Perks and Principles for My Coworkers at Stonemaier Games

7 September 2020 | 18 Comments

Today is Labor Day in the United States. It’s a day that I typically talk about how I try to pay freelancers quickly and fairly, which is still true, but this year we actually have a payroll with two other full-time employees. Joe became our Director of Operations in January, and Alex became our Director of Sales last week.

I’ve spent my entire adult life fascinated by different perks and principles offered by other companies, so it’s been exciting to actually apply some of those methods to my own company (and to continue to add to the list). Here’s what Stonemaier Games offers:

  • Work when you want: There are no set working hours at Stonemaier Games–just get the job done. There are a lot of salaried jobs that require 40 hours of work a week from employees, which baffles me. I understand having a set number of hours for hourly employees, but I believe in trusting salaried employees to do their jobs, regardless of time.*
  • Unlimited vacation: While this has been a difficult year to use this perk, I hope Joe and Alex will take advantage of it in 2021 and beyond (if they don’t, I will try to see what’s standing in their way so I can remove that barrier). Again, I trust them to get their jobs done, and I can cover for them when they’re traveling just as they would cover for me.
  • Work from home: This is the new normal for a lot of people, and perhaps it’s not a perk for everyone. But the convenience of it is huge: No commute, access to your full kitchen (and your bed if you need a nap), and extra time with your pets. Also, I’ve encouraged Joe and Alex to enhance their home offices at Stonemaier’s expense whenever they want.
  • No expense reports or permissions: Speaking of expenses, there’s no bureaucracy, paperwork, or permissions at Stonemaier. Joe and Alex have free rein to buy what they need (for themselves and sometimes even for freelancers and customers).
  • Retirement savings contribution: A lot of companies offer a money match on retirement up to a certain percentage of the employee’s strategy, which I like in that it may encourage people who wouldn’t otherwise contribute to long-term savings. But when I was setting this up, it occurred to me that it shouldn’t really matter to me if our employees save or don’t save for retirement–it’s their money, not mine. But I do care about their future, so instead, Stonemaier contributes a set amount to their retirement funds each year (an amount that is substantially higher than what a standard money match would be).
  • Guaranteed annual cost-of-living raise: Throughout my career, I’ve liked when employers offer a cost-of-living raise independent of merit, responsibilities, and company success. Those other elements may result in raises too, but they’re on top of a guaranteed annual cost-of-living raise.
  • Autonomy and authority: This falls more into the “principles” category than “perks,” and it’s tied to the various elements of trust mentioned above. While Joe and Alex run certain big decisions by me, they have full autonomy and authority within their core responsibilities (and within our mission of bringing joy to tabletops worldwide). I also encourage them to call me out when I’m not doing my best to accomplish that mission.
  • Election Day: In some countries, election day is a national holiday. This makes so much sense for any democratic nation, but because the US doesn’t do it, any company can make up for it by making it a holiday for their employees. Joe and Alex are welcome to work on election day, but I’ve made it very clear they’re not expected to do so.
  • No regular meetings: I believe that meetings are purely for collaboration or connection that can’t happen effectively in other formats–they’re not for reporting, oversight, or reviewing decisions that have already been made. As a result, we have very few meetings, and we only meet when we need to (usually for a playtest).

Fair salaries and health care are also part of what we provide to employees, but I consider those more in the category of “rights,” not perks.

*Several people in the comments mentioned that not having a clear expectation on working hours can lead to overworked employees. In that way, having a rough target of 40 hours a week is a good idea in principle, and we have that at Stonemaier. But I don’t care of Joe and Alex actually work 40 hours a week (or when they work) as long as the job gets done. There might easily be weeks when they only work 30 hours or less, and that’s fine. I think a big part of it is having clear responsibilities and keeping an open door so employees can let me know if those responsibilities are extending beyond a reasonable amount of time.

I hope to expand this list over time, as I really want to make sure that my coworkers feel valued, appreciated, and trusted. Are there any perks or principles you’ve experienced or heard about that I might consider in the future? What do you think about our list?

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18 Comments on “Perks and Principles for My Coworkers at Stonemaier Games

  1. Wow, just wow! The respect I have for you, as a person, has just elevated tremendously.

    What baffles me is why I have such a strong reaction to hearing the implementation of policies that should just be boiler-plate for any business.

    Now I feel drawn to making a special trip to my local game store to buy one of your games just because.

  2. A lot of people have accurately recognized the pitfalls that definitely can exist when dealing with “work when you want” and “unlimited vacation”. Personally, I believe they work very well when there is two-way trust but not when there’s not. In my case, I’m not worried, but thank you all for encouraging Jamey to keep that line of communication only.

    Interestingly, in my case, the combination of those two elements plus the fact that I’m mostly working with other companies means that traditional business holidays end up making sense for vacation days for me, as I won’t have a lot of communication to respond to those days anyway. Conveniently, those also tend to be days my wife gets off (we had a lovely game day yesterday). That may not be true for Joe, however. In a small company we have the freedom to handle things on a case-by-case basis, though.

  3. No meetings works when you’re small and can still “shoulder tap” any information you need and can pretty much always know what’s happening throughout your entire organization with a quick conversation or a fast look up.

    Once you hit 150+ employees, meetings are more of a requirement to update decision makers about what’s going on throughout the business since it is no longer possible to know everyone’s name or what they’re doing.

    I like your perks, I think they are solid. And I doubt you have dreams of growing to a several hundred person organization, but I did want to point out your mindset on meetings only works so far as the organization is small enough for you to know everyone and what they’re doing.

  4. Although this seems a bit old-fashioned terminology, the maximum amount of hours worked per week (for instance the reasonable 40 hours) is a right conquered by the working class after many decades, if not centuries, of massive exploitation by their employers – and in Europe this also includes a month of holidays with payed salary. I think it makes sense to recognize this viewpoint, at as well.

    It is true that under the current social and economic system it is extremely appealing to have the chance of deciding when and how to sell our work-force (to continue using the same terminology). This, however, has some downsides – even more than those explained by Jamie and some others in the comments. But the main one, from my point of view, is that it makes of us all entrepreneurs. Not that I have anything against being one, but in structural terms this means a radical social change. To put the slightliest example, administrative work has now been transferred mostly to the actual workers (doctors practving in a hospital, researchers at a university, etc have to do an overwhelming amount of paperwork in the name of this new economic model).

    Of course, I just wanted to point out this additional angle to the discussion. I fully understand (and, although irrelevant here, support) Jamie’s decisions regarding how to manage the company. On top of that, I am a very social person, which means that sharing a conversation and working together with people increases my productivity. I understand that most of the meetings are pointless (especially when nowadays we can do the same thing remotely), but human contact is irreplaceable – otherwise Stonemaier should focus exclusively on the digital apps based on its games rather than in producing boardgames.

    Congratulations to Alex for being part of such an amazing project!

  5. I really respect the work when you want policy. When I used to do private painting jobs, my favorite thing was that my work was done when the job was finished. Imagine having a painter come to your house to paint your room, and then just sit around when the job is finished saying ‘I get off at 5’. I despise the idea of having to just sit around because I’m expected to work a certain amount hours.

    However, does this work when you want policy lead to issues with overworking at all? How do you try to make sure that people aren’t feeling pressured to work 60 hours because they have too many tasks?

    1. That’s a great point. As for your question, I think a big part of it is having clear responsibilities and keeping an open door so employees can let me know if those responsibilities are extending beyond a reasonable amount of time. In that way, having a rough target of 40 hours a week is a good idea in principle, and we have that at Stonemaier. But I don’t care of Joe and Alex actually work 40 hours a week (or when they work) as long as the job gets done. That said, as I mentioned to Rachael below, I should check in with Joe and Alex from time to time to see if they are happy with their work/life balance and if their responsibilities are taking up more than 40 hours a week.

  6. Very sensible policies that I can get behind, especially in a small company where people have a more direct attachment to the outcomes.

    Most of these points can be distilled down to treating your staff like responsible adults, and if you treat them like responsible people they will behave that way. Treat them like workshy freeloaders or children, and they will behave that way too.A great litmus test for this is if your staff say ‘we’ or ‘they’ when referring to the company in casual conversation.

    This has been particularly pertinent of late thanks to a lot of organisations being forced to implement working from home policies, and particularly out here in the Middle East where face time is so valued and the management style is often very much about ‘control’. Organisations simply don’t trust their workers to do the right thing, and so are scared that home workers will not be delivering. My response to that is if you think as soon as your back is turned your workers will be taking advantage of you, then you have either hired wrong or managed them wrong, or both.

  7. I’d run the “no expense reports” thing by your accountant. You need to have a proper paper trail for valid expenses to be accepted by the IRS (I would imagine – I am not American). You don’t want to be audited and then find yourself scrambling to find receipts and such.

  8. I’ve worked with many of these conditions as a self-employed designer (at home, no set hours, vacation when I want) for the last 20 years and it’s been ideal for me – and the work I’ve produced has always benefited because of those conditions. Prior to that I worked in a traditional office setting as an architect – and while there were lots of pros there too, I can’t imagine ever going back to that kind of 9 to 5 scenario. It just seems outdated and less productive (in my experience). Then just recently I took a job to help a company design and develop a new board game – and manage the project, marketing and production. A lot of work and a lot of responsibility – and to this company’s credit they’ve given me the same work flexibility I’ve been used to. And that’s great for me for the logistics of how I work – but it says more about the trust factor – which I think is one of the biggest factors in these scenarios. If you trust the people you’re hiring than back that up with these kind of policies. In my experience, seeing an employer demonstrate that trust results in a tighter, more productive and more supportive relationship.

  9. Insurance is a major perk, so I hope that is on the way.

    I agree that Work When You Want is a blessing and a curse. I know that being a dedicated and self-starting worker has its downside of overworking. Sometimes so much so that the owner doesn’t realize. I’m a workaholic too so I get it.

  10. That is quite an amazing list for the team. I’d be over the moon with such a forward thinking employer.

    As noted elsewhere Work When You Want should also be met with a mental health check because it’s very easy to overwork under that system but the unlimited holidays takes care of that.

  11. Work When You Want can be a double-edged sword.

    At its best it allows staff to work flexibly, and not worry about sending their boss an email first thing in the morning or last thing at night, just to look productive, when they could have logged off 2 hours early today and spent time with the family, knowing that the project is well in hand.

    At its worst, it allows managers to pile unreasonable or even impossible demands onto employees with the assumption that they will just give up their own time to do something that should never have been asked of them.

    None of that is to accuse Stonemaier of anything, just to say that a lack of fixed hours is only a good thing when it’s done by people with good intentions towards their workers. In the hands of companies who like to exploit their workers, it’s just another tool.

    1. I’d have to agree with the double-edged nature of arrangements where get the job done is coupled with unlimited vacation. There still could be checks and balances where the work load or expectation is unambiguously reasonable for maintaining a life balance. From experience hours can easily spiral to 50, 60 and well beyond when the expected work load far outpaces what can reasonably be accomplished.

      I’m interested in what techniques are used to prioritize or otherwise shape the work load such that everyone can reach the right balance and reach a point of “done” for the day.

    2. Dor and James: I think a big part of it is having clear responsibilities and keeping an open door so employees can let me know if those responsibilities are extending beyond a reasonable amount of time. In that way, having a rough target of 40 hours a week is a good idea in principle, and we have that at Stonemaier. But I don’t care of Joe and Alex actually work 40 hours a week (or when they work) as long as the job gets done. That said, as I mentioned to Rachael above, I should check in with Joe and Alex from time to time to see if they are happy with their work/life balance and if their responsibilities are taking up more than 40 hours a week.

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