Happy employees make better employees at Spotify

At Spotify, doing what's best for the company translates to doing what's best for its people, says its Head of HR for Asia-Pacific, Michael Kim.
By: | May 2, 2019

Check out Part One of our exclusive HR Insider story with Spotify, right here: Spotify’s shiny happy people


A few years ago in Sweden, Kim sat down for lunch with Katarina Berg, Spotify’s Chief HR Officer. Berg noted the average employee age – then, it was somewhere in the late-20s – and predicted that a Spotify baby boom was probably on the horizon.

But being still a startup, the company did not yet have a formal parental leave programme. It did follow statutory laws in its individual markets, but many of these were, and are still, inadequate.

So Berg tasked Kim to lead a small team with developing a parental leave programme that suited the company’s values – and that could meet the needs of its young, millennial-heavy workforce. She gave him three rules: Don’t bother with what competitors are doing; look into the Swedish framework for parental leave; and talk to employees with the mindset of what is best for them.

Fast forward a few months later, to Spotify implementing one of the most innovative and progressive paid parental leave programmes in the world, that offers all new parents – women, men, surrogates, gay couples, everyone – six months of fully paid parental leave.

“For the seventh month, they are given the autonomy to ease back into the workplace – whether that means working part-time, working from home, doing a nine-to-three workday, whatever – they have that month to settle back in,” says Kim.

The leave can be spaced out, and taken up to three years after the child’s birth, he adds, “because it all comes back to what’s best for our employees”. When staff are able to achieve a strong work-life balance, and not deal with the stresses of missing out on family time, they will then bring their best, most productive, and most innovative selves into the office.

From left to right: Katarina Berg – Chief HR Officer, Spotify; Shruti Malhotra – Talent Aquisition Lead, Asia-Pacific; Simita Mahajan – HR Specialist Asia-Pacific; Tilo Sequeira – Learning & Development Lead, Asia-Pacific; Michael Kim – Head of HR, Asia-Pacific

It’s a belief that has resonated with the wider talent pool. After the parental leave programme was launched to much fanfare, in partnership with the administration of then-US president Barack Obama, job applications to Spotify spiked. Today, Spotify receives over 25,000 unique applications per month globally.

The programme has also proven to be an asset in talent development. When an employee goes off on parental leave, one of their teammates will usually be asked to step up and cover for them.

“But it’s a stretch role for them,” notes Kim. “If that’s what their career path and next step is anyway, then it’s a great opportunity to show them what that role is, and for us to see how they perform in the role for that short period.”

Subsequent data indicated that these stretch stints ended up organically fast-tracking promotions for a number of employees, because that parental leave gap had given them the chance to demonstrate their capability.

The programme is a feather in the cap of Spotify HR, but Kim is quick to note that its success is due in no small part to the company’s leadership philosophy and company culture.

“We knew this programme would work because we have a culture and leadership team that supported it. When we presented it to our CEO and Chief Financial Officer, they simply said, ‘This makes sense. Let’s do it.’

“There’s an understanding that investing in your people is how you’re going to be able to stay in the game, and stick around in the long run,” he says.

HR Insider shines a spotlight on the “people behind the people”   namely, the talent teams supporting the region’s most successful organisations. Check out previous HR Insider stories here.