How Google works hard to keep staff happy

The internet giant is famously nice to employees, who enjoy perks unheard of elsewhere. Emer Sexton takes a closer look and finds that while money can't make you happy it can lead to higher profits.  

THERE comes a time in every girl’s life when she realises she will never work for Google. In his book, Work Rules, Google’s head of people operations (ie, human resources), Lazlo Bock, writes about the corporate Nirvana that is Google, the second-most-recognised brand in the world, after Apple.

It had a turnover of $66bn in 2014 and has 53,000 employees worldwide, including 2,500 in Dublin.

Google is not a cult, but the book is contradictory, in that the author describes a company that demands idolatry, while also pointing out its flaws, and mistakes such as Google Wave, or employees with entitlement issues who object when some perk is threatened, like taking meat off the menu on Mondays (Google supplies free cafeteria facilities to employees).

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My cynicism as I read was not leavened by the subtext of the book, which is that most of us will never work for this amazing company, and become ‘Googlers’, because we are too stupid. Bock devotes three chapters to their hiring strategy, how they find the best candidates, and how they interview them, a process based on years of testing and research.

‘Googlers’ must be “smart, creative, bracingly direct and utterly charming”, and “collect PhDs like trading cards” and it also helps if they were former Olympic competitors, youth ambassadors to the UN, champion bakers, or wrestlers, or part-time award-winning organic farmers.

To put it in perspective: “Harvard…is a very hard place to get into, but almost 25 times easier than getting hired by Google”. Harvard had an acceptance rate of 5.9% in 2014.

One previous ‘Googler’, who worked as a software engineer, refocused his work and life “on achieving world peace through sharing and spreading the notion of mindfulness”. While still at Google, obviously. Bah humbug.

Once candidates are hired, and become ‘Nooglers’ ( new ‘Googler’) there are other strategies, based on years of research and testing, to make sure they become ‘Googlers’ and remain with the company.

Bock sums it up simply: “We want to continue launching cool, new stuff and we want to ensure that the people we have worked so hard to hire remain at Google for a long time”.

Money can’t buy you happiness, but happiness makes money — Google proves there is profit in spending money to ensure the happiness of your employees.

The Google management structure is non-hierarchical, in that departments don’t have traditional managers, but, instead, “minimise the trappings and affectations of power (and) rely on data to make decisions”. Bock describes this as “letting the lunatics run the asylum” and details why, and how, this has been so successful.

He constantly presents the reader with figures and percentages, and analytics, on how employee performance is scrutinised and how data and opinions are shared, and how ‘Googler’ satisfaction is monitored, through tools such as ‘Googlegeist’.

Employees must monitor each other to ensure the success of their team, or their product. There is no coasting, and the bottom performing 5% will be identified and encouraged to perform better.

This book makes me think of the saying ‘you can prove anything with statistics, except the truth’. But Google is hugely successful, and has stayed hugely profitable, even with the free food and games rooms and expenditure on training and bonuses.

Most of the on-site services (such as mobile libraries, free snacks, a gym, swimming pool, dry cleaning, mobile beauty salons) cost Google nothing, as the providers want to participate. The reason Google provides these services, and that other companies do not, is culture.

The company has a culture of doing things for their employees that other companies do not have, and Google has fought to maintain that sense of community since its beginnings, when it had a handful of employees.

In return for being part of this culture, you must only be able to perform to the Google standard. Imagine if other companies and corporations developed a similar culture...cue the song, ‘Imagine’, by John Lennon.

Bock says that “it is within anyone’s grasp to be the founder and culture creator of their own team” and, at the end of each chapter, there are work rules for “building a learning institution” or “paying unfairly”.

Being self-employed, I have decided to apply the principles to myself, pay myself more, play more games, eat free food and give myself a positive staff appraisal.

It seems that profitability is up 36% already this quarter. Work rules.

READ MORE: The right to be forgotten, but not forgiven: Do Google search results influence our opinion of others?

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