Workplace happiness — inspired by Google

24 Jul

“Oh my God, this cafeteria food is amazing.”

“I can’t believe they have healthy soda-alternatives everywhere.”

“Free bikes!?!?”

“They’ll send a bus to my house to pick me up and take me to work? Where do I sign up?”

These are just a few of the reactions I had today at the Google World Headquarters. As I spewed effusive (and warranted) praise on Google’s unadulterated love for their employees, a friend of mine stopped to ask “but what could a law firm, or an accounting firm do to get the loyalty and productivity that Google receives from its employees?” In other words, my friend was saying “listen that’s great for a tech company, but what about a workplace in a traditional professional service industry?” And the question–as well as my own experience as an attorney at a big law firm–made me sit down and write.

The benefits of working at Google (or a similar workplace) can be grouped into two categories: (1) they remove every obstacle to doing great work, and (2) they provide you with every reason for why you would want to do great work. It’s less than obvious but the latter is actually more important. As a Googler told me earlier today, “where else can I build something that will scale to, and be used by 500 million people?” The very idea of such a thing inspires awe beyond being part of something big, it reveals the potential reach of one’s work. Not every employer can provide such benefits, but its nice to at least understand how exceptionally talented people are inspired.

So what can your workplace do?

First, identify the things that you as an employer can do to improve workplace life in a way that makes your employees feel truly exceptional. Note that my tone asks you to identify communal benefits, not individual. So don’t just say “I could pay them more.” Monetary rewards  are hardly ever the solution. For google (and maybe for you), the answer is incredibly high quality coffee, tea, juice, and other food. When you walk around a Google micro-kitchen, you feel exceptional because its easy to conclude that only the exceptional would be offered odwalla juices, illy espresso, mighty leaf tea, and the tastiest and healthiest snack-food alternatives. The little things are much appreciated on late nights and on weekends. If you upgrade the quality of the basics, the effect will be infinitely more profound than a mere 5% raise.

Shouldn’t your employees feel exceptional too?

Second, offer opportunities for non-professional development. At Google, this means lecture series, yoga classes, and constant engagement with co-workers that are interested in things beyond just their work. Feed intellectual curiosity because it creates a virtuous cycle. Word gets around that you value hard work and creative thinking, not just one or the other.

Third, discover and communicate the reasons why your company is doing what it does. Every law firm has a slogan but how does the slogan translate to purpose for your work and opportunity for your team? Even though your answer may not be as obvious as Google’s, it is just as important.

You might read these three pieces of advice and say “it’s not our job to provide food, fun, and life fulfillment; we’re professionals.” Googlers are professionals too. Amateurs, or people who don’t take work seriously, don’t produce $2 billion in quarterly profits and 20% annual growth. Google hasn’t made these investments of time and money just because it feels like the right thing to do, they’ve consciously concluded that these ‘perks’ are the optimal way to produce great work, and in turn, massive profits.

Ultimately, you must ask yourself, if you want your employees to make great work product a major priority in their lives, don’t you have to make their lives a major priority of yours?

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One Response to “Workplace happiness — inspired by Google”

  1. radtraveler August 7, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    I absolutely love this, my friend. Your analysis, as always, I insightful and spot on. Miss you, bud.

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