Category Archives: Happy companies

How Google became such a great workplace – it’s all in the data

We’ve all seen how Google keeps coming out on top of the lists of the best US workplaces. I went to the Googleplex in Mountainview myself in 2011 to see if they really were that happy and they most certainly were.

But why is that? This fascinating article in Slate give us part of the answer. From the article:

A few years ago, Google’s human resources department noticed a problem: A lot of women were leaving the company… Google monitors its employees’ well-being to a degree that can seem absurd to those who work outside Mountain View. The attrition rate among women suggested there might be something amiss in the company’s happiness machine. And if there’s any sign that joy among Googlers is on the wane, it’s the Google HR department’s mission to figure out why and how to fix it.

Google calls its HR department People Operations, though most people in the firm shorten it to POPS.

Every company has an HR department who would be tasked with solving problems like this. Here’s where Google is different:

…when POPS looked into Google’s woman problem, it found it was really a new mother problem: Women who had recently given birth were leaving at twice Google’s average departure rate. At the time, Google offered an industry-standard maternity leave plan. After a woman gave birth, she got 12 weeks of paid time off.

So in 2007, they changed the plan. New mothers would now get five months off at full pay and full benefits, and they were allowed to split up that time however they wished, including taking some of that time off just before their due date.

And it worked:

POPS rigorously monitors a slew of data about how employees respond to benefits, and it rarely throws money away. The five-month maternity leave plan, for instance, was a winner for the company. After it went into place, Google’s attrition rate for new mothers dropped down to the average rate for the rest of the firm. “A 50 percent reduction—it was enormous!” Bock says. What’s more, happiness—as measured by Googlegeist, a lengthy annual survey of employees—rose as well.

What’s radically different at Google is the data-driven approach they employ. Instead of making HR decisions by gut feel, they gather the data they need to find the right decision:

At the heart of POPS is a sophisticated employee-data tracking program, an effort to gain empirical certainty about every aspect of Google’s workers’ lives—not just the right level of pay and benefits but also such trivial-sounding details as the optimal size and shape of the cafeteria tables and the length of the lunch lines.

Read the whole article – there are many other great points in it.

Here’s just one more way they’ve done it:

Another major POPS finding concerned how to give an employee more money. In 2010, then-CEO Eric Schmidt decided to give all Googlers a raise. It was the job of POPS to determine the best way to offer that increase. The group ran a “conjoint survey” in which it asked employees to choose the best among many competing pay options. For instance, would you rather have $1,000 more in salary or $2,000 as a bonus?

“What we found was that they valued base pay above all. When we offered a bonus of X, they valued that at what it costs us. But if you give someone a dollar in base pay, they value it at more than a dollar because of the long-term certainty.” In the fall of 2010, Schmidt announced that all Google employees would get a 10 percent salary increase. Googlers were overjoyed—many people cite that announcement as their single happiest moment at the firm, and Googlegeist numbers that year went through the roof. Attrition to competing companies also declined.

Wells Fargo: “We believe shareholders come last.”

Someone sent me a link to this Forbes article about The Gospel According to Wells Fargo

There’s some good stuff in it, but my favorite has to be this:

We believe shareholders come last. If we do what’s right for our team members, customers and communities, then—and only then—will our shareholders see us as a great investment.

More and more companies subscribe to the same philosophy and have realized that they make more money and serve their investors better by putting investors last.

Happy at work at… Happy

Yes, there is a company in the UK called Happy. Yes, they’re happy :o)

We went to London last week and had a chance to visit the Happy HQ and meet with their managing director Cathy Busani to hear more about what makes them a great workplace.

Here’s a short video with Cathy:

And there’s much more. At Happy, employees can also choose their own bosses, they help make all major decisions, all bonuses are divided equally – just to give you some examples.

Cathy will talk much more about thisat our conference about happiness at work in Copenhagen in May. Read all about it here.

Happiness at work at Perrigo

Health care company Perrigo is looking for more employees and this is how they try to attract them:

Where many companies present themselves seriously and factually, Perrigo present themselves as a fun, lively, social place.

I don’t know about you – but it kinda makes me want to work there :o)

Here are the top three four reasons why Perrigo’s “casting call” is a great way to attract great people.

1: It speaks to your emotions
Disney World does the same thing. I’ve seen the video they use to present themselves to potential new employees and it contained exactly NO facts. Instead it was all about all the cool stuff Disney does – from Monday Night Football to Pirates of the Caribbean to their Cruises.

I saw this video with a group of highly paid consultants and leaders as part of a seminar at Disney University and after that 6-minute presentation, several of the group declared themselves ready to quit their careers and go work for Disney World :o)

That is the power of speaking to people’s emotions!

Where most companies try to speak to your logical, rational side, Perrigo’s video speaks directly to your emotions, which is more effective. Many studies in decision-making show that we make our decisions with our emotions and only then do we find the rational arguments to support our emotions.

2: It’s fun
Why does recruiting always have to be such a deadly serious process? In fact, studies show that we make better decisions when we’re happy and relaxed. Let’s make it fun!

3: This video will instantly repel a ton of potential hires
While many people will be attracted to Perrigo, many others will see this video and think “I will never work for a company that silly.” And that’s a great thing because those people would obviously not fit in at an organization that is happy and fun-loving. It’s much easier to let these people self-select early in the process than to have to read their applications and interview them (and possibly even hire them) only to find later that they’re a bad fit for the company culture.

4: Employees were involved in making it (Update)
After I posted this, it struck me that this is especially cool because current employees could get in on the fun of making the video.

Your take

What’s your take on this? Does this video make you want to work for Perrigo or run away screaming? Have you seen other companies present themselves in fun, untraditional ways? Write a comment, I’d love to hear your take.

Related posts

Happiness at work at Atlassian

This is how Australian software company Atlassian present their values on their web site’s about page:

Open company, no bullshit

Atlassian embraces transparency wherever at all practical, and sometimes where impractical. All information, both internal and external, is public by default. We are not afraid of being honest with ourselves, our staff and our customers.

Build with heart and balance

Everyday we try to build products that are useful and that people lust after. Building with heart means really caring about what we’re making and doing — it’s a mission, not just a job. When we build with balance we take into account how initiatives and decisions will affect our colleagues, our customers and our stakeholders.


Don’t #@!% the customer

When we make internal decisions we ask ourselves “how will this affect our customers?” If the answer is that it would ‘screw’ them, or make life more difficult, then we need to find a better way. We want the customer to respect us in the morning.

Play, as a team

We want all Atlassians to feel like they work with Atlassian, not for Atlassian. We think it’s important to have fun with your workmates while working and contributing to the Atlassian team.


Be the change you seek

We think Gandhi had it pretty right when he said “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world”.
At Atlassian we encourage everyone to create positive change — we’re constantly looking for ways to improve our company, our products and our environment.

Not only are these some good values to have, they’re also presented in a way that is fun, irreverent and different. I love that number one is “No bullshit” and I love the little icons that support the message.

Your take

What do you think of Atlassian’s values? Does your company have values? Do you know’em? Does anyone? Do you live by them? Do they inspire you in any way? Write a comment, I’d like to know

Happiness at work at Zappos

I’ve been inspired by Zappos for quite a while now. Not only are they insanely successful, it’s also a genuinely happy workplace, judging from all I’ve read about them.

Here’s a nice little piece from abc news that shows just how happy this company is:

MAN, that’s good to see :o)

Here are my top three reasons to love zappos.

1: They have a culture that promotes happiness at work

Zappos is committed to defining and living a positive, happy culture. Their values are:
1. Deliver WOW Through Service
2. Embrace and Drive Change
3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
5. Pursue Growth and Learning
6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
8. Do More With Less
9. Be Passionate and Determined
10. Be Humble

That’s your recipe for happiness right there.

2: They pay new employees to quit

At the end of your training as a new Zappos employee, the company offers you $2000 if you quit right away. This means that the people who stay are committed to the company and the culture.

Here’s an interview where Bill Taylor (formerly of Fast Company) talks about it.

3: They behave like human beings. Great human beings

The fact that people are happy at work (yes, even the ones answering the phone) means that they give incredibly good customer service.

And often that service goes above and beyond. I dare you to read this story and not shed a tear.

The upshot

Zappos gets it, as do more and more companies. When a business puts its people first (not the customer and not the investors, but the people) you increase happiness, creativity, productivity and profits.

This is not rocket science – and companies like Google, Southwest Airlines, SAS Insititute, Disney, Pixar and many many others will testify to the fact that it works.

So how does your company prioiritize? Are employees at the top of the list – or is that spot taken by profits, growth, customers, or..?

Helping Africa through business

AfricaI recently wrote a blog post asking for information on happy workplaces in Africa.

I got some great tips, showing that even in poor countries it’s still possible to be happy at work.

Now I can finally announce the reason why i ask. A company has been launched that has a simple but breath-taking goal: To eradicate poverty in Africa through business.

The company is called C4, and the idea is based on micro-financing ala Grameen Bank – with a focus on helping African businesses.

The idea is this:

  1. People in rich countries can create an account with C4 and put money into it.
  2. Africans can create accounts asking for investments.
  3. C4 account holders can decide which projects to invest in.

Note that you’re not giving the money as aid – you’re investing in a number of projects and can expect to get your money back with interest.

The advantages are clear:

  • You get direct influence over which projects you support.
  • Instead of giving aid, we’re helping people help themselves.

I know the people behind this, and I know their commitment, skill and energy will carry them on to great results. I have also been giving them a hand here and there :o)

Now they’re looking for the first group of people to start test-driving the site. They’re looking for 2,015 people to be specific (why that number? See if you can figure it out :o)

I urge you to sign up for this. It’s a great opportunity to be a part of something fun, that has the potential to make the world a better place.

I will certainly be participating, with a specific focus on spreading happiness at work in African businesses.

Happy at work at Nixon McInnes

GreenAfter I wrote on my blog that I’m a huge fan of Ricardo Semler, I got an email from another avowed fan, namely Tom Nixon who is a director at Nixon McInnes a web design agency in Brighton, England.

He’s been telling me a little about how they run things, and here are som highlights:

Everyone sets their own working hours
This works really well for us. We had an almost tearful moment at our ‘review of the year’ meeting before xmas when a relatively new member of staff said that her highlight of the year was being able to see her kids in their school nativity play, which had been possible for the first time this year because of our flexible working arrangements.

Open book accounting
Everyone knows what everyone else earns, and I also like to show staff our bank statements now and again so they get a feel for what comes in and goes out. Sometimes we have awkward conversations about pay because salaries are public, but it’s so much better getting it all out in the open – people usually find out eventually anyway.

Voting on key issues
We had a chance to move into some really nice offices about a year ago, but the team voted against it in the end because it was just too expensive. We were all a bit bummed by not getting to work in the new place but because everyone had a say in it there was no

Their company culture also includes things like “People wear the clothes that they feel are appropriate” and “We believe that businesses need not be only about money.”

YES! Way to go! It’s all very Semler-ish and perfectly in tune with my previous posts on why secret salaries are a bad idea and the cult of overwork.

I like the openness and participation that this encourages and the fact that these are not just internal policies, but are mentioned right on the website. Kudos!

PS. They’re hiring!