From the start of Lemonly, I made it a goal to create a company that people could be proud to be a part of. I wanted people to know Lemonly for two things: 1) amazing visual storytelling, and 2) a company environment and culture where people come first.

I wanted to be an example of a special company, particularly in our home of Sioux Falls, where there are fewer examples of these “new age” or Silicon Valley-type companies. I wanted to inspire other Sioux Falls entrepreneurs and businesses to build people-first companies.

I’ve always been inspired by Basecamp and the company that Jason Fried and DHH have created. In fact, Rework is the first book I recommend people read when they join the Lemonly team. A few years ago, I bookmarked a post by Jason about employee benefits at Basecamp. I couldn’t agree with Jason’s comment more:

Everyone’s looking to know what everyone else is doing — as are we — so I figured I might as well post our current benefit list publicly.


We’ve come a long way not only in building our culture, but also in sharing our processes and policies publicly. A few highlights: In 2017, we launched the Company Culture Survey and shared insights from more than 400 employees about what they want from their workplaces. Last year, we created an ebook and blog series to share what we’ve learned about internal communication. And this spring we launched an online course to help organizations build great company culture based on our own frameworks and lessons learned from nine years in business.

I think the push we needed at Lemonly to really ignite the culture was to embrace transparency and share the good news of our culture. We were already writing posts about Lemonly’s culture and sharing why it mattered. But in January 2017, we chose to make all of our benefits public to ensure we were walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

Each year moving forward, we’re posting the continuation and updates to Lemonly’s employee benefits, because we know we can’t just stay put. Culture is always changing and never complete, so we keep building.

*Any listed benefit with an asterisk means it has been updated or added in 2020.


Lemonly’s employee benefits as of January 1, 2020

Work anywhere: People at Lemonly can work from wherever they want. We currently have remote employees in Vancouver, Canada, and New York City. In the past, we have had team members in Florida, Idaho, and as far away as Serbia. This benefit isn’t just for remote workers, either. HQ folks in Sioux Falls can work at home, a coffee shop, or do a workation—wherever they get their work done. *Update March 2020: With the global pandemic shifting the entire company to remote work for an indefinite period, we now have all Lemonheads working from home.

Top 25% salaries: Most job postings list competitive salary—we used to do it, too—but no one ever knows what that means. We’re trying to get smarter about salary and what is appropriate in our marketplace. Honestly, we still don’t have enough data and need more research, but so far we’ve found that our salaries fall in the upper 25% for our market. We try to measure our salaries off of the local market, so Sioux Falls folks in Sioux Falls and Vancouver folks in Vancouver, etc.

Vacations and paid holidays: Lemonly offers 3 weeks of paid vacation (15 days), 8 national holidays every year (we have a U.S. calendar as well as a Canadian calendar for our Vancouver friends), and 2 sick days for a total of 25 paid days off per year. Employees who’ve worked five years at Lemonly get to bump their PTO up to 20 vacation days. On top of this, we offer flexibility for folks who want to take extended trips (honeymoons, trips abroad, time with family) by letting them either go into negative PTO and make it up, work extra time, or even take unpaid days.

*Extra Earned PTO: We don’t want our employees continuously working 50-hour weeks and getting burned out, but if they do have to put more time in than normal during our busy sprints, we want them to be rewarded in some way. If an employee works more than 15% above their standard week (typically 40 hours), they’ll receive extra hours in their PTO bank to use as they wish. We have a standard equation for how many hours are received based on both total hours worked that week and the amount of client work accomplished, incentivizing producers to put in the extra time when needed, but giving a standardized amount of time to everyone who goes above and beyond. 

VTO (Volunteer Time Off): We give 1% of our top-line revenue to nonprofits and charities, but money is only half of the equation. We also want to give time, so every Lemonly employee gets four hours of VTO (volunteer time off) per year. So if they want to volunteer/serve/fundraise/whatever a cause of their choice needs, they have four hours to do so on company time.

Summer Hours: We started doing summer hours back in 2013. The concept is simple: From Memorial Day through Labor Day, we shut down the office early on Fridays. Folks only have to put in six hours instead of eight on Friday and can come in late or leave early (most people leave early). Summer Hours serves two purposes:

  1. It gives folks something to look forward to. When you’re grinding it out in March and April, you can be excited knowing Summer Hours are just around the corner.
  2. It gets folks outside. We live in South Dakota and have long, bitterly cold winters. The last thing we want to do during our summer months is be stuck in an office. With Summer Hours, people can hit the road, head to the lake, or whatever they want to do to kick their weekend off a little earlier. And guess what? We see no loss in productivity during Summer Hours.

Health, dental and vision insurance: Lemonly offers a Sanford PPO for health insurance and will pay $250/month ($3,000 annually) toward employee health insurance. We also offer dental and vision coverage through a supplemental Principal Insurance plan and accidental, heart health, and cancer policies offered by Aflac, but these costs are incurred by the employee.

*Employee Assistance Plan: New in 2020, our EAP is offered through KeySolutions. KeySolutions assists employees in overcoming concerns that are impacting their personal lives so that they can thrive in their occupational lives. The program offers assistance with mental and emotional health, addiction issues, substance abuse, and family/parenting concerns. All Lemonly employees and family members can utilize KeySolutions.

100% match 401k retirement plan: After one year of employment at the company, Lemonly will match 100% dollar-for-dollar (up to 3% of the employee’s salary) that Lemonheads contribute to the plan. In 2017 and 2018, we also did a $20,000 end-of-year profit-sharing bonus split up to those who are in the 401k plan.

*Paid parental leaveLemonly increased our paid leave for parents in 2020, now offering six weeks of paid leave for new moms and three weeks of paid leave for new dads. We also have two parents in the office who work varied four-day weeks to allow them to have more time at home.

5-year Adventure Bonus: In 2017, our five-and-a-half-year-old company had our first employee reach five years at the company. We highly value loyalty, and in accordance with our core value of Adventure, we decided to give each employee who reaches their five-year Lemonversary $2,500 and an extra week of vacation to travel internationally with a guest. We call this the Adventure Bonus. We’ve had four employees take their adventure bonuses, traveling to places like Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Italy, and the Dominican Republic.

Continuing education allowance: If folks want to take an online course, buy a book for the Lemonly library, or attend a conference, they simply need to ask. We want our employees to continue to learn and grow. We also have a Skillshare membership for employees to use as they wish and learn whatever they’d like.

Company retreat: Lemonly will cover an all-expenses-paid trip for our annual company retreat. We fly the remote employees in and head to a lake, cabin, or city away from Sioux Falls to share ideas on how to improve the company and to get to know our coworkers outside of the office even better.

All the warm fuzzy feelings! See more about our retreat activities on the blog. (Link in bio.) ???

A photo posted by Lemonly (@thinklemonly) on

100% coverage of hardware/software: Lemonly will cover the total cost for hardware, software, or subscriptions team members need to do their jobs. Get the right tools, do the best work.

*Profit sharing: We set company goals for each quarter that are shared with the team and measured weekly. If we beat those goals, Lemonly gives bonus vacation days to the whole team. If at the end of the year the company beats our overall annual revenue goal, Lemonly shares every dollar above the goal 50/50—half to reinvest in the company and half to team members based on how long each employee has been at Lemonly.

Annual 3/2/1 charity donation: At the end of the year, we set aside $6,000 to be donated to local charities. Each employee nominates a charity of their choice. The team votes for their favorite three, and based on those votes, we make donations of $3,000, $2,000, and $1,000 to the top three.

When employees donate money to a qualified charity, Lemonly will also make a matching gift to that charity on their behalf (annual matching budget of $6,000). Charities must be a registered 501c3.

Bi-monthly lunch and learn: Every other month, we bring in a local presenter, feature a Lemonly team member with an expertise, or visit a location to learn about a topic relevant to our team, ranging from mortgages and investing to making sushi and yoga basics. Lemonly provides the lunch and the time to learn. So far, so good.

Office snacks and beverages: Over the past couple years, we’ve curated our list of office goodies more closely and are continually adding to it with more healthy snacks. We have our ongoing supply of La Croix (we’re no longer buying soda—see the wellness section below), local coffee, local beer (A beer is still better than a soda, right? Everything in moderation.), and an array of healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, Greek yogurt, and more.

Lemonly holiday gift: We try to do exciting gifts for the holiday season. For example, in a recent year, we gave each employee $80 and 90 minutes to go out and spend it on themselves. Some hopped on the Internet, some hit the streets in downtown Sioux Falls, and the Vancouver crew even got together at a mall in their area. We reconvened for a great round of showandtell.

Wellness Task Force: A big focus for our company in 2018 was wellness, so the WTF (Wellness Task Force) was born. Our definition of wellness is all-encompassing, including mental, physical, spiritual, financial, and social wellness. The WTF comprises a handful of Lemonheads who get together to discuss team needs, start company challenges, and hold folks accountable. Over the past two years, we’ve had a subscription to Headspace for meditation, hosted office yoga, made monthly breakfast for the office, hosted financial education workshops, ran a team 5k, brought in a masseuse, held a screen time challenge, and more. Each year new Lemonheads join the WTF and the ideas are always evolving.


Where do you start?

The first point to understand when developing a company culture and building out HR policies is that it’s a puzzle of pieces that continue to evolve and change. We constantly add pieces and change pieces of our policies as our team grows not only in size but also in age. We want to put together compensation packages and benefits that are most relevant and needed by our team.

This second point, to all business owners and entrepreneurs especially, don’t worry if you can’t offer everything you want to today. Most of these benefits we did not have even three years ago. With each year that Lemonly gets older, we reassess the team’s wants/needs and try to add to the benefits and compensation package. The important part is to just get started and build that company culture piece by piece.

If you have questions about any of these policies, feel free to email me at john@lemonly.com. I’d also love to hear ideas of new benefits or perks we should add to the roster.

Best of luck to you and your team in 2020!