You spend probably 1/3 of your day at work, if not more. But there’s no science around how to make work great. Can Google change that?

The Framingham Heart Study, detailed a bit in the video above and also here, began monitoring 5,000 people in the late 1940s and continues to this day; the super-longitudinal nature of the study allows for broader observations about health, heart disease, and honestly, even happiness. Google is trying a similar thing with another basic notion of your life (you know, aside from your heart) — work. Here’s their SVP of People (i.e. Human Resources) on the challenge at hand:

“We all have our opinions and case studies, but there is precious little scientific certainty around how to build great work environments, cultivate high performing teams, maximize productivity, or enhance happiness,” Bock writes.

Indeed. There really isn’t, and that’s a problem — too many people do things off gut, and gut for one person might not work for another person, including a person they’re now managing. Similarly, despite decades of social science research, basically no one knows how to accurately set goals for employees.

So what’s Google’s plan here? It’s a bit of a long play, to be sure (buzzword alert), but essentially, they’re going to run a 100-year survey on work:

This isn’t your typical employee survey. Since we know that the way each employee experiences work is determined by innate characteristics (nature) and his or her surroundings (nurture), the gDNA survey collects information about both. 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.

Here’s what they started to learn: a percentage (31) of Google employees are “segmentors.” That means that when they leave for the day, they’re done. No off-hour e-mails or anything. It’s family time, or happy hour, or the gym, or whatever. The 0ther 69 percent, though, are “integrators.” That means you’re never really off the clock (which is what most people would probably call their “norm” anyway). That was troubling to Google — because if you’re always on the clock, there’s no way you’re really deeply focused on anything, because you lack time to recharge — so they did something in Dublin called “Dublin Goes Dark.” When you left for the night, you surrendered any work-related devices. The results were blissful. It actually helped work. Over 100 years, a lot of observations could be culled that could possibly be applied to places with less resources than Google. Now, it depends on training being done right — so that generations hence can understand what the point was, and how to extend the work — and it also depends on downward extrapolation. Google has billions of dollars. The auto body shop on the corner does not. How can they apply the same cultural principles and trends that this study discovers?

Here’s a couple of small things from Bock at Google:

1. Ask yourself what your most pressing people issues are.  Retention?  Innovation? Efficiency?  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.

I agree with pretty much all of this. Companies are huge fans of rolling out change without any context associated with it, to the point that people essentially just say, “Well, it is what it is.” Also, for all the fear of “silos” in companies across departments, one of the more drastic silos is actually between middle leadership, upper leadership and on-the-ground executors of plans. That communication channel needs to flow naturally, and people need to care about the issues being experienced up and down the chain. Work is 1/3 of your life (possibly more); it should be at least somewhat tolerable, no? If you were going to sleep for 8 hours every day and all you did was toss and turn and get incomplete information, you’d want to fix that, no? So why shouldn’t we fix work? Hopefully this Google thing does yield some answers and broader context.



Ted Bauer


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