BUSINESS
08/12/2014 03:23 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2015

Why Etsy Encourages Employees To Take Extracurricular Classes -- On The Company's Dime

Etsy

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Etsy has found a way to help employees feel passionate about their work. The e-commerce company, an online marketplace for independent sellers where you can find things like wine bottle tiki torches, owl-shaped crayon sets and vintage handkerchiefs, is known for being quirky, crafty and creative. Now, Etsy is working to infuse this same creativity into the workplace by tapping into the interests of its staff.

A business unit at Etsy called the Values and Impact Team has created Etsy School, a series of classes taught by employees, for employees. The program, one of several the company has developed for its staff, offers a wide range of classes, from coding and tango to cocktail-mixing and nail art. The idea is to foster a creative workplace where employees don’t feel the need to separate their work lives from their personal lives.

“You don’t have to check your personality at the door,” said Katie Hunt-Morr, Etsy's senior manager of values and impact.

Any employee can apply to teach a class by providing a description and a budget and detailing his or her background in the subject. Once a class is approved, Etsy pays for any needed class materials. Classes get filled through a lottery system.

Clare McGibbon, now Etsy's seller education coordinator, first got involved with the company as a seller when she was working in advertising and searching for a creative outlet. Since joining Etsy full-time in 2012, McGibbon has taught several classes for Etsy School, including French, photography, and a class on making pressed flower iPhone cases. She also took a coding class, which helped her better understand how the site is built.

McGibbon finds that her involvement in Etsy School ultimately makes her job easier, and makes her colleagues feel more approachable. "It's about creating an initial connection," McGibbon said. "You don’t need to jump through hoops to see who’s working on what and feel like you’re prying. It's more of an organic conversation, like you would have in a social situation."

These days, when McGibbon needs to work with members of another team toward a common goal for the site, chances are she knows someone to reach out to and feels comfortable bouncing ideas back and forth with that person.

There can be downsides to what Hunt-Morr refers to as the "culture of yay," where managers find it difficult to critique the work of people they consider friends. But Etsy's leaders believe any potential drawbacks are outweighed by the benefits of integrating personal lives with professional ones, and they plan to continue to encourage employees to bring their "whole selves" to work.

"We’re doing all of these different things, and doing them all really well. That sets us up for being under a hell of a lot of pressure," Hunt-Morr said. "The more separation you create, the more trouble you'll have meeting each obligation adequately. We should stop compartmentalizing, be human and treat each experience for what it is."

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