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Yahoo for Google!

by Mark I Schickman

“Google” has already become a popular verb, meaning to research a name through Internet sources. The word is about to get a secondary meaning: “to provide wall-to-wall perks to company employees.” Largely because of those broad and unusual employee benefits, Google has taken a lock on the top slot on Fortune magazine’s 100 top places to work.

I have worked with several other Fortune Top 100 firms and know the value they place on their employees. Their traditional benefit structure is often great. Their compensation programs are generous and geared toward rewarding employees. They articulate company philosophies of respect toward employees and their ideas and reward achievement and productivity.

Once upon a time, those considerations separated enlightened employers from the perceived robber-baron capitalists. Then a decade ago, the “stock option” — and its elusive promise of overnight wealth — became the wild card that attracted people to the hot employment prospects. Indeed, Google itself made many millionaires out of employees who were in the right place at the right time to enjoy those capital gains.

But now that the dot-com gold rush has passed, it’s again quality of life and not checkbook size that drives employee satisfaction (you don’t find hard-driving investment banks dominating the Fortune Top 100 list despite salaries that tower over the market). On those qualitative issues, Google has not just won the battle but has totally redefined the war.

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Yoga, massages, and free meals
As CNN News quoted a Google employee, “It is almost impossible to find a perk that Google does not offer its employees.” By design, no employee works more the 150 feet from a food source. Multiple cafeterias serve free meals to employees from early morning to late night. Wi-Fi-enabled shuttles transport employees from several off-site areas onto Google’s campus. Drivers get free oil changes and car washes and a $5,000 subsidy toward the purchase of a hybrid car.

Of course Google has a company workout room — but it also has a free company barber, laundry, and bookmobile. Of course the company offers childcare — but you can bring well-behaved pets on campus, too. Of course the company has medical and dental plans — but it has free doctors on campus as well. Yoga, massages, and entertainment are all part of the lifestyle benefit package.

Granted, there’s the specter of something “big brotherish” about a work environment in which all social, medical, and housekeeping needs are met. I cringe to think of the monetary award that a Google employee would seek for a wrongful discharge claim in addition to the usual claimed damages.

How much is it worth to get all meals, laundry, and transportation taken care of without even having to send a Mother’s Day card? The difficult question of where one’s work life ends and his personal life begins seems harder to answer at Google than at most places.

But in a world in which the question is so often “How can I protect myself from bad employees?” it’s heartening to see a model that focuses on “What can I give my employees that will be viewed as a real benefit to them?” Rather than devoting resources to avoiding getting sued by an angry employee, the “value added” question Google asks is “How do I get my employees to want to stay and remain productive?” Most employers can’t go to those great lengths to secure employee loyalty. But we can all ask the same questions and find different ways to protect our investment in good employees. Like so much in life, it’s the little things that pay off.

The Google story is seen as remarkable precisely because it’s thus far unique. Nobody has gone to the same lengths to create a system of employee rewards. How do I know? I Googled it.

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