Does Employee Satisfaction Improve Your ROI?

Successful Business People Showing Thumbs Up. Wayne O'Neill and Associates What does it take to become one of Fortune’s “Best Places to Work”?  Is it worth investing in employee satisfaction?  How can you keep employees happy, which in turn keeps clients happy, which ultimately improves your bottom line?

Most experts say that real job satisfaction is more than benefits or perks.  In the Inc. magazine, February 2013 issue, Teresa Amabile, Harvard business school professor, director of research, and co-author of “The Progress Principle:  Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work” says, “Of all the things that contribute to a happy workday, the one thing that stands out from my research is making progress on meaningful work.  Feeling like you are able to move forward on a daily basis engenders real joy.” 

Fast Company’s March 2013 article “Not a Happy Accident:  How Google Deliberately Designs Workplace Satisfaction”  confirms that Google has enviable employee perks such as:  free food, gym memberships, free haircuts during work hours, Wi-Fi-outfitted shuttle rides to work, plus bowling alleys, billiard tables, Lego rooms and permission to bring pets to work.  According to Fortune’s 2013 listing of “100 Best Companies to Work For”, Google placed #1 for the fourth time not just for the 100,000 hours of subsidized massages it doled out in 2012.  New this year are three wellness centers and a seven-acre sports complex, which includes a roller hockey rink; courts for basketball, bocce, and shuffle ball; and horseshoe pits. Though this generosity is appreciated, Google says that the re-engineered HR is what ensures their happy and profitable workplace.

What did Google do to grow in such a short time from a  two-man startup to an organization with over 34,000 employees in 40 different countries?  With this phenomenal workforce expansion, one wonders:  How has Google successfully managed and integrated all these new people while concurrently motivating them to be consistently loyal, ambitious, innovative, and productive?

Their productivity is indeed noteworthy considering that just 15 years ago, Google’s search engine, now used around the world over 100 billion times a month, didn’t exist.  Few can parallel Google in the profound impact their inventive achievements have made on human life in such a short period of time with such products as:  Google Maps, Gmail, Translator, Google Earth, and Android.    Larry Page and Sergey Brin cofounded the firm with the soaring ambition of making the world’s information available to everyone.

What few know is that Google has devoted the same level of intellectual firepower it used to create self-driving cars to discovering, refining, and implementing leadership practices that optimize human performance in the workplace.  Contrary to traditional leadership practices which squeeze as much out of people while paying them as little as possible, Google holds an authentic reverence for its employees and seeks to not just appeal to their uber-developed (top) minds in motivating performance, but also to their very human hearts.

“Imagine a world where most organizations were the best place to work. Imagine what we could be getting done on the planet if it were true.” quote by Karen May, VP of people development, Google

Google’s groundbreaking model of leadership has helped its stock appreciate by over 650% since the firm’s IPO seven and a half years ago.  In comparison, the Dow Jones average is up by just 44% in the same time frame.  Mark Crowley, former Senior Vice President at Washington Mutual, one of the country’s largest financial institutions, spent time with Google’s leadership and highlighted his lessons learned in the recent Fast Company magazine.   Here is a summary of his findings along with what we have discovered in our practice:


How to Design Workplaces for High Satisfaction and Productivity:

1.  Attract and retain great talent.  Invest in your people.  Take good care of your employees.  Ask employees what they desire and need, listen to their responses, and act upon them.  A study on what employees want from employers revealed these desires in’s Infographic “What Makes Employee’s Unhappy“:

  • Men want money and promotions
  • Women want reduced hours or flexible hours
  • Gen-Xers want a higher job title
  • Millennials want more training
  • Others want benefits plus perks like free beverages, a tablet or Smartphone for personal use or free massages    For more on what each generation values and expects, check out our blog:  “Managing Multiple Generations for Effective Collaboration & Contribution.”

2.  Be highly selective in hiring, purposely recruit ambitious people with proven track records of high achievement.  Appeal to the top minds to motivate top performance, drive extraordinary innovation and build remarkable brands.  By hiring top people, you harness energy rather than have to coax it out of them.

3.  Appeal to the human heart.  Employees are more likely to be loyal to a company when leaders fully support and authentically value them.  What does #2 ranked “Best Companies to Work For” in 2013 do?  With two artists in residence on staff, the perk-friendly, privately held data analytics firm SAS takes creativity seriously and this year added an organic farm for SAS’s four cafeterias.

4.  Make “being a great place to work” part of your DNA and culture. Investigate companies that are considered “best places to work”, connect with their leaders, and emulate them.

5.  Consistently do the right thing.  When leaders choose to make a habit of making wise and ethical decisions, it anchors trust.  When they walk the talk, and communicate the ups and downs effectively, it demonstrates transparency and inclusion.

6.  Ensure people have inspiring work.  The jobs people are asked to perform often lack variety and challenge.  When work becomes too routine or repetitive with few opportunities for growth and personal fulfillment, it can decrease employee spirit.  One of the unique perks that Google leaders give every employee –regardless of job title or pay level–is the opportunity to devote up to 20% of their work week to a project of their choice. Typically, Googlers choose to help out on some other company venture, but the pursuit is ultimately up to each employee.

7. Allow employees freedom and control of their time with accountability.
Over a 40-year period, Sir Michael Marmot studied the health of Great Britain’s government workers.  He discovered that employees who had the least control over their work lives consistently had the poorest well-being and the highest mortality rates. His conclusion is that giving people greater control over when and how work gets accomplished leads to more optimal health and performance.

“One of the tenets we (Google) strongly believe in,” says Prasad Setty, VP of people analytics and compensation, “is if you give people freedom, they will amaze you.”  

Allowing employees greater discretion on work hours and when it’s time to play, take a break, or work out is a progressive and controversial idea.  Google admits that in the absence of self-motivated employees, they would be playing defense and worrying about people taking advantage of all their freedom.  But, at Google, all that autonomy comes with true accountability and employees routinely exceed management’s expectations for producing exceptional work.

8.  Motivate and inspire employees by establishing a meaningful mission, giving them a significant voice, and true influence within the workplace.
Google mission today is to make people’s lives better through technology and to do great things.  Employees find these uncommon aspirational ambitions especially motivating and inspiring.  But doing significant work alone is insufficient to sustaining employee drive and commitment. Google’s leadership team believes what’s equally important is giving people true influence in how the firm is run.

“If you value people, and you care about them as whole people,” says Karen May, VP of people development at Google, “one thing you do is give them voice, and you really listen.” Google collects employee feedback on everything from how they prefer to be compensated, to the design of new bicycles used throughout the expansive headquarters campus.  Every Friday without fail, company leaders, including Page and Brin, conduct employee forums and respond to the top 20 most-asked questions.

But the transparency goes even deeper. Employees are given extraordinary access to company information, along with the trust that they’ll always use it for good. When the firm formally surveys its workers each year, not only do 90% of them participate, but they ultimate see not just their own group’s results, they see everyone else’s (though privacy is protected). And when the firm takes action on the feedback employees collectively provide, they share all of that too.

“All of this defines the employer-employee relationship very differently” says May. “It creates a different kind of experience being here, and also then creates opportunities for us in what we try to solve together for the world. I think all those add up.”


In reality, few businesses ever have been built with employee happiness as its cornerstone.  But in setting its sights on making employees contented, Google was not seeking a competitive advantage as much as it was trying to ensure its own sustainable success.  According to May, “It’s less about the aspiration to be number one in the world, and more that we want our employees and future employees to love it here, because that’s what’s going to make us successful.”


Is this the future of workplace leadership?  Would these uncommon practices and philosophies work in every organization?  Hard to determine without first trying.  Remember what Google CEO Larry Page once said, “Almost everyone who has had an idea that’s somewhat revolutionary or wildly successful was first told they were insane.”


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