Google Czar Dismisses Serfs

There is a story in the New York Times: On Day Care, Google Makes a Rare Fumble by Joe Nocera (July 5, 2008) of how Google is getting tired of treating employees as special. This is on the back of speculation that the company has hit an upper ceiling in search revenues and is closing offices in the US.

Part of Google’s good reputation not only as a workplace but as cool people is that it is a cool place to work. Google earned lots of karma points with most people I know when the funky photographs of its Swiss offices were circulated in the media and online earlier this year.

When I worked at Yahoo! Europe: our Soho location, subsidised canteen, submarined share options and pitiful supply of schwag (particularly in Europe) did not make up for the high demands placed on us compared to Google’s perks available at their London Victoria offices.

Google is raising the cost of on-site childcare by up to 75 per cent and according to the New York Times article Google co-founder Sergey Brin said he had no sympathy for the parents, and that he was tired of “Googlers” who felt entitled to perks like “bottled water and M&Ms,” when Google employees brought up the childcare issue in a meeting with management.

Google depends on attracting the best talent in the business and relies on having goodwill amongst the wider public to keep it out of the antitrust meat grinder that have harmed previous tech titans like AT&T, IBM, Intel and Microsoft. By the time they realise that the tide of public perception has turned against them, it will be too late. Not even the best PR agency in the world can turn it back, they can only help soften the blows that will be rained down on the company.

The penny pinching is more surprising because Google’s share structure prevents just the kind of shareholder activism that is tearing Yahoo! apart. There is a dual-share structure that allows managers to focus on the future, to build a successful business and not have to worry about obsessive penny pinching to make the quarters numbers.

From a logical point of view this dismissive attitude to workers positions Google with a number of talent acquisition and retention challenges:

  • The optimum time for a Google employee to leave the business is whilst it is still on the up, that way the Google brand has the maximum positive impact on their career. If you leave a business when it is holed below the waterline you are competing for jobs with your colleagues and some of that negative brand karma attaches to your own brand. Expect to see the smart kids starting to jump ship sooner rather than later
  • If you no longer enjoy going to work and it begins to be just about the mortgage, then you will start to look at other employers who can support bigger mortgage payments, like the Microsoft Search team or Amazon’s web services?
  • Unhappy people tend to deliver lower quality work, don’t feel compelled to stay in the office on long hours to give the company 110 per cent on projects. Those that don’t have to work for the money won’t, they’ll leach off you filling an Aerion chair and a slot in the cube farm, or they will leave and do something completely different
  • Word eventually gets out and you can no longer hire the industry Top Guns and Young Turks that you want, instead you have to get in line and duke it out with everybody else