The new year has seen Google embark on its most brutal line of cuts yet, with redundancies made to 6% of the full-time workers, amounting to the loss of 2,000 jobs. Insult was added to injury as those workers saw their jobs removed from the internal system without warning. In addition, the tech giant has set out plans for further cuts to employee perks, including reductions to executive bonuses.
It’s a turbulent time for the tech sector, we’re seeing unprecedently high salaries, at the same time as deteriorating market conditions. And as we enter further into a global recession, it’s clear that tech giants like Google and the rest of the Big Five will continue to take steps to mitigate its impact.
But it is impossible not to watch Google’s decisions with a level of both apprehension and intrigue above its peers. This isn’t just about redundancies but more about an overhaul of the company’s vision. What does it mean for the rest of the market if the leader in employee care - one that’s overarching philosophy was once ‘to create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world’ – can make such a significant cultural shift?
The core reason that any company should invest in employee wellbeing is to get the best out if its staff. For me, it’s not about Google’s famous slides, sleeping pods or in-work massages. These are fads that do little to create a culture of wellbeing, they’re marketing tools that do more for the company’s image than for the people behind the brand.
Motivation when building an employee centred culture is everything. It’s possible to have a fantastic wellbeing package that doesn’t incur high up upfront costs, with the objective of retaining your workforce and the addition of a sizable ROI. Ensuring your staff are as physically and mentally healthy as possible causes everything from a work perspective to become easier. Our wellbeing levels determine our ability to navigate conversations, partake in meaningful decision making, deliver higher outputs and make fewer errors. When driven by the right motivations, an employee centred culture simply makes good business sense.
When it comes to Google and the extremity of its past approach to employee care, this sudden turn on its workforce makes me wonder what motivations it had been driven by in the first place. Was the wellbeing of its workforce truly the driver for its ‘employee playground’ image, or was it just a highly effective branding exercise? Google demonstrated that branding your business as an one that values its workforce above and beyond the status-quo will bring new talent through the door, so of course it makes sense to retract this messaging when the company is undergoing a hiring freeze, no
less making high volume redundancies. But for Google to retain its remaining workforce in a growing market, a truly employee centred approach needs to be inherent to the culture and ethos of the brand.
There are now plenty of other employment opportunities in data and analytics. Working for Google or any of the FAANG companies has become less aspirational as employees look for companies offering flexibility, four-day weekends and a higher quality of life. If other businesses continue to think about putting their staff first, they will be able to attract and retain talent away from Google. I’ve seen it firsthand - employees get offered a higher salary from one of the Big Five but turn it down because they know they won’t get the person centred approach that they do from a smaller company.
Google’s chief executive officer, Sundar Pichai, was quoted saying: “We shouldn’t always equate fun with money”, which to me, draws a clear line between what Google once stood for and where it will be going forward.
Culture is something that is linked intrinsically to a community, and it should be no different with business. Culture is not a pool table, sleeping pod or a slide, it is how your business operates at every level. Of course, culture evolves naturally over time, tempered by generational change and macroeconomic factors in the name of agility, but the principles that underpin it should stay consistent and be the driver for those changes.
The principle of wanting your workforce to be mentally and physically healthy is not something that a business can just opt out of. It should be a lifelong commitment, without which, your business will cease to exist. It will be interesting to see what this means for Google over the next few years. Moving away from such a prominent culture will no doubt have huge implications for its decisions and dealings going forward.