Google is officially the best place to work in the UK, according to new figures from job site Glassdoor. Based on positive feedback from its own staff, Google climbed 12 places from last year, beating other tech giants such as Microsoft and Apple.
A tsunami of comments from staff and former staff such as “great place to work if you enjoy working with bright people” or “perks definitely makes the place nice to work”, makes it easy to believe that Google is a workplace utopia. But employee comments in the US paint a damning picture.
“Worst company I have ever worked for…don’t believe the public image,” reads one review. “Hiding behind money and playing with people’s and user’s emotions,” another employee claims. A barrage of these comments have caused Google to drop out of the top ten in identical rankings run by Glassdoor in the US.
There is an internal war raging within the company’s ranks across the Atlantic – and based on the Glassdoor results, this doesn’t bother UK staff. Tense standoffs with management and organised walkouts have become a regular occurrence at Google offices in the US, as employees protest over plans to work with the Pentagon, and to build a censored search engine in China.
“The company’s code of conduct states unequivocally: ‘don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right – speak up!’ And we did,” the Google Walkout organisers, who have become the voice of disgruntled employees, state on Twitter.
Last month, matters escalated. Google is now under federal investigation for firing four employees involved in tense clashes with management last month. The “Thanksgiving four” filed a charge on December 5, claiming that they were punished for encouraging other colleagues to protest. Google says their activism had nothing to do with their dismissal – instead it claims the four former employees were let go after they accessed and disseminated other employees’ work.
Some of these battles have even extended to the UK. In 2018, hundreds of staff left their desks as part of an organised global walkout to protest the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment claims, after press reports revealed Android founder Andy Rubin received a $90 million (£68m) exit package despite claims of sexual misconduct. The effort, which was sanctioned by management and saw staff in the US take over the Google campus with speeches and protest signs, was a muted affair in the UK, largely held indoors due to the wet weather.
These walkouts were not enough to trigger seismic change within Google, protestors have claimed. Chelsey Glasson, who worked at the company for five and a half years, claims she faced retaliation when she spoke up about pregnancy discrimination. She says she was pushed out of her team when she stood up for a pregnant colleague, and she was held back from a manager position because she was pregnant herself. Glasson says Google tried to “tarnish the reputation” of people like her rather than intervening and providing support. “There’s so many good people still at Google, who want to do the right thing, and are speaking up,” she explains. “But the more that Google silences and threatens the careers of those who speak out, the harder it is.”
In response to previous questions about its culture, Google has said it provides “multiple channels to report concerns, including anonymously, and investigate all allegations of retaliation”.
This week employees launched a petition demanding that Google stop retaliation and scare tactics against workers. Since co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped down as leaders of Google parent company Alphabet this month, uncertainty has grown about what will happen to Google’s “open culture”.
There is a notable absence of UK voices within this worker movement, despite the fact that any big cultural change will certainly affect the projects and culture of the entire business, not just in the US. None of the comments on Glassdoor, which cannot be censored by the company, questioned the commercial deals that Google has pursued or addressed the silencing of victims that protestors say is happening across the business.
Instead, over 900 reviews praised the free food at the company, with breakfast, lunch and dinner available on site. There is also a free gym with personal trainers, group fitness classes and organized recreation activities.
“Google is probably always going to be in the top 50 due to its reputation and what it’s able to offer as an employer,” says Jo Cresswell, a spokesperson from Glassdoor. “But I don’t think it will necessarily retain the number one spot.” The eligibility period for this year’s ranking ended in October before the latest employee scandal, so it will be up to current employees to judge Google on its culture – rather than just its perks.
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