Real World Intrudes, Google No Longer Fortune's No. 1 Place to Work

Ann All

Those of us with an envious bent sometimes find it tough to take when Fortune comes out with its annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work for. After all, who wouldn't covet appreciation letters from the CEO (complete with a crisp $50 or $100 bill, no less), or regularly designated treats (fresh fruit on Mondays, M&M's on Wednesdays), two of the perks provided by two members of Fortune's top 50? That kind of information can lead to dangerous lines of thinking: "When was the last time my boss got me fresh fruit or candy? Oh right, never."


Fortune's list is packed with tech companies, including No. 1 NetApp, Microsoft, Cisco, SAS and Adobe Systems. Maybe that's because their corporate cultures tend to be more "egalitarian" than those of companies in other fields. (Fortune uses that word to describe a number of tech companies.) Or maybe it's because working with cool technologies is a pretty cool perk for employees enamored of technology.


Putting all the envy aside, many folks are making a fairly big deal of the fact that Google, which was perched atop the listings for the past two years, slid to No. 4 on this year's list. As Fortune editor Adam Lashinsky writes, it appears to be dawning on Google's senior managers that the company's benefits may be just too darned expensive. Some examples: Google will no longer offer all-company, all-expenses-paid field trips. It reduced the employee discount offered at a store selling Google swag from 50 percent to 20 percent. This year's Christmas bonus was an Android-equipped "Dream Phone" rather than the usual $1,000 in cash.


Lashinsky goes on to note that Google employees (including his wife) continue to get some pretty awesome benefits, including the much-publicized free gourmet food. While some folks say the free grub is mostly a means of getting workers to put in more hours at the office, Google insists it facilitates team-building and collaboration.


This view is backed up by a former Google software developer named Sergey Solyanik, who won a measure of blogosphere fame when he wrote about his experiences at his former employer. Interestingly, Solyanik left for the somewhat more traditional environs of Microsoft after working for Google, finding the environment at the search giant too laissez-faire for his tastes. He wasn't the only one, as I wrote in May. More recently, some e-mails from former Google employees have surfaced that reiterate some of Solyanik's complaints. Also mentioned in the less-than-complementary e-mails: the company's lengthy and involved hiring process, which I wrote about in March. According to an item on redOrbit, Google co-founder Larry Page actually still reviews resumes of potential hires.


Trimming of employee benefits isn't Google's only concession to tough economic times. Earlier this month it announced it was laying off about 100 recruiters since its hiring pace has slowed and also abandoning for now some projects such as Google Notebook and Jaiku.

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