For as long as we’ve run Buffer, we’ve had to send new team members some form of employment agreement. We’re currently in the middle of raising $3.5m in new funding and, as part of the due diligence in this funding round, we’ve been revisited these agreements.
We’ve never felt completely comfortable about the agreements we send out, and it can often be a shock and in stark contrast to the style of the rest of our hiring process, where we try to take extra steps to show that we truly care about people.
When we revisited the agreements, this discomfort became emphasized again and a few people on the team were awesome enough to ask questions about some of the implications of the agreement.
Here’s the agreement. It’s fairly standard and although some of the wording can be difficult and even scary, we understand the need for it:
There are some parts of this that we felt could be a shock to read, such as:
I agree that all inventions developed by me during the period of time I am in the employ of the Company (including during my off-duty hours) are the sole property of the Company.
This time around, we felt compelled to truly address the concerns and our own feeling that the employment agreement could sometimes feel a little misaligned with our culture of caring (or, as we like to say, “it didn’t feel completely ‘Buffery'”).
Our solution was to come up with a pledge to all team members at Buffer. It is completely legally sound, yet is genuine and shows our trust and care for new and existing team members. It’s something we plan to always share alongside the employment agreement, in some ways as an explanation of the agreement as we see it.
I’ve casually mentioned the pledge to a few people and the first thing they ask is, “Can you show me?” and “Will you publish it?”
Today, we’re excited to be fully transparent and share the pledge.
Pledge to Buffer Team Members
Thanks so much for being part of Buffer and expanding the culture and values and how much we can help customers.
As part of joining the team, as with any other company, there are a number of legal forms to fill out. Some of these can seem intimidating, and we wanted to take a moment to clarify some of it and share our pledge to you.
To begin with, we must say that this pledge does not modify the agreements that you, as an existing or new team member, are signing. In the rare case of a conflict, the agreements will control. To help you understand our view, we want to share our additional thoughts:
Purpose of the employment agreement
- These documents are for worst-case scenarios, and also are what an acquirer might require from us, should we find ourselves going through that process.
- It is completely up to us as the executives (more technically, the board) whether we would ever enforce what is in the agreement.
Our philosophy on working with you as team members
- We want to do everything we can to help you be the happiest, most productive and to progress as much as you can towards your life goals, as part of Buffer.
- We completely trust you. We don’t track hours worked and we don’t mind where you work from. We know that you’re ambitious and self-driven and you’ll be in a team within Buffer and work with the team towards goals.
- We love it when team members have side projects or side startups. If you have an idea or you’re working on something, share it with the team. As founders we want to help as much as we can, we’d love to share our experiences from the early days of Buffer. If your project grows and you want to pursue it full-time, we’ll be excited for you and want to keep helping if that’s useful for you. This has happened twice before with Belle Beth Cooper, who went on to start Exist and Michelle Sun, who went on to start First Code Academy. It’s one of the most gratifying things to see as a founder. If you let us, we might even invest.
- When you get equipment from us (Jawbone UP, Kindle, laptop, etc.) we intend for that to be yours to own, put stickers on, or do anything that comes to mind. When you leave the company, we want you to keep these items too. We’d only ever ask you to return or remove things which Buffer needs to keep internal.
- If you are thinking that somewhere else might be a better fit than Buffer, we might be sad but we’ll be excited to help you find the very best place for you to be and thrive. We want you to land your top choice, and we’ll help with advice, introductions, or simply a listening ear. Let us know while you’re still part of Buffer and take time off for the interviews.
The most important thing
- We strive to work as servant leaders. Having a positive culture and challenging the norms to achieve it is part of what excites us. The team is what matters the most: We can’t keep growing and innovating without being part of the group, and all the credit belongs to you. We care a lot and we’ll always try to live by our 10th value to Do the Right Thing.
This pledge is a work in progress and we might find things to add to it from time to time. The nature of it will never change.
Joel, Leo, Sunil and Carolyn
Do you have anything similar in your company? I’d love your thoughts on how you’ve solved challenges when it comes to employment agreements. Let me know in the comments below!