I have to admit, I'm pretty heavily tied into the Google brands. My blog is on the Google-run Blogger, I read all my feeds in Google Reader, and my primary email is Gmail. There's also Gtalk, the Google search engine, and Picassa, all of which I use almost exclusively. So the article "On Day Care, Google Makes a Rare Fumble" from Saturday's New York Times, which I found through Heather's shared feeds in Google Reader, really saddens me.
Here's an excerpt (bolded parts by me, for those of us who skim). I'd love to know what you think:
Two months ago, Google held a series of secret focus groups with employees who have children in Google’s day care facilities. The purpose was to gauge their reaction to the company’s plan to raise the amount it charged for in-house day care by 75 percent.
Parents who had been paying $1,425 a month for infant care would see their costs rise to nearly $2,500 — well above the market rate. For parents with toddlers and preschoolers, who were charged less, the price increases were equally eye-popping. Under the new plan, parents with two kids in Google day care would most likely see their annual day care bill grow to more than $57,000 from around $33,000.
At the first of the three focus groups, parents wept openly. As word leaked out about the company’s plan, the Google parents began to fight back. They came up with ideas to save money, used the company’s T.G.I.F. sessions — a weekly meeting for anyone who wanted to ask questions of Google’s top executives — to plead their case, and conducted surveys showing that most parents with children in Google day care would have to leave Google’s facilities and find less expensive child care.
Do you think you know how this story ends? You’re probably guessing that because it involves “do no evil” Google, Fortune magazine’s “Best Company to Work For” the past two years, this is a heart-warming tale of a good company reversing a dumb decision.
If only. Although Google is rolling back its price increase slightly and is phasing in the higher price over five quarters, the outline of the original decision remains largely unchanged. At a T.G.I.F. in June, the Google co-founder Sergey Brin said he had no sympathy for the parents, and that he was tired of “Googlers” who felt entitled to perks like “bottled water and M&Ms,” according to several people in the meeting.
Of course, those of us with kids know that on-site daycare is not equivalent to bottled water and M&Ms. It can be the reason you take or leave a job, and those of us who work on Teh Internets are able to be highly mobile. Anyway, the article goes on to describe the daycare, which does indeed sound amazing in a bloated, over-done way. But who doesn't want the very best for their kids?
But here’s the real problem: providing day care isn’t an economics experiment, nor should it be just another Google perk, alongside organic food and free M&Ms. Day care matters to people’s lives in a way that few other perks do. There are many people in this country — including, I’ll bet, many Googlers — who believe that employer-provided day care, at affordable prices, ought to be like health insurance, a benefit that every company provides as a matter of course. Yet as the technology blog Valleywag noted recently, Google doesn’t even advertise day care as a benefit for its employees anymore. That’s the real shame.
Google may be providing the greatest day care ever, but so what? It doesn’t matter how good the day care is if only its wealthiest employees can afford to use it. If Google had really wanted to do something path-breaking about its day care crisis, it would have spent less time creating elitist day care centers and more time figuring out how to “scale” day care for everybody no matter what their salaries.
Instead, Google has shown that it thinks about day care the same way every other company does — as a luxury, not a benefit. Judging by what’s transpired, that’s what Google is fast becoming: just another company.