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In Its Own League

From a relaxed leave allowance policy to numerous perks for working from home and a peer-to-peer mental health community, Google surely knows how to pamper Googlers
twitter-logoSumant Banerji | Print Edition: April 4, 2021
In Its Own League
Photograph by Ruben Singh

American technology major Google is perhaps one of the most well-known companies globally. Its growth over the last few years in India has been such that its appetite for talent is substantial. Even then, the queue for those aspiring to get in, is longer than ever and that is down not only to just the country's unemployment problem.

Its quirky and uber-cool offices are one of the primary attractions of working in Google. Tech companies typically pamper their wards with an array of gadgets and gizmos but nobody does it quite like Google. From numerous break-out zones with provision for indoor sports like table tennis to chess, carrom and card games to the popular foosball where employees can unwind, to a delectable spread of food spanning various cuisines to cater to hunger pangs available for free, Monday morning blues is an alien concept for Googlers. There are choices when one decides to settle down for the day's work as well, from the bright-coloured bean bags to swing chairs or even the old-fashioned diwan. Not surprisingly, it is one of the reasons why it regularly tops surveys on coolest or the best places to work in. In BT's surveys, too, Google has been the uninterrupted leader since 2014.

So in a year where the pandemic has robbed Googlers of their nest for a protracted period - its offices in India are still shut and will remain so till September this year - is the company still the absolute favourite among its employees? The answer is a resounding yes, with Google topping the scoresheet for 2020. And it has done so in some style with a 15-percentage-point lead over the next in line Tata Consultancy Services. Like in the past seven years, nobody is close to displacing it from the pole position. So, what makes Google such a darling of its employees even in such an unprecedented year?

"It's how we conduct ourselves. At Google, we call them the three respects: Respect the user, the opportunity and each other," says Priti Narain, Market HR Leader for Google in India. "These three guiding principles play a large part of making our culture, but it really comes down to our people: Googlers. Happier employees are more productive, and more likely to stay at Google so we keep our Googlers curious, by creating an environment where they can develop new skills or take on different roles and teams. We also work hard to make sure that we're hiring people with different backgrounds, talents and interests so there's a diverse mix of views and perspectives."

In an unusual and difficult year, the list of initiatives Google took for the welfare of its employees even while they were stranded at home is exhaustive. Some of them like a work-from-home allowance - a sizeable $1,000 - to enable Googlers to procure equipment like office furniture or online fitness classes and virtual offsites are par for the course. There are others that stand out. Recognising early that in a forced WFH regime employees maybe more stressed than usual due to the added burden of household chores, the company relaxed its policy for leave allowance. It introduced the concept of 'carer's leave' so that Googlers have the flexibility to look after their kids while schools were shut longer than usual. Initially introduced for a period of six weeks of paid leave, it was later extended to a total of 14 weeks. In addition, to avoid burnout, it also gave two official day offs to each employee to log off, unwind and recharge their batteries.

Most of all, the company stayed agile, flexible and ever ready to adapt to any eventuality.

"We are collectively writing the playbook as we go through this unprecedented time together. Our first priority has been to safeguard the health and safety of our Googler community," adds Narain. "So we took action to reduce the need for people to come into our offices, either recommending or mandating our workforce to work from home depending on the local situation."

Another challenge companies faced during the pandemic was ensuring the mental wellbeing of their workforce. To that end, Google introduced the Blue Dot Programme - a peer-to-peer mental health community.

"They are employees who volunteer time to provide peer support and listening sessions for other employees who want to talk about their problems. The topic and how much you disclose is up to you. The goal is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, fostering a more open and connected Google," says Narain.

This was over and above professional counselling available to Googlers and their dependents through the employee assistance programme. It is a confidential service that employees could avail over the phone or virtually through Google Meet. In normal times, employees could meet counsellors physically as well in some locations.

The sense of bonding among employees can be gauged by the success of a unique experiment initiated by a Hyderabad-based Googler. Coined as the Googler to Googlet that refers to any kid at home with a Googler, it enabled parents to connect with their colleagues while getting the kids involved at the same time.

"Since May, Googlers across our India offices have hosted more than 20 fun and interactive virtual activities for Googlers and Googlets. The workshops included sessions on storytelling, origami, painting, programming and more," says Narain. "Googlets even led some of the arts and crafts sessions, with close to 650 Googlers and Googlets joining this virtual event."

Google pampers employees in ways only it can.

@sumantbanerji

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