Can a Creative Company Form A Creative Workplace?

Maker platform Etsy takes a handcrafted approach to cultivating employee engagement and a creative workplace culture.


       Etsy’s Hudson, New York Office (Photo: Etsy)

Birds flit to and fro in a sunlit courtyard and dart into the adjacent building. Ivy climbs the brick. People chat at picnic tables and sip seltzer or craft beer, their plates toppling with turkey burgers and organic cupcakes from the local chef on site. This is Eatsy, a biweekly catered lunch at Etsy’s office in Hudson, New York, where the Etsy Support team works out of a lumber factory turned open-floor, industrial-chic office space.

These gourmet meals take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays at all nine of Etsy’s offices, where 819 employees stationed in metropolises such as Berlin, Dublin, Tokyo and Paris support more than 1.4 million creative entrepreneurs using the e-marketplace to sell primarily vintage and handmade items. In 2015, $2.39 billion in gross merchandise sales were made via the Etsy platform, up 24 percent from 2014. Etsy’s popularity with consumers is based on a sense of authenticity and care, and in building the company over the past decade, leadership has taken a hands-on approach to ensuring corporate culture fits this aesthetic as well.

Etsy has been a certified B Corporation since 2012, meaning the company meets extensive standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency, as overseen by the nonprofit organization B Lab, while cementing these values in company policy, documents and governance. B Lab’s vision is that “one day all companies compete not only to be the best in the world, but the Best for the World.” Etsy went public in 2015, and they’re the first U.S. company to complete a successful B Corp assessment post-IPO. Their current overall B score, 127 out of a possible 200, puts them in the top 10 percent of all B Corps.

What does being a B Corp look like in practice? For Etsy, it’s about putting company values of mindfulness, craftsmanship, fun and stewardship into wide-reaching practice. The company donates surplus food and created the Etsy Sustainability Commission to closely monitor its environmental impact. To promote charitable efforts, U.S. employees receive 40 hours of paid time off for volunteering as well as corporate matching of charitable donations. Etsy also donates refurbished company computers to disadvantaged students around the world. In Hudson, specifically, it means commissioning the office’s communal desks from a neighboring Etsy seller and sending their compost to a community garden down the block.

This spirit of giving-back and being part of a community has benefits for both the employees and the company. According to Etsy’s 2014 Happiness Index, an anonymous survey conducted by a third party, 92 percent of their employees feel aligned with the company’s mission and values, and 86 percent feel connected to Etsy and their coworkers. And Great Places to Work, which ranked Etsy No. 6 on Fortune’s 2015 25 Best Medium Workplaces list, found that 98 percent of employees describe the company as having a great atmosphere, and 97 percent are proud to tell others they work there.

Etsy’s Hudson, New York Office (Photo: Etsy)

Aside from progressive company policies, Etsy is always looking for new ways to foster creativity, promote collaboration and nurture each employee’s inner engineer. During Etsy’s annual Hack Week, employees are invited to set aside their regular workload and come up with new ideas, projects and features, both for their offices and the Etsy marketplace. Last summer, hack projects included the creation of a balcony orchard and garden in Dublin and a redecoration of the Melbourne, Australia space with artwork from Etsy sellers. Other Hack Week successes include a staff directory tool enabling employees to send personalized recognition to coworkers. This break from the norm offers employees a chance to flex their creativity in new ways, leading to small successes that improve the workplace by using the best resource they have: the minds of their employees.

Making good on the credo, “We believe the best work is born from happy, inspired, and empowered people,” Etsy not only makes a concerted effort to promote creativity and satisfaction, but also ensures that benefits are both offered and encouraged. For example, Etsy employees are eligible for 26 weeks of fully paid leave when they become a parent, regardless of their gender, location or family circumstance. At least eight of those weeks have to be taken consecutively in the first six months after welcoming a child, and the remaining 18 weeks can be scheduled over two years. While extended paid family leave has become a popular offering in the tech world as of late, not all companies have built a culture that actually supports the policies. Etsy aims to combat any stigma by assisting managers with leave planning and temporary staffing changes, and by educating all employees on bias against parents. “Our goal was to position Etsy for the long-term, given the changes happening in family structures, roles and workplace culture globally,” company communications director Juliet Gorman writes in a post on the Etsy blog. “We believe that policies that retain talented parents strengthen our overall employee base.”

“When my wife and I adopted our son nearly four years ago, I took the full five weeks of leave we offered at the time,” adds Chad Dickerson, Etsy’s CEO. “It was the most important way I could have spent that time. Building a company is a team effort that includes the immense support we get from our families.”