Employee Engagement and Google: How Are They Linked?

Esteban Gomez | July 11, 2014

Google is known for taking on ambitious innovation projects aimed toward improving engagement across a range of different areas. Some have been wildly successful (self-driving car, Maps), while others have been huge failures (Buzz, Wave) and a few are yet to be determined (Glass, Google+).

It should come as no surprise then that when Google decided to jump into an employee engagement project, its scope would be over a 100 year period. Yes, 100 years, you read that correctly.

In a recently released Harvard Business Review article, Google SVP of People Operations Laszlo Bock outlined gDNA, a major long-term study aimed at understanding work by the People Innovation lab at Google.

Bock said, “Here’s how it works: a randomly selected and representative group of over 4,000 Googlers completes two in-depth surveys each year. The survey itself is built on scientifically validated questions and measurement scales. We ask about traits that are static, like personality; characteristics that change, like attitudes about culture, work projects and co-workers; and how Googlers fit into the web of relationships around all of us. We then consider how all these factors interact, as well as with biographical characteristics like tenure, role and performance. Critically, participation is optional and confidential.”

Regarding work-life balance, Bock broke down gDNA’s findings so far by grouping Googlers into two categories: Segmentors and Integrators. Segmentors “draw a psychological line between work stress and the rest of their lives and, without a care for looming deadlines and floods of emails, can fall gently asleep each night.” On the other hand Integrators “not only find themselves checking email all evening but pressing refresh on Gmail again and again to see if new work has come in.”

So far, only 31 percent of Googlers fall into the Segmentors category and 69 percent are Integrators trying to achieve the ability to have a better work-life balance. Though these results are just the tip of the iceberg at this point, Google is using information it gathers for short term improvements. However, the scope of gDNA is long term and will take years to get a better data sampling to base results.

gDNA’s findings will have a significant impact not only within Google as they “aim to identify the biggest influencers of a satisfying and productive work experience” but within other companies as well – as long as they take the findings seriously and implement new practices based on them accordingly.

When tackling employee engagement, it’s important to not focus on just short or long term but both, and that’s what Google is doing. Bock provided four suggestions for beginning to explore employee engagement within your company:

1. Ask yourself what your most pressing people issues are. Or better yet, ask your people what those issues are.

2. Survey your people about how they think they are doing on those most pressing issues and what they would do to improve.

3. Tell your people what you learned. If it’s about the company, they’ll have ideas to improve it. If it’s about themselves – like our gDNA work – they’ll be grateful.

4. Run experiments based on what your people tell you. Take two groups with the same problem, and try to fix it for just one. Most companies roll out change after change and never really know why something worked or if it did at all. By comparing between the groups, you’ll be able to learn what works and what doesn’t.

Though we may have to wait 100 years to truly find out what this information means, it seems to me that gDNA is on the right track, and this experiment is likely to inspire a more well-rounded discussion about employee engagement and the importance of work-life balance.

About The Author

Esteban Gomez is a marketing consultant with interviewstream. He loves learning and has a passion for traveling, having visited many countries including China, Colombia, Italy, and Peru.


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