How Google became the Best Place to work

BY Farhad Manjoo

1st Jan 2015 Technology

How Google became the Best Place to work

Google was named the best company to work for by Fortune magazine for the fourth consecutive year running in 2013. Why? Something tells us that the job perks – free gourmet food, on-site laundry, commuting shuttles with Wi-Fi, even five months of maternity leave at full pay – might have something to do with it.

You spend more time working than doing anything else. You like your job, but it should be – and it could be – something more. So why isn’t it?

But how does Google pull it off?

In the past couple of years, the company has hired social scientists to study the organisation. The scientists – part of a group known as the PiLab, short for People Innovation Lab – run dozens of experiments in an effort to scientifically answer questions about the best way to manage a large firm. “What we try to do is bring the same level of rigour to people decisions as we do to engineering decisions,” says Prasad Setty, who heads Google HR’s “people analytics” group.

Major HR findings include how to give employees more money and help them contribute to their retirement funds. To learn more about how Googlers wanted their cash, HR ran a survey in which it asked employees to choose the best among many competing pay options. For instance, would Google’s workers rather have $1000 more in salary or $2000 as a bonus? After finding that Googlers wanted their extra cash in base pay, the company announced that all Google employees would get a 10% salary increase. Rejoice! And how should the company nudge someone to contribute to his or her retirement? HR found that it’s best to send employees many reminders and call for “aggressive” savings goals. If you implore an employee to contribute $8000 to his retirement rather than, say, $2000, he’ll tend to save more, even if he can’t afford $8000.

Then there are the smaller findings: for the cafeterias, researchers determined that the ideal lunch line should be about three or four minutes long – that’s short enough that employees won’t waste time but long enough that they can meet new people. The tables should be long so that workers who don’t know each other are forced to chat. And, after running an experiment, Google found that stocking cafeterias with salad plates alongside dinner ones encouraged people to eat smaller, healthier portions.

In time, Google’s findings, which the company often shares with other HR professionals, may improve all our jobs. “You spend more time working than doing anything else,” says Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations. “You like your job, but it should be – and it could be – something more. So why isn’t it?”

For more on Google's history, you can find What Would Google Do?: Reverse-Engineering the Fastest Growing Company, available on Amazon.

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