Larry Page and an Alley Oop Hammer. Why Google is the happiest place to work in America


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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

career blissIn 2011, Google was crowned the “Happiest Company in America” by The rankings are based on more than 100,000 worker-generated reviews spanning over 10,000 companies. Scores were based on such factors as work-life balance, relationships with bosses and co-workers, compensation, growth opportunities, a company’s culture and the opportunity for employees to exert control over the daily work flow.

You don’t become the happiest company by mistake. It’s a product of thoughtful design and ultimately culture. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin set the groundwork for building Google. The company has always pursued a noble cause. Here are some telling quotes by Page in a NY Times blog post:

We have somewhat of a social mission, and most other companies do not. I think that’s why people like working for us, and using our services…Companies’ goals should be to make their employees so wealthy that they do not need to work, but choose to because they believe in the company… Hopefully, I believe in a world of abundance, and in that world, many of our employees don’t have to work, they’re pretty wealthy, they could probably go years without working. Why are they working? They’re working because they like doing something, they believe in what they’re doing.”

But maybe there is a deeper reason for creating a more welcoming and fulfilling workplace. Here is a quote from CEO Larry Page’s Commencement Address at the University of Michigan in May, 2009 (YouTube video):

My father’s father worked in the Chevy plant in Flint, Michigan. He was an assembly line worker…My Grandpa used to carry an “Alley Oop” hammer – a heavy iron pipe with a hunk of lead melted on the end. The workers made them during the sit-down strikes to protect themselves. When I was growing up, we used that hammer whenever we needed to pound a stake or something into the ground. It is wonderful that most people don’t need to carry a heavy blunt object for protection anymore. But just in case, I have it here.”

Source: YouTube

Source: YouTube

It bears repeating. Larry Page’s grandfather used to take a hammer to work for protection. A lead pipe with a hunk of metal melted on the end of it. I can only imagine this was a constant reminder of the importance of a happy workplace.

You can make money without being evil

Google is a business with a simple motto,”Don’t be evil.” Its mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. It derives revenue from offering search technology to companies and from the sale of advertising displayed on their site and on others across the web. Hundreds of thousands of advertisers worldwide use Google’s AdWords to promote their products and hundreds of thousands of publishers take advantage of the AdSense program to deliver ads relevant to their content. (Source: Google)

Caring and Doing the Right Thing

Google sets the gold standard for taking care of its employees. No stone is left unturned in their quest to provide a welcoming work environment. But WHY? Here’s an answer according to Google’s Chief People Officer Laszlo Bock,

It turns out that the reason we’re doing these things for employees is not because it’s important to the business, but simply because it’s the right thing to do. When it comes down to it, it’s better to work for a company who cares about you than a company who doesn’t. And from a company standpoint, that makes it better to care than not to care.”

Top Goldfish

Google holds the top spot in the Green Goldfish Project with 16 entries. Let’s have a look at a baker’s dozen of their examples:

#2 – Empowerment


According to Jonathan Strickland in “HowStuffWorks: How the Googleplex Works“, the company allows its employees to use up to 20 percent of their work week at Google to pursue special projects. That means for every standard work week, employees can take a full day to work on a project unrelated to their normal workload. Google claims that many of their products in Google Labs (i.e. Gmail) started out as pet projects in the 20 percent time program.

#36- Empowerment

The Google-O-Meter gives all employees a voice on employee suggestions and potential cultural changes. The example is taken from a post by Diana Ransom,

url-2Google’s Chief Culture Officer Stacy Sullivan implemented the company’s charting tool, the Google-O-Meter, to gauge the popularity of employee suggestions, such as housing more doctors on site or bringing overseas employees to headquarters for a visit. “It wasn’t something that we would just go and implement for them,” she says. “Their suggestions had to be reflective of things about the culture that [many] people wanted to change.” (Source: Entrepreneur)

#40 – Retirement+

Google and afterlife benefits

Taken from a post by Meghan Casserly in Forbes:

In a rare interview with Chief People Officer Laszlo Bock I discovered that the latest perk for Googlers extends into the afterlife. “This might sound ridiculous,” Bock told me recently in a conversation on the ever-evolving benefits at Google, “But we’ve announced death benefits at Google.” We were scheduled for a talk on Google’s widening age-gap (the oldest Googler is currently 83); I wanted to know how child- and healthcare benefits have evolved as the company has scaled. Instead, Bock, who joined the company in 2006 after a stint with General Electric, blew me away by disclosing a never-before-made-public-perk: Should a U.S. Googler pass away while under the employ of the 14-year old search giant, their surviving spouse or domestic partner will receive a check for 50% of their salary every year for the next decade. Even more surprising, a Google spokesperson confirms that there’s “no tenure requirement” for this benefit, meaning most of their 34,000 Google employees qualify. (Source: Forbes)

#179 – Modern Family

Google is giving its employees in same-sex relationships extra cash to cover their partners’ health benefits. Currently, when receiving partner health care coverage, same-sex domestic partners are subject to an extra tax that straight, married couples don’t have to pay. Google is taking the burden of paying this tax on itself by compensating partnered LGBT employees for the amount of the tax, which comes to a bit more than $1,000 each year. This benefit will also cover any dependents of the partner in the same-sex couple. (Source: Mashable)

#191 – Space / Design

The Lamborghini of toilets Is it really any wonder that Googlers have access to some of the most high-tech toilets around? These Japanese johns offer washing and drying of your nether regions as well as the mysterious “wand cleaning.” Both the wash water and the seat itself can be warmed or cooled depending on your preference. (Source: Huffington Post)

Here’s a YouTube video of Conan and Andy Richter at Google talking about the toilets:

#205 – Team Building

The company knows how to roll. Google has a bowling alley for employees. Here’s a YouTube video providing quick peek at the lanes:

#343 – Flexibility

Taken from an article on Business Insider:

Former Google Executive Marissa Mayer believes women are especially susceptible to burning out because they are faced with more demands in the home. “What causes burnout, Mayer believes, is not working too hard,” Rosin writes. “People, she believes, ‘can work arbitrarily hard for an arbitrary amount of time,’ but they will become resentful if work makes them miss things that are really important to them.” She gave an anecdote for how she kept one Google executive, whom she calls “Katy,” from quitting. Katy loved her job and she loved her team and she didn’t mind staying late to help out. What was bothering Katy was something entirely different. Often, Katy confessed, she showed up late at her children’s events because a meeting went overly long, for no important reason other than meetings tend to go long. And she hated having her children watch her walk in late. For Mayer, this was a no-brainer. She instituted a Katy-tailored rule. If Katy had told her earlier that she had to leave at four to get to a soccer game, then Mayer would make sure Katy could leave at four. Even if there was only five minutes left to a meeting, even if Google cofounder Sergey Brin himself was mid sentence and expecting an answer from Katy, Mayer would say “Katy’s gotta go” and Katy would walk out the door and answer the questions later by e-mail after the kids were in bed.” The key to sustaining loyalty in employees is making sure they get to do the things that are most important to them outside of work, Mayer told Rosin. (Source: Business Insider)

#543 – Training & Development

Google’s “CareerGuru” program matches Google executives with Google employees to provide confidential, one-on-one career coaching and guidance around the subjects of work-life balance, personal and professional development, communication styles, and conflict resolution, among others. (Source: Business Insider)

#691 – Wellness

One perk about not working at Google is that Gawker never posts a photo of you swimming in one of the Googleplex’s lap pools. The outdoor mini-pools are like water treadmills: a strong current allows the Googler to swim and swim and go nowhere. Luckily, according to How Stuff Works, lifeguards are always on duty in case someone gets in over their head. (Source: Huffington Post)

#692 – Team Building

Conference Bike

Conference Bike

Google’s Conference Bike is used as a team-building exercise for new employees. It has four wheels and five riders who work together to move it around. (Source: PC Magazine)

#818 – Space and Design

According to Jonathan Strickland,

Google’s corridors are designed and set up for impromptu information sharing. Offices don’t resemble a typical corporate environment. Google arranges the workstations so that groups of three to four employees who work together sit in the same area. During the design phase, architect Clive Wilkinson faced a challenging problem: how do you group people together and still give them an environment in which they can concentrate on work without distractions? And how do you do it without turning Google into a labyrinth of cubicles? Wilkinson decided to use glass walls to divide the space into clusters. This design cuts down on much of the ambient noise inside the office. It also allows sunlight to filter in through the entire office. Each glass enclosure has a tent-like roof made of acrylic-coated polyester which contains the room’s lighting and sprinkler systems. Google executives want employees to be able to bounce ideas off each other. It’s the c­ompany’s hope that by encouraging interaction, workers will have greater job satisfaction and may even create the next big Google product. (Source: How Stuff Works)

#892 – Openness / Transparency

One of things shaping culture at the search leader are “TGIF” meetings. They tend to happen most Fridays, said Craig Silverstein, who joined the founders as Google’s first employee in 1998. TGIF, where any Googler is free to ask the founders any company-related question, became a fixture of the culture. (Source: Mercury News)

#911 – Food & Beverage

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and the Google 15

One of the most often cited perks of working at Google is the food. Google feeds its employees well. If you work at the Googleplex, you can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner free of charge. There are several cafés located throughout the campus, and employees can eat at any of them. The main café is Charlie’s Place. The café takes its name from Google’s first lead chef, Charlie Ayers. Before creating meals for Googlers, Ayers was the chef for the Grateful Dead.
Although Ayers left Google in 2005, the café still bears his name. The café has several stations, each offering different kinds of cuisine. Options range from vegetarian dishes to sushi to ethnic foods from around the world. Google’s culture promotes the use of fresh, organic foods and healthy meals. But when everything is free and you can eat whenever you want, it’s easy to go overboard. That’s where the Google 15 comes in. It refers to the 15 pounds many new Google employees put on once they start taking advantage of all the meals and snacks.
Other cafés at the Googleplex include the Pacific Café, Charleston Café, Café 150 and the appropriately named No Name Café. Each offers employees several choices for every meal. Google serves up more than 200 recipes in these cafés every day. [Sources: and HowStuffWorks]

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Paying it Forward #912 with Google Earth Outreach. Here an intriguing video on how Google is working with charitable and NGO’s to leverage Google Earth to promote their causes:

All of the examples in this post were taken from the Green Goldfish Project. The Project is a quest to find 1,001 examples of marketing lagniappe for employees. Green goldfish are the little signature extras given to employees. They help differentiate a company, reinforce culture, increase retention and drive positive WoM. The book, “What’s Your Green Goldfish?” will be published on March 29, 2013.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


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