Is Google Employee Loyalty Dead? Does Anybody Care?

Is Google Employee Loyalty Dead? Does Anybody Care?

August 19, 2013 recently ran an article that caught my eye: Why Are Google Employees So Disloyal? The article states that “the median employee tenure at Google is just more than one year.” That’s less than half of the average tenure at Yahoo and one sixth of the tenure at Exxon-Mobil, according to Bloomberg.


Google-squareGoogle is, of course, famous for being one of the most fun places to work in America. The employee “perks” are legendary and, as reported by Business Insider, include being able to bring your pet to work and the opportunity to amass massage credits.  Google has also, as we reported here in the recent article, invested a great deal of time and energy in developing a robust and thoughtful recognition program.

Why, then, do they suffer the turnover reported in Bloomberg?  There are a number of possible issues which are worth considering:

 Does anybody care about longevity?  Well, length of service may not be a company value that has been prioritized at Google. A traditional, targeted employee engagement program designed to keep employees on board might involve fewer massage credits and more opportunity for professional development and autonomy, two of the key drivers of motivation. In this environment of intense innovation, however, Google may accept churn in order to ensure a steady flow of bright thinkers with the newest information.

Aren’t there some risks to all that churn?  Definitely. When your best employees routinely go to your competitors, it will likely water down the uniqueness of your product offerings.  Also, the costs of recruiting (even at Google, there are recruiting costs in the form of interview time and HR activity) and of on-boarding are significant, generally reported at around 20% of the employee salary. At an average salary of $107,000 and 28,500 employees, that could get expensive pretty quickly. Also, while newness brings benefits, it also has drawbacks. Employees must be integrated into the culture and learn how to plug into the knowledge and resources of an organization in a way that tends to come with time.

The Bloomberg article suggests that, in part, short work tenure is standard operations for Gen Y workers, but the statistics do not really bear that out. According to Forbes, most workers stay in a job for 4.4 years and most so-called Millennials expect to stay in their jobs for just under three years. That’s a big difference from the one-year term at Google.

Bloomberg also suggests that “the very concept of employee loyalty may be growing obsolete.” That might work in a high innovation employer of choice, such as Google, but it would be unsustainable in most organizations where employee knowledge increases with opportunity and growth in an organization, or where relationships developed over time have value. Perhaps not every company needs to be measured by the same yardstick.

I would suggest instead that the priority has been on attracting top talent and encouraging innovation, rather than retaining valued employees, and that Google is prepared to accept that trade-off. The two do not need to be mutually exclusive. Engagement programs are long-view approaches to connecting with employees and asking them to share in the growth and success of the organization by providing best efforts, including innovation. That means providing a different kind of “perk” that increases the sense of personal opportunity through extended effort and tenure.