Weekly Wrap: Google Pay Raises, and Writing an Artful Resignation Letter

It doesn’t take a workplace savant to figure this out, but no place on the planet operates quite like Silicon Valley. Normal employer-employee practices just don’t seem to apply.

Here’s what I mean: Earlier this week, word leaked out that Google, the formerly hot and hip high tech company of choice, was giving everyone in the its workforce (all 23,000 odd employees) “a 10 percent raise, along with $1,000 holiday bonuses on which Google will pay the tax,” according to the San Jose Mercury News and other media outlets.

Why would Google do this?

Good question, and here’s why, according to the newspaper:

“The search giant faces increasing competition from fast-growing, younger Internet companies such as Facebook, which has recently lured away engineering stars like Lars Rasmussen, co-founder of Google Maps.

“Holy smokes, it’s mind-boggling,” said Wade Meyercord of Los Gatos-based compensation firm Meyercord & Associates. “The clear presumption must be that Google is losing employees, or they wouldn’t do it. It’s kind of an unprecedented move. I can’t recall when a valley company has done an across-the-board pay increase of that kind of magnitude.”

The bump in salary also may reflect the company’s transition into a mature company that can no longer rely on zooming stock values to retain its top engineers and managers.

In other words, the formerly hot and hip high tech company of choice has to compete harder to keep employees from jumping to Facebook or another NEW hot and hip high tech company of choice.

Yes, this is one of those “only in Silicon Valley” stories you keep hearing about (this video details it a bit more).

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This is good news for all those Googlers, unless you happened to be the guy who leaked the news of the big pay raise. He was forced to walk the plank for letting the news of Google’s largess hit the media, according to a variety of sources including Gadgetsteria.com:

The engineer who leaked the email from Eric Schmidt himself, isn’t so lucky. Apparently, this was a “confidential” confidential email. According to CNN’s David Goldman, a few hours after the Google pay raise/bonus story went viral, Google execs sent out a follow-up email stating that they had already identified and fired the source of the leak.

While I understand the email specifically stated “confidential,” as All Thing D’s Peter Kafka points out, the news was fare better than the typical corporate-based layoff-laden news that has filled the airwaves the last few months. So in that light, it’s slightly surprising that Google canned the guy over something that doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Though, as you can imagine, if the source was willing to leak the good news, I’m sure the bad wouldn’t be too far behind if/when it developed.

The real irony however, is that Google is a company who loves consumer data. And time and time again they have brushed off consumers’ fears concerning their privacy (or lack thereof). But now that the privacy/confidentiality issue is focused back on them, they’re not so kosher and nonchalant about it.

Yes, Google’s reaction to the leaker seems a little harsh, but again, that’s part of what makes Silicon Valley a work environment that has no reality to just about any other workplace environment on the planet. Things happen there that would give HR executives Maalox-swigging stomach pain anywhere else, but that’s what makes it such a fun place to sit on the sidelines and watch from afar.

Of course, there’s more than Google’s panicky pay raises in the news, and here are some other workplace-related news items you may have missed this week. Yes, this is a weekly round up of news, trends, and all sorts of information from the world of HR and talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • How to write an artful  farewell letter. If you are a manager or work in HR, you probably have seen a lot of farewell or departure letters. Well, here’s a great deconstruction of one written by Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times auto critic Dan Neil (I wrote about it at the time over at Workforce) when he departed the Times for The Wall Street Journal. As the website Lifehacker.com notes, it’s a little profane, but a great example of how a really talented writer artfully resigned and said goodbye.
  • Wal-Mart helps workers earn a degree. Wal-Mart has been rapped over the years for not doing much in benefits and extras for its workers, but the retail giant has been working hard to change that image. Here’s another example, as reported by NPR: “The world’s largest retailer is now offering its 1.4 million employees a college education. Through a partnership with American Public University, employees can take online courses toward a bachelor’s or master’s degree. And Wal-Mart will cover up to 15 percent of tuition.”
  • Bad times for Democratic workers in Washington. Yes, there’s a workforce angle to the big GOP victory in the midterm elections, and leave it to The Washington Post to find it: “The Great Shellacking of 2010 will throw more than 2,000 Democratic congressional staffers out of their jobs. And it will send thousands of gleeful Republican staffer wannabes into overdrive to get those resumes up to the Hill to fill those vacancies.” And the sense is that all those Democratic operatives may be in for some tough sledding. As the newspaper noted, “Democrats, with a sagging local economy – K Street isn’t hiring the way it used to, foundations and think tanks are pressed, colleges are hurting, corporations are frozen – may well be pounding the pavement for quite a while.”
  • Elevator etiquette in the workplace. There are big workplace issues and there are small workplace issues. And then, there are head-scratching workplace issues, like this one from Scientific American: elevator etiquette. “Elevators are a major player in our lives,” the magazine says. “They’ve increased our mobility and our range, but because they are such close quarters they’ve opened the door for the development of unique coping skills, but for what purpose?” Good question, and if you read the article, you’ll learn more on this topic than you ever wanted to know.
  • Punching out the boss is NEVER a good idea. Most everyone who works for a living has had a fantasy about punching out the boss at one time or another, but few follow though on the thought. Well, here’s one guy who did, but not until AFTER he was terminated. Better late than never, I suppose.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


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