Calling it out: Google gone wrong

On Aug. 10, news broke of Google’s new policy stating that workers that chose to remain in a work-from-home model could face substantial pay cuts depending on where they live relative to the office that they are based out of. For example, one employee who is assigned to the Seattle office but faces a two-hour commute would endure a 10% pay cut should they opt to continue to work from home.

I get it. Employers want to bring people back to the office. There are real benefits to teamwork, culture, and communication when co-workers can work under one roof. Many employees are also eager to return to the office to tap into that, as well as have a separation between home, work, and, for some, the family while working.

Additionally, it is a common practice for employers to manage their compensation program according to market dynamics. Compensation dynamics in San Francisco are different than Denver or Madison. Drawing in closer proximity, Madison is different from Platteville or Dubuque. Hiring someone in Madison at Dubuque rates, for example, will not go well. Market adjustments are reasonable and necessary.

But here’s the rub. Punitive incentives backfire. What sane person would happily agree to sacrifice two hours a day commuting to save 10% of their compensation when last month, they were doing the same job, same level of work, and presumably at the same level of performance? All the while, they still report and work through the same market office. Nobody. Google is putting employees between a rock and a hard place, especially those who continue to have life-work balance challenges with caregiving or health matters.

Google is making this move at a time when the workforce is burnt out from the past 16 months, the virus is doing what viruses do, and economic, climate, and political pressures remain high. It’s no wonder there are herds of workers heading for the door across the country. Dubbed the “Great Resignation,” millions of workers are leaving employment. According to the Labor Department, 4 million workers left in April, and over 5 million left in both May and June. Further, the Labor Department reported that there were over 10.1 million jobs open in June. Employers are struggling to find qualified candidates. Many job openings get zero applicants. Those that do get applicants, the pool of talent may be lacking. And those that are hired may walk away after a week or two. It’s complex, frustrating, and costly for all involved.

Having led the HR function in two companies, experience tells me that forcing employees back to the office is not going to go over well. The work-from-home model was tested last year and proved workable, even in such taxing conditions. Rather than docking pay or mandating in-office attendance, I encourage companies to:

  • Recognize and acknowledge that the workforce is fried. Mental health is under duress across the board. While an employer is not the psychologist or responsible for ensuring an individual’s overall mental health, workplace demands and culture directly impact it. Take it seriously and with empathy. Strive to close, not add to, the empathy deficit as I discussed in an earlier blog post.
  • Look for the win-win. Rather than mandating everyone conform to a rigid model or taking a “my way/highway” approach, engage your team in meaningful conversation around the issues and challenges both sides have. This is an opportunity for innovation and creative problem solving toward solutions. If you want more engagement from your employees, you must work with them, demonstrate genuine interest, and work through compromises. It takes time and investment, but it’s better than the alternative.
  • Determine what compensation and benefit adjustments you can afford to attract and retain your employees. If you can improve your attractiveness, it may be worth it, even if you can’t pass on the increased costs in your pricing.

If that sounds contrary to the profit motive, that’s OK. It is but it isn’t. Some profit is better than no profit when/if you can’t deliver your goods or services. Additionally, consider what the right balance is for you and your workforce. At what point does the company enjoy profit at the unreasonable expense of your employee? (For example, Jeff Bezos thanking his employees for his joyride into space springs to mind.)

For the time being, having Google on your resume is a golden ticket. Google’s hard-line stance may drive some of their best and brightest away. No doubt, they recognized this risk and decided to proceed anyway. They’re Google. They can.

But most of us aren’t operating in that world. We can’t afford to risk driving team members away. How are you dealing with finding the right balance, retaining, and caring for your current team and attracting new co-workers? What’s your perspective? I’d love to know.

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