Benefits Decoded

An interview with Kimberly Bringas at Olark Live Chat

In this Benefits Decoded, we talk with Kimberly Bringas, HR and Culture Enthusiast for Olark Live Chat.

Kimberly shares how she tailored her benefits program to reflect her company’s values, what three questions she answers to get her executives to buy into her program recommendations, as well as the challenges she faced when trying to create a paid leave program.

Company: Olark Live Chat
Tagline: Olark is a tool that lets businesses chat with their website visitors in real-time.
Headquarters: San Francisco, CA
Employees: 40
Coolest Perk? Olark pays its people to take vacation. Take five or more consecutive days off and get a (taxed) one thousand dollar bonus!

Why is your benefits program a good fit for your company?

When we say we are a people-centric organization, we actually mean it. Each benefit we offer has an explicit “why” behind it. For example, we offer paid sick leave under our Flex PTO plan and encourage one another to use it. It isn’t uncommon for a director, teammate, or myself to tell a sick Olarker to head home and rest up. Having benefits is one thing, but actively encouraging employees to use it is quite another. We want our people to feel empowered to take time when they need it.

Having benefits is one thing, but actively encouraging employees to use it is quite another. We want our people to feel empowered to take time when they need it.

You have an incredibly progressive benefits program for a small company. What helps you be successful in driving your benefits strategy recommendations forward?

It really comes down to having executive support. You can think up as many programs as you like, but if your executive team (or whoever is approving the programs or funds) isn’t on board, it doesn’t matter. I’ve been incredibly fortunate that my leadership team sees the value in investing in our organizational health. However, they do require me to establish clear thinking behind my proposals. Whenever I am pitching a potential policy change, idea for a program, etc, I structure it by answering these three questions:

  1. What do I want to do?
  2. Why will it add value to the organization?
  3. How do I plan to get there?

Can you share any challenges you faced when implementing your paid parental leave program and how you addressed them?

The biggest obstacle we face is the “anti-new parent” status quo in the U.S. workforce. There are so many systems in place that make it very difficult for parents to go on leave and companies aren’t held accountable to support them. Only “medium to large companies” are required to do 16 weeks of unpaid leave.

Some states are moving toward a paid leave structure, but the U.S., in general, is not supportive compared to some European countries. Here’s an example: recently, I was trying to put one of our employees on paid leave with our service provider. If I marked him as ‘on paid leave’, within one month he would have been taken off our group benefits plan and would have to supplement coverage with his own benefits. Fortunately, we found a workaround, but it wasn’t obvious at first and took a lot of phone calls and legwork to make sure he could take his paid leave without his benefits being interrupted.

The biggest question I have as a benefits leader is: how can we do right by our employees if our systems aren’t supportive? Some U.S. companies are making great strides in this department—like Netflix and its parental leave plan—but it’s still challenging to put our employees first. This is what I’m passionate about. In fact, I walk through how I implemented our paid parental leave program in further detail in this podcast (check it out!).

Which benefit do you wish your people knew more about or used more often?

Personal and mental health days. This is especially important amongst remote workers. A common misconception about remote work is that people slack off. In reality, remote workers tend to put in more hours since the line between home and work is completely blurred. Remote employee burnout is a very real thing. One of the main focuses for my team is how to help Olarkers work at a more sustainable pace. Personal and mental health days can be a great resource to combat burnout, and while Olarkers do a pretty good job taking this type of leave, they usually do it AFTER they are already wiped. The goal would be for them to plan out when they might need this cushion time and schedule it in advance.

What would be your one piece of advice for your peers?

Be an advocate and push for change. Align yourself with your leadership team and ensure they are on board. If they need convincing, be able to present examples of how other companies are benefiting from their generous benefits strategy. I subscribe to Harvard Business Review email blasts and I constantly share articles with my leadership team. Most importantly, to generate buy-in, speak the language of the person you’re trying to convince. Tailor your message based on what the person will likely respond to: statistical analysis, cost savings, storytelling, etc.


Benefits Decoded profiles innovative leaders in the healthcare space and talks to them about the opportunities and challenges they face when taking care of their people. Do you want to share your story or know a company that we should highlight? Email us at benefitsdecoded@collectivehealth.com.

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