Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Google Lost Its CFO to Poor Work Life Balance

Back from a wonderful four day weekend in Hawaii, the annual maintenance trip my wife and I take to Kona to look after our condo. We hadn’t been in over a year, and wanted to see the new tile that replaced the awful carpet. The tile looked great, and other than some missing vertical blinds, the place was in really nice shape! We shopped for art, and did a few things here and there. Oh yah, we snorkeled a lot, including a romp with dolphins. What is interesting is that because we didn’t need to work much on the condo, we had an opportunity to work on our marriage.
We have a really good marriage, yet we have very little time to just be together and talk. We covered all kinds of ground, about things big and small. We discussed whether we wanted to sell the condo too, which was a foil to discuss what is really important to us. Do we want to recover the time it takes to manage the rentals every week, and save money, or would we prefer to have this special getaway? If we didn’t have the condo, I doubt we would have as many weekends away together.
Patrick Pichette Google CFO The topic is timely: This week Patrick Pachette, CFO of Google announced that he would be retiring to spend more time with his wife. He shared that after 25 years of non-stop work that took away from his family life, it was time to stop and really live. Pachette was candid that while he loved his job, it was being an Insecure Overachiever that drove him to work so much.
I so very much applaud his decision to step back and enjoy the time with his wife. (His kids have already left home.) But it didn’t need to be this way. He could have enjoyed his job and success for so many years without sacrificing so much on the home front. He felt that Google needed him to be on all the time. Yet now Google has lost a fantastic CFO. Maybe if he was off some of the time over the last 25 years, he would be spending another ten years as CFO. For a company like Google that doesn’t give short term guidance to Wall Street so they can plan on a long time horizon, it seems like they fell short when it came to their people.
I think Google lost its CFO to poor work life balance. What do you think?
If you’d like to learn more about insecure overachievers, here is a post I wrote a few years ago.

The Harvard Business Review Tip For The Overworked

Build Your Community: Part 12

The The Harvard Business Review tip of the day: People who are overloaded by work should “create rituals—highly specific behaviors, done at precise times, that become automatic and no longer require conscious will or discipline. For example, go[ing] to bed at the same time every night [ensures that] you consistently get enough sleep.”

As a baseball fan, I’m all over rituals. This year during the SF Giants World Series run, I listened to the first two playoff games (losses) on the radio, and then I watched next three (wins) on tv.  It was a bummer, because I was afraid to turn the radio on for the rest of the playoffs, lest The Giants start losing again.  Unfortunate, because Jon Miller and the other local radio announcers are so much better than the various clowns broadcasting on tv.  But what could I do?  I didn’t want The Giants to lose on my account.

My silly-but-true example illustrates something important about human behavior: much of what we do is driven by emotion, not reason.  And while my turning on the tv was not a ritual per say, rituals serve the same function: emotional comfort from the sameness of an activity.

Rituals are one of the ways that corporate culture is perpetuated. A primary example is the quarterly company meeting, when all employees gather to hear senior management go through a scorecard of performance, talk about what is coming up, and try to inspire employees for the future.  Employees at dysfunctional companies sometimes refer to these as “cool aid sessions” while companies like Google and now Yahoo use weekly all hands meetings as a way to build a culture of transparency and trust among employees.  (For more check out this interview with Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations on Thinkwithgoogle.com).

This tip from HBR is spot on, although I disagree with the overt suggestion to use rituals as a means to maintain a work-first mentality.

“Sebastian Tate,” who we met in Chapter 7 in this post, uses the ritual of the male-bonding camping trip to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

<<Previous Post  Next Post>>

Is There A Down Side To The Free Lunch At Google?

Chapter 6:  Corporate Culture -The Invisible Hand of the Company Part 8

Shortly after the arrival of Marissa Mayer as CEO, Yahoo started giving free lunches to its employees as a means to change the culture and improve morale.[i]

Google, where she worked for many years is known for having free, very nutritious lunches.  It’s a great benefit and while I’ve never eaten there, I did go to the Califia Café, started by a former Google Chef. The food is fantastic.

One writer estimated that Google spent $72 million on food in 2008 .[ii] Why does Google do that?  Does anyone think it’s because they care about employees, or are being nice? (Sorry, I realize I am getting that snarky tone again.  Normally, in situations like this, I ask my wife read to help me moderate, but since she just got back from a business trip, I’ll spend my time with her catching up and let the chips fall where they may with the tone of the post.)

The benefits to Google include higher morale, a stronger culture, a talking point to keep salaries lower, and a way to keep people close to the office.

And it’s not just food that Google and other companies offer.  According to tech enthusiast Jonathan Strickland the Googleplex offers on site haircuts, medical, dry cleaning, laundry (complete with employees bringing in dirty laundry on the weekend), massage, as well as pools, gyms, video games and ping pong.  According to Strickland, the strategy is “keeping the employee workforce in the office more often. Give employees enough reasons to stick around and you’ll likely see productivity go up. Why head home when everything you need is at work?”[iii]

These perks are one way to address the difficulty of work life balance by bringing some of the life tasks into the workplace.  Is there a downside to this?

[like]

<<Previous  Next>>


[i] http://www.geekosystem.com/yahoo-free-lunch/  The only way to truly change this theme is for the company as a whole to embrace a new vision and strive for it. For that, they need happy workers.

[ii] Google’s Ginormous Free Food Budget: $7,530 Per Googler, $72 Million A Year* by Vasanth Sridharan | Business Insider| Apr. 23, 2008, 2:36 PM  Retrieved October 24, 2012  Read

[iii] How the Googleplex Works by Jonathan Strickland Howstuffworks.com. Retrieved October 24, 2012 Read

 

Noogler or Mini-Me? Who Will Thrive In Your Company’s Culture?

Picture from Google.com B roll

Noogler in New York Office

Chapter 3: The Real American Idol part 11

Who gets ahead in the corporate world?  How often is it the smartest, most qualified person, and how often is it someone picked due to connections or politics?  Of course it’s not an either or, but the higher someone goes in the company, the more the soft skills matter. One person’s style may work very well in one company, and be a flop in another.  As important as it is to learn to “flex your style” I think it equally important to understand how inflexible corporate culture can be, so you can find the right fit for you.

So how does a particular culture evolve?  It starts with the founders, and is propagated through continuing hires over time.  Google, for example, is extremely deliberate about the type of people they are looking for, and has built an interview process looking to find “Googleyness.”

We want to get a feel for what makes you, well, you. We also want to make sure this is a place you’ll thrive, so we’ll be looking for signs around your comfort with ambiguity, your bias to action and your collaborative nature.[i]

New hires (aka Nooglers) go through a specific series of steps to become acclimated to Google, which sometimes even wearing a fraternity pledge style hat.

While Google takes great pains to foster an anti-hierarchical culture, that is not always the case in the corporate world.  Many managers are looking for the Mini-Me.  Mini-Me was a character in the Austin Powers movies, a clone of the villain Dr. Evil.  Mini Me is a favorite, because he rarely speaks and just mimics the expressions of Dr. Evil.  Funny stuff, and I laughed when a senior manager used the analogy to describe the “big boss.”  In her words

Within a business unit, there were favorites based on behavior [that come from the] guy at the top.  If you fit what he liked, you did well.  He didn’t appreciate diversity.  He wanted the Mini Me, everyone [to be] like him exactly.

Whether your company is looking for its version of the Googler, or allows pockets of Mini-Me, the general point is the same – a corporate culture will select for a certain kind of person, perhaps more accurately a certain kind of behavior.

<<Previous Post  Next Post>>