When I first read about trouble in Google land over child care costs I thought it would be another case of the how super well paid but whiney Silicon Valley parents were unreasonably complaining about a minor bump in their charmed luxury lives. But maybe not.
Google appears to be on a search for the holy grail of child care, and even after charging parents for the service Google wound up subsidizing things to the tune of 37,000 *per child per year* – managing to spend the approximate average national income on every kid lucky enough to reach the nirvanesque kinderplex environment. The solution to this negative cash flow – unusual for the company known for showering employees with benefits like laundry service and free meals – was to raise the child care rates to about 2500 per month per child.
The NYT reports that two kids in Google childcare will run you $57,000. Although Googlers take home an average of something like $140,000 per year this isn’t going to ruin them, but this sure ain’t a page from the Brady Bunch days.
The situation is interesting economically but I think even more interesting as an experiment in Google’s approach to social engineering, which I think argue may be failing because it may not be able to scale in the same fashion as many of Google’s magnificent technological innovations.
Although Silicon Valley employees have historically enjoyed some great benefits, Google shined as the company that outdid everybody with free gourmet meals, free laundry, and great parties all within a context of individual freedom to work pretty much as you pleased as long as you were productively engaged, and even that was defined in some part by the employee.
This approach seemed to be working well, but I wonder how much of this was just an illusion caused by Google’s huge wash of incoming cash. The NYT article suggests that the company hardly even noticed the child care subsidy until recently. I’m guessing that only recently have the Google bean counters been called up from their free lunch to sharpen their pencils and find ways for Google to trim the company budget.
There are obviously two huge human resource pressures on Google now as it grows within the context of providing the world’s best company bennies. First is the fact that the legions of Googlers are for the most part…kidless. As employees age, especially the key folks from the early days, Google will see a lot more departures of key folks and a lot more demands for family time and benefits. Even stronger will be the pressure from the growing number of employees in Google’s empire, far more of whom are likely to be “in it for the money and perks” than in the early days. I remember touring the Googleplex a few years ago with an exec who, when asked about this problem, said it was not happening. But I think that was about 10,000 employees ago and before the level of concern over Google’s KinderGate scandal.
I will be very interesting to see if Google can scale their sometimes pesky human resources as effectively as they have scaled their technological and commercial resources.
I’m guessing…make that strongly predicting….the answer is no.
Just as employees often have “cafeteria plans” wherein the employee chooses particular types of health coverage, employees probably would like the ‘cafeteria plan’ to extend to other perks.
Alot of people at google would be likely to opt for high salaries now and extended leaves or outright departures after the kids are born. I don’t think people really want child care and work environments to coincide at all.
Would it be possible for Google to have accomplished this at lower cost? Sure. Would it be better? Well, when you come right down to it, most women who work do so at a negative rate if they have to pay for child care. That is, they wind up with a net expenditure greater than their earnings but they also wind up with bouts of freedom from child care. Perhaps the real item that is purchased in both school and pre-school is parental headache-relief, not “education” and not “care”. If the price tag is so high at Google, perhaps they are really providing a good environment? Well, the germ factories of minimum wage worker’s day care are not all that different than the germ factories of yuppie day care. Should a yuppie parent have to pay more for headache-relief? A well paid yuppie and a starving wage-slave have the same child-induced stress.
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