Tony Luong

CEO David McCormick Reflects On the Employee Benefits Journey

When I first joined Bridgewater 11 years ago, a lot of things stood out — the famously unique culture, the humility of the people, the relentless push to be better. I also remember taking note of an unusual employee benefit: world-class medical insurance, with zero monthly costs. This started in the 1990s, when Bridgewater was still just a startup and working on becoming profitable. Against that backdrop, our founder Ray Dalio bought the best medical insurance and made it free. He will tell you, “If employees got sick and couldn’t pay, I would have paid out of my pocket, so how could I not get great insurance?” For him, meaningful relationships — how you treat people during the best and worst times — were always critical.

Over the last few years, as Bridgewater transitioned into an institution and as I became Co-CEO and eventually CEO, our leadership team wrestled with how to apply that blueprint for care against an evolving landscape. We watched many companies dramatically dial up benefits, some with logic that made sense, others with commitments that didn’t seem built for the long term. We wanted to use benchmarking to push our thinking, but not be constantly reacting to others. We also had to reconcile internal signal — benefits are personal and employees value different things.

Our team laid out what we wanted to be true for Bridgewater. We stayed away from asking “what can we afford to give” — because resources are finite and we didn’t want to chase trends. Instead, we asked, what do people need to build a great life and career? And what will signal our values?

We started with areas that touched all employees and where we saw potential for immediate impact:

  • Flexible work: It was clear to us that flexibility was a critical investment in the sustainability of our business. Employees needed the permission to do it and the technology and norms to make it a good experience. By 2018, 90%+ of employees could work from home up to 20% of the time.
  • 401(k) plans: We materially increased our match to $15,000/year with an immediate, full vesting. The costs were significant and required tradeoffs, but so was the impact on employees’ ability to one day retire in security.
  • Next came our suite of paid leaves — parental, medical, and more. Our old leave policy was to prorate bonuses. We switched to full bonus on leave because part of having a great life and career is the ability to focus on leave without worrying about finances.

Our next changes were narrower in scope, but critical to living our values around diversity and inclusion:

  • We expanded our bereavement leave so that employees could take leave for deaths related to any relationship, in recognition that meaningful relationships come in many forms.
  • We equalized parental leave among all new parents regardless of gender or path to parenthood (with additional medical recovery time for those who give birth). We added fertility coverage for those wishing to become parents via IVF, adoption, and/or egg freezing which is especially important for LGBTQ+ families, as well as a ramp-back program to allow new parents to work part-time, and backup dependent care.
  • We also added concierge medical assistance to support those spending large amounts of time dealing with serious and/or chronic illnesses for themselves or their dependents.

We then looked at our PTO policy. It previously combined all types of paid time off into one bank. This was good for flexibility, but the downside could be people working sick to not use up vacation time:

  • We ultimately decided to move to an unlimited sick day benefit, in addition to existing vacation days, because no one should feel like they have to come to work even mildly sick, with the confidence and trust that our employees would use the benefit with integrity and care.

The meeting to decide on sick days took place in early January 2020. Six weeks later — the world was in the grip of COVID-19. Our internal analysis showed that the policy combined with our ability to snap into a full work-from-home model were the key drivers in ensuring zero community spread among employees, enabling us to continue to serve our clients and be there for employees during this unprecedented time.

Today, our benefits are still evolving. The approach we take mirrors how we think about our business decisions. We anchor to our mission and values to ensure we can adapt as circumstances evolve, and we iterate constantly to strengthen the system over time. I hope we have built something worthy of Ray’s legacy of care. And I hope all Bridgewater employees — past, present, and future — will see our benefits as enabling of great lives and careers.

For those interested, you can see a full list of the firm's benefits here.

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