How 2020 Best Small Workplace YNAB recruits and retains great people

October 16, 2020, 11:00 AM UTC
A YNAB employee hand-delivers a welcome package to their new coworker.

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Only 32% of the U.S. workforce have a 401k plan, and as little as 14% of U.S. companies even offer one. This is troubling for the financial of future of Americans, and it should be a concern for companies, too. Financially stressed workers miss more work and incur higher healthcare costs than their peers.

One of the biggest barriers to financial security is financial literacy. Employees often struggle to navigate a convoluted landscape. Many plans are harder to understand than a William Faulkner novel.

Among the 2020 Best Small and Medium Workplaces, though, wellness perks include considerations of employees’ financial health.

These companies are also doing an exceptional job of managing effective remote teams during a pandemic. Their transparent and open leadership is giving them the competitive advantage to thrive among the large multinationals.

Nothing is hidden in the fine print from employees at this year’s number-one best small workplace. You Need A Budget (YNAB) knows a thing or two about financial wellness and remote work.

While other financial services firms are baffling consumers with opaque “terms and conditions,” YNAB is empowering people—including their employees—with knowledge. And with over 100 team members spread across 33 states and some overseas, YNAB has been a remote workplace since its beginning.


Chance Gurr has been the chief operations officer at YNAB for the last eight years. Gurr spends most of his 9-to-5 building what he calls the “team experience.”

“In the same way that we obsess over how customers experience our product, we’re every bit as focused on our employees’ experience working at YNAB,” Gurr said.

Employees at YNAB gave their workplace remarkably high praise in the Great Place to Work employee survey.  Taking the average of all 60 survey statements, 99% of employee responses were positive. 

This survey measures levels of trust, camaraderie, collaboration, leadership effectiveness, innovation, organizational purpose, and many other apsects of company culture.

To compile this list, Great Place to Work data scientists and culture experts collected and analyzed confidential survey feedback representing 189,000 employees working in small- and medium-sized businesses in the U.S.

We interviewed Gurr to find out how YNAB successfully creates a culture that translates to high employee satisfaction marks.

Financial wellness perks

Financial fitness is integral to YNAB’s overall employee wellness, and not just because the company is in the budgeting business.

“Whether you’re a fintech company or not, I think financial wellness should be in every company’s culture,” Gurr said. “Because as your team members gain control of their money and improve their financial situation, they miss fewer days at work, they produce more while they’re at work, they smile more, they don’t jump to work for your competitor for a dollar more an hour. It’s just good business. And I think a great culture builder.”

Growing awareness of how financial health can help employees has led to a rise in money-management benefits. According to a study by Prudential, in 2017, the percentage of employers offering financial wellness programs rose to 83 percent, up from 20 percent in 2015.

Having a good financial wellness plan also sends a clear message to employees about how a company values not just their current situation, but their long-term well-being.

“Having a good 401k and other financial wellness plans is part of the story of how you value your employees. If done right, it can really have a big impact on your team,” Gurr said.

 A humble recruitment strategy

The phrase “humbly confident” introduces every job ad on YNAB’s careers page. This is one of the company’s core values and sets the tone for what kind of people will thrive at the company.

“This describes confident people who are true experts in their craft, but still very humble in their interactions. People who are open to feedback and other ideas and don’t take critique personally. People who give and share credit easily; who are great at admitting their own mistakes.”

YNAB job descriptions are about three to four times longer than most job listings. This unconventional approach is part of how YNAB attracts the right candidates.

“We try to show them what life is like at YNAB and give a behind the scenes look into the real-life experience. In the job description we introduce the people they’d work with. We describe in-depth the work that they’d do. We paint a picture of a typical day at work for the role and what success would look like.”

The strategy has been working. YNAB attracts quality candidates who resonate strongly with the company culture before they even get in the door, Gurr said. The resulting camaraderie and community is reflected in their employee survey scores. Across Great Place to Work survey statements that measure camaraderie, 99% of YNAB employees were having a positive experience.

“We’ve gotten more and more comments about the job description and how it really helped people to get a feel for what it would be like to work here and how that attracted them. Often we’ll hear, ‘I was not looking for a job. I didn’t even know who YNAB was but, I read the job description and I had to learn more.’”

Onboarding in a remote world

As seasoned telecommuters, YNAB has many creative ways to give new teammates a warm welcome.

Welcome packs with company swag and a gift card for dinner out are delivered to new members—and if a coworker lives nearby, the packaged is hand delivered. New recruits are also assigned an onboarding buddy or mentor and get welcome notes from all the members of their team.

It’s a company culture busting the notion that virtual relations must be devoid of connection.

Scaling or flailing

Just as the pandemic has forced many companies to lay off employees, others have enjoyed an inverse trajectory. YNAB is one of the lucky ones. The company has scaled from just 10 people in 2012 to over 100 today. And Great Place to Work research shows that scaling can be hard on a culture.

Gurr said he and the founders were worried YNAB wouldn’t feel the same as the company ballooned to its current size. But with full marks in caring (100% of employees report a positive experience) and hospitality (99% report a positive experience), among others, clearly the tight-knit community hasn’t been shattered.

The secret? Gurr believes that the family feel can and should “happen on a team level.” While you may not feel 100% connected to everyone at the company, you can feel a deep connection with your own, smaller team, Gurr said.

Building on culture strengths

But the real key to maintaining a strong culture as you grow is something much deeper. “And some might say more difficult,” Gurr said. The key, he said, is identifying what makes your company’s culture unique and keeping it alive.

Core values shouldn’t be aspirational, they should be a genuine reflection of who you already are. “It’s not something that you hope to become. It’s about looking inward and recognizing what you already are. What it is that makes you a great team already.”

How does a small company choose its company values? YNAB looked at people within the company who were examples of what they wanted to be and defined what it was about them that made the culture so great.

“Once you feel you’re really good at a particular value, then it can become a core value. Until then, it’s something that you’re working on.”

Once the values are in place, the trick is to live up to them and regularly call them out. “Make sure you’ve got people that already have those attributes, be great examples of them yourselves, and then be sure to publicly recognize it when you see them exhibited throughout the company.” 

Personal well-being should be the number-one priority

It’s also important to acknowledge that this season of remote work looks drastically different for everyone than it did before. So many of us added personal and family obligations to our everyday lives and routines in 2020.

”It’s been really important for us to publicly acknowledge that right now people have way more [going on]. They have added stressors in their lives beyond work, and that will require more personal time to create that mental margin and to allow them to focus on themselves,” Gurr said.

“Life is super out of the ordinary right now. And that time for personal well-being for team members, that should be a number-one priority for companies,” he said.

Small- and medium-sized businesses that put employee wellness, both financial and personal, first, win the fight for talent. The bottom line is that the best companies are made up of good people who are about their people. Just take it from what one of YNAB’s employees told us:

“I’ve been continuously surprised at the openness and authenticity of the executive team when they’ve said, ‘Yep, it’s hard to focus’ when COVID hit, ‘Yep, please take some time off if you need it’ in the depths of the craziness of COVID, ‘Yep, I need to confront my own privilege’ during the protests that were happening over George Floyd’s death. I know ‘humble confidence’ gets thrown around a lot as a company core value buzzword, but it really happens here.”



A “Best Medium Workplace” helping employees with financial wellness

NerdWallet is another company that sees a clear line between financial health and employee well-being and productivity. A first-time winner, the firm is number 18 on the list of the Fortune Best Medium Workplaces.

Tim Chen, co-founder and CEO, told us how financial wellness is a core part of helping employees reach their full potential.

“Cultivating a strong company culture starts with listening and investing in employees. This means supporting and encouraging their well-being,” Chen said.

“We’re on a mission to provide everyone with clarity for all of life’s financial decisions, and it starts with our Nerds (NerdWallet employees). Nerds are our greatest asset and we are committed to investing in their financial well-being by providing them the support and access needed to be financially savvy.

“We know financial wellness begins with education, so we host frequent ‘NerdTalks’ and Brown Bags where we invite experts in the industry (both at Nerdwallet and outside) to share their knowledge, provide tips and advice, give their perspective on the industry and where it’s headed, and answer general questions.”

Click here to see the full lists of the 100 Best Small Workplaces and 100 Best Medium Workplaces of 2020.

Great Place to Work logo 2018

Claire Hastwell is the Content Marketing Manager at Great Place to Work.