Best Places to Work – Just Ignore the Data

Tony Schwartz offers an interesting perspective on the Best Places to Work rankings in this article in the NY Times.  He writes:

But these lists don’t really measure something even more important: the quality of their employees’ lives. Over the last decade, I’ve spent countless hours interacting with employees at all levels in many of the companies that appear on the Glassdoor best-companies list, as well as on the Fortune annual 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

Basically, his argument revolves around ignoring data others have collected and on using his selected anecdotes.  It is all a bit new-agey.  There are always going to a spectrum of opinions at a company the size of Google or any top employer so finding these anecdotes is probably easy.  Making everyone happy is an impossibility.  If it was possible, we’d have some sort of bizarre work utopia/cult.

I think this comment on Hacker News summarizes the problems with Schwartz’s argument well:

I appreciate the sentiment of the article, but there’s a lot of complexity to the issue that it ignores. For one, most of the time that I was working crazy hours was because I a.) wanted and b.) needed to. I believed in the project’s mission, the work was fun & challenging, and there was a lot to do that just wouldn’t get done if I didn’t put in the hours.

Similarly, when I worked very light hours, it was because there wasn’t much work that I had to do. I was blocked on other teams, or in-between projects and my manager didn’t have a good idea where I’d be productive at the moment, or “held in reserve” so that if we needed to react quickly to market opportunities I’d be well-rested and not occupied by other projects.

Working hard is not always a bad thing, or onerous, or exhausting. Sometimes employees work hard because they believe in what they’re doing and want to do a good job; that’s part of what makes a company a good place to work, after all. And sometimes it is, and creates a very unhealthy competition where everybody tries to outdo each other. I think that one of the things that Google in general and Larry Page in particular realizes is that people will have different desires for work/life balance at different stages in their life, and that within a large company, there should be places that can accommodate everyone from the achievement-oriented new Ph.D grad to the family with a young kid.

The comments gets at what is important which is that this is a complex issue and that people are motivated by different things when they work.

If you are ambitious and achievement-oriented and want to get promoted, work on the best assignments, etc and are also interested in the content of the problems you are focused on, you might choose to bust your ass.  That also may not be for you which is fine. Based on my friends who’ve worked at Google, it seems like a place that has room for both types of people, but if some people choose to work hard for the promotions, the bonuses, the equity, etc, that doesn’t make it a bad place to work.

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