Why We Have a Careosity Fund to Help Employees Explore Their Passions

by Josh Ritchie

We believe that growth is one of the most important things in the world. Sometimes growth is painful; sometimes it’s joyful. Regardless, it’s an important part of the human experience, both personally and professionally. Hence, Column Five tries to (gently) push and encourage our people to grow as much as possible.

As a company, we think deeply about the ways we can support our employees in our policies, our benefits, and our culture. I’m happy to say that the bigger we’ve grown, the more we’ve been able to do that, whether it’s making strides to support new parents or letting people work remotely.

That’s why, a few years back, we introduced an individual education budget meant to foster more professional growth. The idea was simple: Every year, each employee was allotted a certain amount of money to be spent on something related to their professional growth and education. The idea was that C5ers would use it for things like classes, trainings, conferences, etc. A designer might use it to take an animation class. A producer might put it toward a webinar on time management.

No matter what they used it for, the deal was that they’d do it and then come back and give a short presentation about what they learned to their department or the whole company (if relevant).

It was a nice idea, but it didn’t work the way we wanted it to.

The Problem

At the time, we considered it a nice little perk and a helpful way to knowledge share. However, over time, we realized two things:

  1. Not everyone was using it. There were plenty of reasons for this. People were too busy to take time off, they didn’t see things that captured their interest, or they simply forgot the education budget was there.
  2. We had trouble deciphering what it could and couldn’t be used for. If one person wanted to use it to buy animation software, that seemed clear. But if another wanted to go to a conference in Mexico, then tack on a vacation after, things got a little murky.

When we offer people something, we want them to use it. But both of these issues showed us that we may need to rethink the education budget entirely.

We believe that if something doesn’t work or doesn’t achieve its purpose, there’s no reason to cling to it, whether it’s a benefit or a process (which is why we ditched our project debriefs a while back, too). We also believe in transparency and honest conversations about the things we really need to do our best work. While we were considering how to retool our education budget, our VP of People and Culture Tamara Hlava noticed that one recurring theme C5ers had mentioned over the last year was the importance of health and wellness—and the desire for C5 to support it more.

This made us think about a new direction for those education funds.

What We Did

Our company vision is to help build a future where everyone can live healthy and fulfilled lives. Our education budget was meant to promote that by helping people follow their curiosity, cultivate creativity, and find inspiration. But the more we thought about it, the more we realized that “a healthy and fulfilled life” looks different for everyone.

For some it’s taking a solo trip to clear your head or attending a motivational retreat (shoutout to Best Lives Retreat, cofounded by Senior Producer Jonathan Sweet). For others, it’s exploring a passion or meditating in a weekly yoga class.

Ultimately, if the goal of the education budget was to help people grow, we realized it shouldn’t be limited to only IRS-approved educational expenses.

We want our people to feel supported and valued, and we figured a way to do that would be to put these funds in their hands. So we decided to replace the education with budget with something new, a perk that was:

  1. More straightforward and inclusive to individual preferences
  2. Aligned with our vision
  3. Legit (aka followed IRS guidelines)

Thus, the Careiosity Fund was born.

What Is a Careiosity Fund?

Our Careiosity Fund is centered around curiosity, inspiration, and growth. It’s a set annual amount (determined by seniority) that C5ers can use toward the things they feel foster a healthy and fulfilled life.

To figure out what that looks like, we encourage people to ask themselves:

  • What are you curious about?
  • What inspires you?
  • What are your personal goals, and what steps can you take to get there?  
  • How do you want to grow personally or professionally?

The answers vary from person to person, and thus the funds can be used for a variety of things:

  • Subscribing to Audible to enjoy as many books as possible
  • Traveling to a conference to learn something new
  • Taking a ceramics class to do something outside of your comfort zone
  • Getting a gym membership to feel stronger
  • Exploring a new museum exhibit to feed your creativity

Thus far, it’s been a successful change and a great way for us to follow through on our vision. We’ve seen way more people taking advantage of their funds (awesome), and our finance team doesn’t have to spend time determining what they can and can’t approve (even more awesome).

In fact, it’s been so well received that we’d recommend every organization implement their own version of the Careiosity Fund. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a fairly minimal financial investment that has a huge payoff in terms of employee health, wellness, and satisfaction. And even if you don’t have a huge budget, offering even a little something is a meaningful gesture to show you value your people.

We truly believe that the more we expand our minds, care for our bodies, and nurture our inspirations, the more content and balanced we feel. This gives us more energy and headspace to fuel our creativity—and do better work for our partners and for each other.

For us, that makes our Careiosity Fund worth every penny.

We Hope We Never Stop Learning

In the spirit of the Careiosity Fund, we’re always eager to stay open and willing to grow and improve the way we run our business. Whether that means ditching ineffective policies or tweaking the way we work, we take pride in learning—and sharing what we’ve learned in hopes it will help other people grow too. If you’re curious to learn more about the way we do things:

And if you want to work with us, let’s talk.

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