re likely to add more of these elements, like:

  •  An additional allowance for our “digital nomad” teammates, who incur extra costs by traveling around the world. We want to support people in finding the place where they feel happiest.
  • A correction for exchange rates and taxes, which vary greatly by country. (We know, for example, that Buffer team members in France pay a lot of extra taxes that others don’t.)

I know we’ll learn a lot from these experiences.

I’m so grateful for the many people who voiced their opinion on this topic and helped us make what we believe is a better decision here.

This experience has reminded me that being transparent has the amazing benefit of helping you hear from a lot of incredibly smart people. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to come to this conclusion.

I know our formula remains far from perfect, and it’s invaluable to hear from all of you about how we can make it better for the future.

If you’d be up for it, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this change, how it feels, and what it might be missing. I’m listening!

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Written by Leo Widrich

Co-founder and COO at Buffer. I enjoy writing about Buffer’s lessons learnt, social media tips and updates to Buffer. For some more personal posts, check out leostartsup.

  • I’m not convinced there was an issue with your previous iteration. You’re creating a culture that nurtures people no matter their situation, and are making amends for perks and benefits that some might not be granted due to the nature of remote working.

    Perhaps the issue is more the basis on which people are offered additional salary being limited to ‘dependants’. Perhaps it would be better looked at as a ‘situation grant’, where employees with situations that impact their work for any reason have access to additional financial support. And that could be anything from medical bills, through to childcare costs. And a simple “sorry, if you’ve got nothing financially hindering your ability to do your job right now, you’re not eligible at this point in time. However should the need arise, you too will have access to additional support” should really suffice.

    Please understand I mean no offence here – I truly admire your approach to transparency. Perhaps you’re paying too much attention to what others think? If it feels right for your company culture, perhaps simply stand by your decision.

    “You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time” Lydgate (I think!)

    • Brendan Moore

      Interesting thoughts. I get the sense that there were discussions about this change internally as well. If the structure was creating friction between employees, it would be worth revisiting, even if justifiable on a case by case basis. Its seems that this application for a grant is meant exactly to legitimze the “situation” you mention, and I think hat makes sense. Really the same amount is available, its just that the employee must now request and justify the supplement.

    • Absolutely. I think a company is great to create a culture like this.

  • Whineaux

    Calling it a grant is still salary inequity. As a no kids person, I see family as a choice. Childless employees are constantly expected to work longer, travel more and sacrifice weekends because we don’t have kids, now. Not to mention childless people don’t take maternity leave, don’t take sick days for kids and typically work more hours. Now these people have access to more salary? (By the way, I am almost always happy to pitch in, somebody took care of me when I was little — that’s not the point, salary is a business contract nothing more or less) Why isn’t the formula simply job value =x performance accelerator = y, poof salary.

    I think it’s well intentioned to be sure, but I don’t know if it fits the justice model. It feels like a new iteration of men making more because they have a family to support, you’ve removed gender but kept the bias.

    • I see your points. But notice that with Buffer there isn’t a performance factor anyway.

      And having children (or an older dependent) IS a choice. Everyone has the choice, even it’s not biological. A friend of mine (single woman) became a foster parent, and another one who had been a foster parent just adopted the girl she’d been fostering.

      Side note: I wonder if this definition of “dependent” counts foster parents? In my home state, we have at least 1000 children who are in foster care.

      I don’t see anyone complaining about being paid to take vacations. :)

      • Just popping in to share that foster children would absolutely be included in the grant process, great question!

    • I can understand how a single person could say that having children is a choice, and of course it is, but the finances that are paid basically balance out in the way of lifestyle potential with the setup Buffer offers. A $65k salary will go MUCH farther to a single person than it would for a family person with three kids. They are equal is potential lifestyle opportunities only by increasing the income of the person with dependents. Whereas a single person’s additional income offers opportunities for maybe a nicer car, nicer house, trips, etc. most families are simply trying to afford day care, food on the table, maybe a decent used car, etc. The equivalence is not in the income, but in for what it is likely to be used.

      As a family of 9 (yes, 7 kids), we live on less then $30k a year, so I don’t make these assessment lightly. People can accommodate various income levels if they work at it, but it is important to recognize that equal pay does not at all equate to equal opportunity.

  • “…fair does not always mean equal.” Excellent quote. Love it. If some think there is still an inequity, perhaps for those with no families, an added grant for continuing education could be an option to level those concerns. Although from my view Buffer already offers a more than generous benefits package – with or without any grant or dependent reimbursement.

  • Julia Catherine Martin

    Full disclosure: I’m expecting our first kid and love the idea of a salary that offsets the cost of childcare because right now I’m having to choose between the career that I want and the career that will pay for daycare which is a bummer. That being said, I do wonder about the unequal treatment inherent in this setup for those who don’t have a family to support. This is a great benefit for some….but not all. Is there a corresponding benefit open to single people only? I wonder if it might be worth rebuilding this particular benefit entirely and creating a “Lifestyle” grant (or some name like that) where the funded projects include family care (which maintains the original benefit), professional development, hobby training (to support enriching personal fulfillment), and other such projects that benefit all employees; single, married, or otherwise. You could have a sliding scale award and it’s up to each employee applying for the grant to justify the amount they are requesting. You could cap it at a max benefit of $XX per year and then it’s up to the employees to choose how, why, and when to apply and gives them autonomy in using the funds. Then there is more equity in terms of accessibility to funds for enriching the personal life of your employees. Just a thought! Either way, I love the transparency of these conversations as it really gives you something to think/talk about.

  • Wasswa Samuel

    It will feel unfair to some people but I understand where you are coming from. Having dependants is no joke and can sometimes put financial strain and adversely effect your work. If some extra money can give you peace of mind so be it. As a single person I can’t claim to know what its like to raise a child so it may not be easy to empathize but frankly it would not really bother me

  • Brendan Moore

    Leo, thanks for sharing this revision to an experimental process. You can’t get everything right on the first try, but its a great goal so you have to step back and try it a bit differently.

    I really like that Buffer considers it important to support their staff by making life at home easier, and applaud efforts to make this the norm. I mean this for any stressful situation that might detract from the ability to do well at ones job.

    When you make changes like this to the salary formula, how do you deal with employees who end up with a lower resulting compensation? Is it the case that compensation will fluctuate up and down depending on the state of the formula, or is there some adjustment applied to handle this?

    I know in this situation there is a direct replacement with the grant, but other changes may not have that option. Just curious how these things are received internally.

    Thanks!

    • Hey Brendan! I happen to be one of the people whose salaries fluctuated just a bit with this change (I think it was about $200 total difference). Leo spoke to me and every other person affected by this change to make sure everything felt great to us. :)

      • Brendan Moore

        Thanks Courtney, that is reassuring to hear. In light of Leo’s other note, it makes sense that there wouldn’t be big impacts from this one, only the relatively small compounding factor.

        I have to imagine everybody coming into Buffer knows and accepts that the transparency principle is going to have some unusual effects at time. But its still nice to know that the leaders consider it important to discuss upcoming changes with all of you ahead of time.

  • Interesting thoughts. I actually quite liked the dependents bit of salary, especially given that “dependents” was a very broad category. Now, I am likely to remain childfree for my entire life, but, for instance, I want to help support my parents whose job situations have changed as they’ve gotten older but whose mortgage is still sucking the same money monthly. Now, granted, wanting to support my folks is a choice that not everyone would make, but having support for whatever family configuration you’re part of would be pretty rad, I think.

  • Adrienne

    Whether the old way (salary add-on) or the new way (dependent grant), I don’t think this policy discriminates against single people, since you clearly made it available to support *any* family members that the employee has a role in financially supporting (aunts/uncles, grandparents, mother/father). People with kids or family members they support can also typically open a dependent care account and set aside up to $5000 tax free to save for childcare or other care expenses for family members that rely on them; if you think that what Buffer tried to do with the salary add-in is unfair, do you also think that these pre-tax spending accounts are unfair? Different people need different benefits to ably navigate their lives outside of work. I think it’s admirable that Buffer is trying to address this in a fair and transparent way.

    • Oceana Kennedy

      I completely agree with this sentiment. A single person could have a situation where they need to support their aging parents or a disabled relative in another country or state (if in the USA) and they would also qualify to have the dependent salary add-on or dependent grant to continue to help out that family member. I never thought of that benefit as only for parents with children. I think it’s a bit unfair when someone who is single and has no such obligations to quibble over someone else getting extra benefits when they really need it. I’ve worked as a single adult with no children and now as a single parent. My expenses have changed as a result and what once may have been a handsome salary, can now be a bit tight to budget. It’s wonderful to see a company that not only pays their employees handsomely for a job well done, but also considers their lifestyle needs and wants to help alleviate the stress that comes with extra expenses associated with caring for other family members. In the States, families don’t have the benefit of extra support like some other countries grant their citizens, as Leo had mentioned that Austria and the UK have. It’s nice to see the founders are bringing what they like from their culture/home countries to the company. This is what makes Buffer unique, brilliant, and admirable. I say, keep up the good work and stay true to what you want Buffer to be for its employees.

  • Eric Agnew

    As a father of 3, I applaud the focus on this for a couple of reasons:
    1) For those of us in our mid-30’s (or beyond) with kids it’s easy to be left out of the startup world, even though we would LOVE to be a part of it, because our home lives don’t always line up with the startup culture and/or compensation. To be 20-something and able to live/work anywhere is amazing!… but not all of us are in that place in life anymore :-)
    2) For those of use with multiple dependents, there is a huge amount of risk for us to join a startup or other young company, and this helps us know you would understand and support our situation, which means…
    3) …Buffer opens up its potential talent pool significantly, and to those who may have a great deal of experience as well, by not inadvertently filtering out those with dependents.
    4) Doing this as a grant would encourage only those who really need it to apply, so the unused balance could go towards those who need it. Taken a step further, what if it was part of a larger “Employee Assistance” pool of money, which could be used for other circumstances like: someone gets sick or hurt, someone loses their home in a fire, etc.
    5) $9K is a wonderful gesture. Those of use with larger families know that is a drop in the bucket, but, we also know how to stretch that money to be resourceful and make it go a long way! I’m sure it means the world to your employees who receive this.

    As always, kudos to you, Joel, Leo and team. Appreciate the transparency and the wonderful culture you have created!

    • Bryan Milne

      Well said Eric, as a family man and one who is interested in startups I could not have said it better. To the Buffer team, its not so much how you do this that impresses me no end its the sentiment and level of responsibility behind it. May many companies world wide follow on the trail you are blazing.

  • Bryan

    I’m unsure of the differences between a grant and a salary modification.

    In what scenario can the grant application be denied?

    Some may say a salary is a business contract, but that may not be a good thing. It seems that the people Buffer want to work with are not concerned with salary to the extent that it’s a professional motivator. ( here’s a great talk on motivation and money: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc )

    By offering compensation based on someone’s personal situation, you’re talking the issue of money off the table and allowing them to focus on the work they want to do rather than the work they have to do. By offering a little bit of extra salary to people who financially support others, you make your company that much more attractive to a larger pool of talented people who have the potential to help elevate the entire business. The flip-side of this is: Would this narrow the pool of candidates due to them feeling some of their peers are compensated more for the similar work? Does your business want those types of people? In a related video about a study of how monkeys react to unfairness ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hbb27GQ_X1I ) the most significant part of that study, which was not addressed in the video, is that the feelings of unfairness were non-existent when their peers were accepted members of their tribe.

    Ultimately, I think it’s a great practice that leads to a better company, and product as a whole, as long as everyone feels they are a valued and accepted member of the company ‘tribe’ and see the value of working with good, talented people regardless of their financial responsibilities.

    • LeoWid

      Hey Bryan, great question! The grant application will almost never be denied if you have kids/family, the point is more to take it out of the direct salary equation where it also impacted equity compensation, higher pay if you get promoted, etc., so it directly triggered more pay related to other factors in the way that our formula was setup. It now doens’t have htat multiplying effect, while still helping families! :)

      • Julia Cuellar Martin

        This may be getting into the weeds a bit but how does the shift to it being a lump-sum grant once a year affect taxes? Is it paid out like a bonus?

      • Brendan Moore

        Ah, I see now. Taking it off to the side to get rid of the multiplying effect actually makes a lot of sense given the reasoning behind it. Otherwise the support for different rolesncities etc would be scaled up and down. Now everybody gets the same flat dependent perk, regardless of all other factors. Neat!

  • Ken

    Love the open conversation around salary!

    It’s really a matter of perspective, I understand, but methinks the image you use above actually goes against your premise. The removal of the dependent bump appears to me to be a move toward “equality”, but not toward “justice” (using the graphic’s words, not trying to emotionally inflate the discussion).

    The boxes represent salary. Dependents cost money (Duh!). Much more than $3K a year, for sure, but it’s the gesture that really counted here. Yes, they are most often a choice. But going back to the graphic, in order to have a similar view of the game of life (ability to travel, do fun things, buy stuff beyond necessities), those with dependents need more money than those without.

    Making everyone’s relative salary equal is represented on the left side, whereas an attempt at adjusting for dependents (or excessive tax rates – you mentioned France as an example) is shown on the right. The size of the kid represents net spendable income.

    I understand the “salary is based on work production not family size” perspective, too, and I’m not necessarily saying this decision wasn’t the right thing to do.

    But, I also believe the original intent of the dependent bump in pay was noble, admirable, unique, and consistent with your values as a company. As one that would love to join your team, I’m good with the change but kinda sad to see it go.

    Keep up the great work! Leading an organization is hard. Doing so in as transparent a fashion as you are attempting to do is almost unfathomable. Kudos to you all!

  • Braden Allred

    This is why I love Buffer,

    “On the whole, Buffer’s goal is to be as generous as possible and take money out of the picture as a concern for any teammate. So for those who face an extra burden from a monetary perspective, we want to be there to support them.

    We want to look at compensation with wholeness, empathy and compassion.”

    What other company do you know of that tries so hard to take such good care of their employees?
    Buffer has very much impressed me with their continued efforts to make things better, they seem to echo my mantra in every way. (“There is always a better way”.)

  • Amy M Wallace

    I feel the change is a good one. The grants are broad enough that fairness is ensured. I do think that as you grow as a company, there will be more time required to review these requests just to keep everything above board. This is a wonderful policy that should be picked up by other companies. It’s huge when retaining talent.

  • Terence Mentor

    Oh man.

    I wish more companies in South Africa has this perspective: “We want to look at compensation with wholeness, empathy and compassion.”

    This is especially true due to the fact that a massive majority of our population find themselves in very difficult circumstances because of the injustices of the past.

    So, even if a disadvantaged person somehow manages to get a good education and employment, they are often pulled down by a large family (who sacrificed everything to help them succeed) who they now need to support.

    This can halt progress in its tracks.

    I can understand, however, how people who have no dependants could be…irked…by this policy, but maybe there are other non-salary ways to reward their lifestyle?

    I’ve been a dad for what feels like forever (i.e. 2 years), so I have no idea what those rewards would be. What non-parents do with ALL that free time? ;)

    I just love the idea that a little bit of understanding and compassion goes a long way – but it needs to be applied to everyone.

    • Bryan Milne

      + all that free time and powered on uninterrupted sleep, yeah non-parents could rule the world ;). I so agree on wishing that more companies here would do this, imagine the increase in work contentment and productivity knowing that your company cares for your family and doesn’t just see you as a resource. Kudos to @LeoWid:disqus and Team for doing what you do. No wonder we all want to join you :)

  • felicia.cristofaro

    Leo,

    I think that adding a new dependents grant into existing benefits is fantastic! The stress that results from having to take care of, say, a disabled grandparent, can really cripple you. It’s quite admirable that Buffer takes these factors into consideration, allowing their employees to truly be focused on their work. It leaves the impression that Buffer cares about their employees as individuals, and not just the work they output as a collective.

    Fair does not always mean equal. I’ve seen that this is a very difficult concept to accept for many working in corporate America. I really admire that Buffer takes into account taxes of distributed employees. From what I’ve read about other companies, that’s not yet common. The formula may not be perfect, but it’s still leagues ahead of companies who have no formula! Hopefully Buffer can create a solution that is accepted by most, if not all. Thanks for sharing!

  • Karinna Briseno

    Buffer constantly amazes me – just when I think you guys can’t get any better, you make a change like this. You can really tell a lot of time, effort, and thought was taken in order to make this decision. Thank you for taking into consideration that the circumstances of others are different, and vary from person to person. This is an incredibly thoughtful and fair arrangement. I’m genuinely looking forward to hearing more amazing things you guys come up with! :)

  • Sylvia

    Kudos for even considering this! And hearty applause for your whole team of out-of-this-world generous-minded Buffernauts who continue to be flexible and support the decision changes, whether it’s directly beneficial to them or not. Man, the heart behind this is amazing!

  • Angela Sylcott

    To me, the practice of giving people additional money based on life choices (e.g., to have kids) or circumstances (e.g., care of an ill or disabled relative) doesn’t sit well, regardless of whether you blend it in the salary calculation or offer it as a stipend. And I say this as a wife and mother who will become legal guardian of a developmentally disabled sibling when our parents pass away.

    I know Buffer means well, and it’s great that you are so conscientious about and intent on being welcoming and accommodating of the reality that not every employee will be a 25-year-old single, childless guy, but I believe that people aren’t likely to apply for or accept employment that wouldn’t help their family make ends meet in the first place; so a stipend would likely be “just gravy” on top of a salary anyway, in terms of a family’s finances.

    I think it would be more effective to focus on benefits that take into account that employees who are parents or caregivers might have different demands on their time, attention, responsibilities, etc., than employees who aren’t. For example, some companies offer stipends for daycare or adult care and make it a policy to not hold meetings or other business-related interactions during evenings and weekends. I think a way to go is to focus on benefits that could generally be chosen by any employee, regardless of his or her family situation, but that might prove especially useful to someone who has a family (e.g., Buffer’s per-person vacation stipend, a reimbursable stipend for annual memberships of the employees’ choosing [a single employee might choose a subscription-box membership, while an employee with a family might choose annual passes to a local amusement place; either might choose a meal-delivery membership]).

    Another potential reason for the pushback you’ve heard from people is *how* the parental benefit is being done. The issue really isn’t about if it’s in the salary formula or outside of it, but rather the fact that you’re automatically *awarding* people something based on their circumstances instead of making it available.

    Nonetheless, it’s great that Buffer is thinking about families and sharing its thought process.

    • Really appreciate this great feedback, Angela! We’re doing a lot of exploration of benefits right now, and thoughts like these are super helpful in thinking that through. More to come!

  • Ashok Kamal

    Stand up move for families by Buffer. We need more of this leadership by companies. This is undeniably progress. If you nitpick on this policy you’re a Grade A Hater!

  • Shaun Morrow

    I support 3 people (1 wife and 2 children). It is exceedingly rare to find companies that go out of their way to offer support to employees with families.

    Thank you for being so transparent with how you do this

  • I’m not sure there was a need to change anything because the wording is clearly open to whoever has dependents that rely on them, whether that is a spouse, parent, child, or otherwise.

    Either way, it’s great that you’re offering this and that you’re constantly thinking about how to improve your policies.

  • Michael Jenkins

    The more I learn about the company the more I am amazed at the things you do for the employees. I hope that more companies follow the same path. Keep up the great work and hope you have started a new trend.

  • There are many interesting perspectives within these comments. At first, as I was reading through this article and the comments, I found myself asking why a single person would need access to an additional fund intended to help financial struggles. But a couple of the comments got me thinking from different angles.

    It’s true that many families with children do struggle more financially than single people – but having (and even keeping) kids was a choice (at some point) that they made, regardless of the circumstances that found them in the position of having kids. As a single parent of two teens, I wouldn’t trade being a parent with any other lifestyle in the world – but that’s my choice and as such I make the necessary financial sacrifices to suit my choices… willingly and happily. But does that really make me anymore entitled to additional funds than an individual who doesn’t have kids (regardless of the reasons why they don’t have kids)? It’s a tough question to answer honestly, because frankly, if I didn’t get the additional support that I do get for being a single parent (such as from the government), I wouldn’t be able to cover the costs of providing even the basics for my kids. Because I am a parent it’s very easy for me to say that it’s far more important that my kids are fed and clothed than it is for a single person with no dependents to gain further professional development or than to train for a hobby – but I’m not sure that I would be completely correct in that position… again, having kids was a choice I made, much in the same way that a single person with no dependents made the choice to not have kids and instead invest in professional development, or maybe they choose to take in multiple stray animals to provide a loving home for them (for example).

    Where I would question the “justice” in this thinking would be for individuals to qualify for additional funds for a perceived “luxury” – though how on earth you would define that is truly beyond me.

    Then there’s the question of people who end up with dependents where it wasn’t a choice, for example when a spouse or family member becomes ill… now obviously to some extent there is still always a choice, but that’s an entirely different conversation, for now I’m going to put faith in humanity and the assumption that an individual wouldn’t choose to turn their back on an ill family member purely because of the financial burden. In this situation, no one involved made any type of “choice” for the person to become ill, but there will unquestionably be an added financial burden because of it. This raises the question as to whether this circumstance would raise the priority emphasis on the level of “need” vs “want”.

    Sadly, no matter what system is in place or what benefits are provided, there will always be individuals who will take advantage of it – a simple look at the various welfare or social assistance programs provided by various governments will attest to that.

    Then there’s the flip side that brings pride into the equation… it is often those that sit pretty much in the middle who truly do have a “need” for assistance but their own pride won’t allow them to request the help. And while I am a HUGE fan of transparency, for these types individuals, if that transparency could mean that colleagues, peers and/or the public would end up knowing that they had requested assistance through the form of some kind of grant, they will end up going without rather than asking.

    Another thought on the idea of a dependent allowance being per dependent is the question of how does household income fit into the picture? If you’re looking at it from a “needs” assessment angle, let’s say there are two individuals who are virtually the same in every way: they live next door to each other, they each have 3 dependents of the exact same circumstances, they earn the exact same salary, their spending habits and expenses are identical… all with ONE exception… person A has a partner contributing an equal amount of salary to the household and person B does not. If you’re looking for “equality” they both get the same allowance; if you’re looking for “justice” they would not.

    I paused at this point in writing this comment, because I feel like I’ve raised more questions and I don’t typically like to raise questions without being able to offer at least some suggestions that could help lead towards solutions. But I’ll be honest, this is a challenging one. I’m not sure that there is a one size fits all type of solution and I feel like there is risk of this component alone becoming an administrative nightmare. There were some great suggestions included in the comments below, so maybe there’s a hybrid of some of those that would work best. As I’ve been learning more and more about the way Buffer works and thinks, I have a pretty good feeling that this topic is one that will continue to be processed and internalized and possibly even adjusted more over time. I admire the Buffer team for even having this on the table, I don’t envy them in their efforts to find the best setup.

    I feel that the move to a grant model is a good move in many ways, I worry about the individuals who won’t apply for the grant because it feels too much like asking for financial assistance… so I feel that wording and process could be extremely important with this model.

    Hmmm… here we go, an “idea” ! lol…. What if, instead of anything built into salaries or applied for, there was a “pool of funds” then at the same time each year all employees were sent a questionnaire – this questionnaire would cover a wide range of areas: number of dependents, household income, completed professional development, completed training for hobbies, number of pets, change in marital status (I’m sure there’s other areas that could be covered too)… then perhaps there could be a “needs assessment” process developed to use and that could determine the amount of an “annual bonus” type of situation?

    From the feeling I get of the Buffer culture, I have a hard time believing that anyone would say that an individual who suddenly found themselves faced with an unexpected financial burden shouldn’t get a bit more than someone who has kids and a contributing spouse or who wants to learn how to skydive. It could end up that everyone still ends up getting something extra, but it could be done on a score basis of some kind where “need” items rank higher than “want” items type of thing.

    I’m sure something like this would need a whole lot more fleshing out and consideration – but who knows, it just might be a bit of food for thought! :-)

  • Angelique Slob

    Interesting topic! When I read your original post I also felt that including the dependence in the formula didn’t really feel right, although I do agree with the intention behind it.

    I think the dependent grand is an elegant solution to the topic, especially since it will open the possibility for additional support for other situations.

    Either way, huge compliments for your philosophy and the fact that Buffer is actually giving thoughts to benefits in this way.

  • Hardip

    I’m VERY single I still see this as a progressive approach. In my previous company, a colleague’s wife got pregnant with their second child but actually had to leave as they wouldn’t have been able to afford the additional childcare (he went onto contracting). He was a really talented developer and loved the company, so it was really sad to see him go!

    Whilst I see why people might think this is unfair, I think they’re forgetting how expensive children actually are.

    Nice work Buffer!

  • Wow! You have really put a lot of thought into this. I love this, as I too, had my first child in France while I was a college student. The government gave me a stipend and paid for all medical and it wasn’t looked down upon, all French families look forward to the stipend to help raise children in France. Yes, children cost A LOT to raise and especially if you’re living the U.S. just childcare can be $1,400 per child per month when they are under age two.
    You’re right that fair does not mean equal. In the end, you cannot possible please everyone but your team is doing what you feel is right in your heart and that’s what matters the most. If we can all raise the level of compassion toward others who may not be in the same situation as us, life becomes much easier in the long run.

  • Lakey

    Has anyone heard it takes a village to raise a child? We were put here to have children. Having children is an expression of love between two people. If we did not have children then none of us would be here. Yes it is a choice but it takes a lot of dedication and love to make such a choice to contribute to society which is what that is. Where do our Startup owners and our Presidents and firemen, police officers,etc. come from? People making the choice to have children. It is not unfair to include an employee’s family in their salary. Technically you would not be making more money than your single employees because they would be living more comfortably with their salaries and lack of extra expenses while you are budgeting and still not being able to live as comfortable. I am a mother of multiple children. My oldest daughter alone would eat up that stipend because she is in college. So that would take away from my other dependents as well. Even though buffer means well I think that it should be the companies choice to decide what is right for their workers and not let other employees decide or even have access to another employees work salary. This is not a political race where everyone is counting votes. This is a job where people are working hard to make the owner’s dream come true. Like you stated your family received a stipend where you lived and it helped your family a lot. I am sure the government did that because it believed it’s people deserved it. I personally believe it is not my job to make sure the next person have the salary I think they should have. I should be more concerned with my own salary and work towards being a better employee and remaining loyal for my next raise. Working families make up a large majority of the working industry. I think others should be more sensitive to those families. Just because you do not have dependents today does not mean you will find yourself in that position later on.