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From the Other Side: What I Learned As a Partner On a Buffer Retreat

Feb 16, 2016 6 min readOpen

As a psychotherapist in the mental health and counseling industry and the partner of a Buffer team member, I jumped at the chance to attend Buffer’s recent retreat in Hawaii.

I was curious to learn more about the world that my partner is so passionate about—this particular job has affected him so profoundly.

And as my own industry is built on ideas of empathy, relationships, and human interaction, I hoped to get a hands-on view of the unique culture and values that Buffer operates by.

Little did I know the impact this experience would have on my own personal growth. I left with a changed perspective on life, work, friendship and vulnerability.


Now that I’ve witnessed firsthand a bit of what it’s like working at Buffer, I can’t help but think: “Why can’t everyone have this?”

Connecting in moments

I had no idea what to expect when we landed in Hawaii and prepared to meet 90 people for the first time. I knew a lot about Buffer from the ways the company works to to connect with families and significant others, but I hadn’t met any of the team in person.

But from the first moment, I noticed how genuine everyone was with each other and how everyone treated each other with equality and respect.

There was no feeling of “hierarchy” but rather a sense of unity. A group of people from all around the world together, working, laughing, sharing and growing both as individuals and as a company.

During the team dinner, I remember being surrounded by my partner’s co-workers and family members, having really meaningful and fulfilling conversation.

team dinner

These conversations surpassed work, touching on life, pain, happiness, family and growth. The conversation felt so authentic, raw and real. It was so amazing to watch co-workers connect at such an intimate level and feel comfortable enough to share about really big personal struggles and triumphs.

I also remember feeling SO nervous when I first met Joel and was able to talk one-on-one with him. I mean, he is the CEO of Buffer and has accomplished SO much at such a young age. Who wouldn’t be intimidated?

Yet, Joel made me feel so comfortable and was genuinely interested in who I was, where I come from and what I had to say. I was so blown away by his humility and kindness.

On this trip, I realized why Buffer has been so successful in so many different ways. The culture at Buffer is one that draws upon the strengths, differences and creativity of all of its employees and allows them to feel safe enough to be their authentic selves at work.

team photo hawaii families

What if other industries adopted these values?

Just being an observer to Buffer’s culture has empowered me to begin thinking about how I can bring some of these values into my own industry and workplace.

Although the mental health industry is built on compassion and understanding, in many ways we don’t always “practice what we preach.”

I have worked with many therapists who feel underpaid, burned out and undervalued, not to mention countless clients who come into my office in crisis because they feel so unfulfilled in their career.

It got me thinking, what would it be like if other industries and work environments began to adopt a similar philosophy?

Here are 3 benefits I believe could arise.

1. Fulfilled teammates and lower turnover rates

In many other industries and companies, individuals who are talented, intelligent, qualified and passionate feel scared to speak up or suggest new ways of doing things.

Time and time again, I have talked to co-workers or clients who dread going to work because they don’t feel heard or acknowledged. I often hear individuals say they are scared to “step on someone’s toes” or “get in trouble with the boss.”

Over time, this naturally produces a sense of resentment and leads to burnout.

Employee burnout is bad not only for the individual, but also for the company. It means more money needs to be spent on recruitment, hiring process and severance packages.

Buffer has been able to create a safe and understanding environment by allowing each employee to voice their
opinion, give feedback in a calm and respectful way and take into account other points of view.

Observing everyone on the retreat,  you could see the fulfillment in everyone’s eyes and the passion that each employee has to give back to Buffer. I believe this drive to see the company succeed comes from the investment that Buffer makes into each employee.

2. The empathy of bringing all of you to work

I am obsessed with Brene Brown and her research on vulnerability and shame. In her TED talk, she says: “We are the most over-medicated, obese, addicted and in-debt society to have ever existed.”

As a therapist, I could not agree more. Our society has developed an unhealthy belief that being vulnerable is being weak, when in reality it is the bravest thing that you can do.

With people struggling enough with being vulnerable in their personal lives…being vulnerable at work?! Forget it.

However, Buffer is challenging this by incorporating vulnerability, honesty and humanity into its culture. I can’t even begin to describe how heartwarming it was to see everyone feel so comfortable, open and honest with each other.


It got me thinking: What would it be like if all industries took time to understand what was going on with their employees?

How can we as humans be expected to perform 100% at work if we just found out our spouse has cancer, or if our mother passed away, or if we have a newborn baby that doesn’t sleep or we simply can’t figure out why we are feeling so depressed and alone?

The answer to that is… we can’t.

Buffer takes all of these things into account and adjusts accordingly. What a healing experience it is to be shown that you are valued not only as an employee but also as a person.

3. Empowerment that leads to innovation

When given the opportunity and support, I believe each of us has something that we can contribute to this world.

What I love about Buffer is that its culture empowers employees to bring new ideas, work on side projects, ask questions and continuously reflect on being better both at work and life.

As humans, we thrive in environments that are non-judgmental, accepting and at times challenging.

In my own profession I seek to create growth for my clients by providing safety and unconditional acceptance while at the same time asking them questions that might be challenging or difficult to hear. In this space I have witnessed people grow to their full potential and prosper in ways that they never even imagined.

Buffer has done the same thing at a greater scale.

They have provided a safe place for employees and their loved ones to grow and prosper. They have empowered team members to take a look at how they can continue growing as professionals and members of the society.

With a sense of empowerment, there naturally comes innovation, ideas and new ways of thinking and doing things. I can’t wait to see what other apps, startups, companies and ideas come from the people who work at Buffer.

We can make work feel different

After seeing how working at Buffer has changed my partner and how happy and thankful everyone who works at Buffer is, I come back to the same question I began with: “Why can’t everyone have this?”

The answer is, we can.

I think the most important thing that I am taking away from the Buffer retreat as a professional, clinician, significant other, and most of all a person, is that work can be different.

We have an opportunity to change the culture of work, in all industries. Even those that seem like they are impossible to change.

I mean, how much better would our lives be if more people looked forward to Mondays? A little fuel for thought.

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