During a telephone interview, Gopi Kallayil, senior product marketing manager for Google, lists which of the company's much-publicized employee benefits he takes advantage of.
"Let me pull this up because there are so many," he says. When his computer produces a list a moment later, Kallayil makes his way down the screen and continues: "The free gourmet food, because that's a daily necessity. Breakfast, lunch and dinner I eat at Google. The next one is the fitness center, the 24-hour gym with weights. And there are yoga classes."
There is a pause before he adds that he also enjoys the speaker series, the in-house doctor, the nutritionist, the dry cleaners and the massage service. He has not used the personal trainer, the swimming pool and the spa -- at least not yet, anyway. Nor has he commuted to and from the office on the high-tech, wi-fi equipped, bio-diesel shuttle bus that Google provides for employees, but that is only because he lives nearby and can drive without worrying about a long commute.
Is Google's generosity purely altruistic? Of course not, which is not to say that any nefarious motives are at work, either. To be sure, Google is a funky company that calls its offices a "campus" and has created a "collegiate" atmosphere where employees dress casually and can have fun. But make no mistake: All these perks -- some quirky, some traditional -- show that Google means business, according to management experts from Wharton and elsewhere. The company wants to achieve several goals: Attract the best knowledge-workers it can in the intensely competitive environment for high achievers; help them work long hours by feeding them gourmet meals on-site and handling other time-consuming personal chores; show that they are valued; and have them remain Googlers, as employees are known, for many years.
There may be a potential downside to all this largesse: Some employees may come to feel uncomfortable at the company if they see the perks as an impingement by their work lives on their personal lives, according to one Wharton researcher. For the most part, however, what Google and other firms are doing makes eminent sense for both the companies and the people they employ.
Peter Cappelli, management professor and director of the Center for Human Resources at Wharton, says simply: "These benefits help companies recruit people who are willing to spend most all of their time at work."
Steven E. Gross, global leader of the broad-based rewards consulting business at Mercer Human Resource Consulting, says that Google, with its vast array of benefits, is trying to differentiate itself from other companies that want to hire people with the same talents. These companies, too, have been expanding their employee benefits in recent years. "It's all about the employment brand," Gross says.
"There's a great demand for technical-professional types -- the folks Google is going after," Gross adds. "What you see happening with knowledge-workers is the creation of a different type of employment experience. Google and others are saying, 'Come to work for us, work very hard, and we'll try to help you with your daily activities.' Transportation is one. And having services available on campus is another. There's also an integration of work and non-work activities. Family life and work are blurring for many professionals."
Wharton management professor Nancy Rothbard agrees. She says companies want to create both an appealing environment to attract and retain employees and make people feel they belong, but they also want to increase productivity. Worries like childcare, cooking, going to the dry cleaners and visiting the doctor off-site during the week, says Rothbard, "distract employees at the workplace."
Google -- which has close to 10,700 full-time employees, although not all are based in its Mountain View, Calif.-headquarters -- is the best place to work in America, according to a recent issue of Fortune magazine. A big reason for that No. 1 status is the broad array of amenities it offers employees. It has a reputation for doing the unusual. In the prospectus accompanying its initial public offering of stock in 2004, the company declared that its philosophy was: "Don't Be Evil." One section of its IPO filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission was headed "Making the World a Better Place."