Monday, August 25, 2008

The Beginning of the End of Google as we Know It?

Valleywag is reporting that Google is rumored to be considering cutting their culinary employee perks.

EDIT: Now they are reporting that the cuts are directed at facilities that don't house technical staff.

This shift is not a good sign for Google. I don't mean to blow this out of proportion, but I've always viewed perks and their addition/subtraction as a bellwether for corporations and their culture. If perks are being added, like they seemed to be at Google for so long, things are going well. If they start taking them away, well you know the company is starting to hurt.

Duh. A better performing company is going to have more room in the budget to reward their employees. That's nothing new.

Perks are more important to a job than most people realize. Take for example good coffee. If an employer provides coffee that is as good as a Caribou--I don't care for Starbucks--or another coffee shop, far fewer employees will make mid day trips to their local coffee shop. More time in office is more time adding value.

That's all well and good, but something really interesting happens in the relationship between the employee and the employer when perks and benefits get taken away. The employee will feel that they are being compensated less for their work. They used to receive a combination of salary and perks for their work. Now they receive the same salary and less perks.

What is also interesting is the snowball effect that perk reductions can have. Cutting costs in a category give an immediate savings. An expense is eliminated at no immediate perceived cost. Nobody is going to quit over taking dinner away.

How about breakfast?

What if, instead of having trained professional chefs making breakfast the company now only provides a continental breakfast, but gives employees the option to purchase what they used to get for free? Who knows what the next step will be. But I believe there will be a next step, it's far too tempting to pass up. Who knows what it will be.

If only some up and coming managerial type could think of a way to improve productivity by 20%?

Perks do add value to a company. The value is hard to monetize because the perks buy loyalty and efficiency. Loyalty, because people become attached to the perks and experiences that they facilitate. Efficiency because people are able to make use of the perks that to achieve goals that would normally take time away from their work days, e.g., on site day care, on site dry cleaning, on site concierge services and errand runners.

I do believe that the perk reductions will hit a point where the people at Google feel that working there will become very non-Google. It will start slowly, but I expect to hear not about the creative new perks at Google, but instead hear about the ones that get eliminated.

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