Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who leads one of the world’s richest companies, very likely does not want to talk about money to his employees while the Big Tech giant is in the midst of cutting costs and slowing hiring. But, since employees asked, he wants them to do one thing: stop equating “fun” with “money.”
Pichai’s comments, made during an all-hands meeting with the entire company on Tuesday, came to light on Friday in a new report from CNBC, which obtained an audio recording of the meeting. At the meeting, which Pichai held in New York with a live audience of Googlers, employees asked the CEO why the company was “nickel-and-diming” them by restricting travel and cutting entertainment budgets and perks, especially at a time when the company had “record profits and huge cash reserves.”
In response, the Google chief said the company was simply “being a bit more responsible” amid one of the toughest macroeconomic situations of the past decade.
At another point in the meeting, Pichai spoke about how cost-cutting affected fun at work. He referenced the days when Google was “small and scrappy” in his attempt to justify changes to the company’s culture and perks.
“I remember when Google was small and scrappy,” Pichai said at the meeting, as reported by CNBC. “Fun didn’t always — we shouldn’t always equate fun with money. I think you can walk into a hard-working startup and people may be having fun and it shouldn’t always equate to money.”
The question about company perks is not without basis. For years, Big Tech employees at Google and elsewhere have benefited from mind-boggling perks, at least to us peasants. These include onsite massage therapists, cooking classes, at-home fitness, and art programs, according to the “Benefits” page on Google Careers.
It’s not clear whether any of these perks will go away, although some swag is going bye-bye. Google officials who spoke at the all-hands meeting did tell employees to expect smaller and more informal holiday and New Year celebrations, instructing them specifically to “try not to go over the top.”
Regarding the restrictions on travel, some Google employees pointed out that it was contradicting to tell workers they had to follow the company’s return-to-office policy but then also stress there was “no need to travel” or “connect in-person.” Back in April, Google announced that workers would have to be in its physical offices at least three days a week.
Pichai said that he understood that the new travel policy was not ideal. He explained that if seeing each other in person would help employees work better, they could do that at times.
“If you haven’t seen your team in a while and it’ll help your work by getting together in person, I think you can do that,” the Google chief stated. “I think that’s why we are not saying no to travel, we are giving discretion to teams.”
Notably, Google officials said that the company did not plan to make any changes when it came to employee raises, equity, and bonuses, pointing out that they would continue to pay employees at “the top end of the market so we can be competitive.”
Pichai echoed the sentiment and said the company was “committed” to taking care of employees. That likely includes its highest earning executives, which in 2021 each earned a total compensation of between at least $14 million and more than $28 million, according to parent company Alphabet’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Pichai’s total compensation was $6.3 million last year.
The Google chief did not respond to employee questions about whether the company would cut executive compensation.
A Google spokesperson told Gizmodo on Saturday that Pichai reinforced topics he has been consistently communicating to the company in recent months in the all-hands meeting.
According to the Google spokesperson, Pichai underscored that Google is in a moment of uncertainty and that its leaders were working to “be responsible and efficient in all that their teams do.” This includes “being responsible around travel or events” and ensuring workers are focused on the work with the highest impact and highest priority.
Update 9/24/2022, 10:39 p.m. ET: This post has been updated with additional comment from Google.