It’s no surprise that the employee benefits of Google are among the best in the land—free haircuts, gourmet food, on-site doctors and high-tech “cleansing” toilets are among the most talked-about—but in a rare interview with Chief People Officer Laszlo Bock I discovered that the latest perk for Googlers extends into the afterlife.
“This might sound ridiculous,” Bock told me recently in a conversation on the ever-evolving benefits at Google, “But we’ve announced death benefits at Google.” We were scheduled for a talk on Google’s widening age-gap (the oldest Googler is currently 83); I wanted to know how child- and healthcare benefits have evolved as the company has scaled.
Instead, Bock, who joined the company in 2006 after a stint with General Electric, blew me away by disclosing a never-before-made-public-perk: Should a U.S. Googler pass away while under the employ of the 14-year old search giant, their surviving spouse or domestic partner will receive a check for 50% of their salary every year for the next decade. Even more surprising, a Google spokesperson confirms that there’s “no tenure requirement” for this benefit, meaning most of their 34 thousand Google employees qualify.
“One of the things we realized recently was that one of the harshest but most reliable facts of life is that at some point most of us will be confronted with the death of our partners,” Bock says. “And it’s a horrible, difficult time no matter what, and every time we went through this as a company we tried to find ways to help the surviving spouse of the Googler who’d passed away.” The case-by-case do-goodery was formally implemented in 2011. In addition to the 10-year pay package, surviving spouses will see all stocks vested immediately and any children will receive a $1,000 monthly payment from the company until they reach the age of 19 (or 23 if the child is a full-time student).
What makes the death benefit notable isn’t just its generosity—Google is, of course, far from cash-strapped—but rather that, unlike most employee perks on Google campuses that aim to increase happiness, creativity and productivity, providing death benefits is a no-win for the company. “Obviously there’s no benefit to Google,” Bock concedes. “But it’s important to the company to help our families through this horrific if inevitable life event.”
Google has been anticipating the major life events of their employees since day one. According to Bock, Sergey Brin got the ball rolling when the company had fewer than 100 employees, suggesting that the company could provide a nanny to each working mom or dad on staff. (“Obviously that’s an idea that’s been toned down,” Bock jokes). The company does have on-site child care but has raised its monthly fees significantly in recent years.
In maternity and paternity leave, however, Google benefits are at the head of the pack: according to a company spokesperson, new dads enjoy six weeks of paid leave while moms can take 18 weeks after the birth of a child. (Even better for the cash-strapped new parents: stocks will continue to vest on your leave).
But the link between maternity benefits and retaining employees is clear. According to a 2008 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 60 percent of men and women in the work force have kids under the age of 6, so anticipating their needs can mean keeping new parents on-board and, most importantly, engaged.
“When we think about [employee] needs at Google, we think less about how old you are that we do about your particular cluster of needs,” Bock says. “For someone who fits a certain profile—say, an aging parent to take care of, or kids or grandkids to support–whatever your cluster of needs are, we do our best to discern the best package of perks and programs to meet them.”
Google People experts use three methods to tap into the needs of employees: an annual survey called “Googlegeist” that measures the temperature of employees in every department and analyzes data to identify emerging trends, employee resource groups (read: clubs) where like-minded employees share ideas that are funneled up to HR (Bock says the most active are the “Grayglers,” the self-titled club for over-the-hill Googlers), and email aliases that run the gamut from financial advice to childcare options to café feedback.
Google gets a lot of press for its perks, Bock says, but he’s loathe to even use that word. “People say ‘you’re Google, of course you can offer these crazy things,’” but from where Bock sits, it’s not even about the money. “There is, of course, research that show employee benefit programs like ours can improve retention, and appear to improve performance on some level,” he says.
“But it turns out that the reason we’re doing these things for employees is not because it’s important to the business, but simply because it’s the right thing to do. When it comes down to it, it’s better to work for a company who cares about you than a company who doesn’t. And from a company standpoint, that makes it better to care than not to care.”