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Caoimhe Keogan


VP People

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What does ‘duty of care’ mean at a global startup?


When I started my career in HR, I was taught about the concept of the ‘duty of care’ that an employer had towards its employees – the legal requirement to take all reasonably possible steps to ensure the health, safety and well-being of employees. We recognised that it had strong business benefits too, but I still recall having discussions about whether we had a duty of care to deal with something that was on the borderline of work and life outside of the office.

Fifteen years later, I don’t ever find myself debating too long about whether something that has happened to one of our team members falls under our ‘duty of care’ as an employer – my default mode of operation is that it should. We ask a lot from our people and in return we care for them in the most holistic of ways. I firmly believe that this is the right approach for the new world of work.

We are a technology start-up and view ourselves as being at the forefront of the new world of work. A place where Gen Y and the Millennials thrive because of the inherent flexibility in how, where and when we work. A world where the concept of a hard separation between ‘work’ and ‘life’ doesn’t necessarily exist nor do most people want it to. An environment where a strong sense of purpose – enriching people’s lives through the shared love of sound – is what connects us and the key reason why people want to work for us.  

SoundCloud has attracted more than 200 talented and diverse employees who are based in five offices around the world. Headquartered in Berlin, we believe that web services must be ‘global’ in both mindset and organisational implementation. Here’s how we do it from a HR perspective:

Empathy not Entitlement

At SoundCloud, we provide some great benefits for our employees. We have company lunches (although not every day because we want employees to have the freedom to leave the office and explore Berlin’s culinary offerings), we provide free healthy snacks (and some unhealthy ones too), and we bring services on site such as a masseuse, hairdresser and yoga teacher.

Having empathy for what our employees need at particular stages in their lives, means that we have expanded our duty of care to encompass situations that may be outside of the traditional boundaries of employer responsibility. It doesn’t make sense for SoundCloud to say we care deeply about our employees – but only for those hours which they spend in the office.


As a young company with an international workforce, we have identified a set of needs which may be different than other companies when it comes to relocation. English is the language of our workplace, but we are headquartered in Berlin, Germany. When someone relocates to take a job opportunity with us, we offer:

  • To meet them at the airport so they have support as soon as they are off the plane
  • Provide company -housing when they arrive and provide assistance with apartment searches
  • Support with German registration/paperwork
  • On occasion, we’ve also supported finding employment for partners and spouses.
  • We have a German language teacher on staff and we encourage our employees to engage with the language and culture of their adopted city so that they can become increasingly more self-sufficient over time.

We have people in our organisation doing jobs that didn’t exist ten years ago and it’s hard to see what roles we will require in five years time. We have a duty of care to help our people develop the self-management and coping skills they need to be resilient in the face of those uncertain external factors.


Working with an external psychologist we have taught employees how to recognise when they are feeling pressure and we are giving them the skills hack into their physiological stress response and change it in an effort to educate and teach people how to look after themselves to prevent getting sick. Given our focus on empathy and the needs of our employees, we send ‘care packages’ to people when they are unwell (when you are alone in a big city with possibly no family nearby, who else is going to do your shopping for you?).

The new world of work is complex and demanding, but we see the results of the global empathic approach resulting in enabled rather than entitled employees.

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Caoimhe Keogan

VP People

Read more from Caoimhe Keogan