Google’s Child Care Debacle in NYT and what SHOULD they do?

We can learn from this article.

On Day Care, Google Makes a Rare Fumble By JOE NOCERA Published: July 5, 2008
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.

The summary (paraphrasing the Times article here) is Google put in place day care. Then they did their own (better?) day care which almost doubled the costs. Then the closed the less expensive one and eliminated a 700 person wait list by pricing the day care out of range for everyone but the most wealthy googlers. And charged to be on the wait list. And now they don’t list day care as an employee benefit because at $2500 per month per kid few can afford it. And for philosophical reasons there is no longer any lower cost option for mere mortals who don’t buy into the latest Warholian 15 minutes of Teletubby child development fads.

The full article is worth a read. But the *main problem* is one of economics. They put in place benefits that sounded great, the CEO felt like a hero announcing them I bet. Yet benefited only a few with kids (like me) while the rest of the company paid for it (was taxed effectively). So sure I *would* want subsidized child care personally, but does everyone else want to pay for my benefit that they cannot use if they don’t have kids?

Meanwhile, someone at Google woke up one day and realized that the company was subsidizing each child to the tune of $37,000 a year

Is child care a universal right? Because all those years I spent driving crappy unreliable cars while my friends had new ones because we had a $1200 a month day care bill compared to $800 in rent, well actually actually those years were awesome because I love my kids. But it would have been cool to have my cake and to eat it too!

The article concludes:

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.

I don’t want to be too hard on google. But running a company myself it is frustrating to be held up to this Roman concept of Ideal Beauty that is googleville. When in fact they are, as the article says, fast becoming just another company. Gravity affects us all.

If you have extra cash on hand, give your people a raise. Let THEM decide how to spend it. If they buy into the Montecito-with-integrated-pilates-and-physics-themed day care fad, so be it. But that is their decision, not mine. And as a CEO, I need to look out for the company’s people; not make promises I can’t keep.

Why is this ANY of my business? To use (misuse?) the words of Irving Goffman;

As soon as he (the chairman) has called the group to order and introduced the guest speaker, he is likely to serve thereafter as a highly visible model for the other listeners, illustrating by exaggerated expressions the involvement and appreciation they ought to be showing, and providing with advance cues as to whether a particular remark ought to be greeted with seriousness, laughter, or appreciative chuckles. Speakers tend to accept invitations to speak on the assumption that the chairman will “take care of them”. Pg 150

Google, if you are in the tech sector, is for better or for worse the functional “chairman”. Gates has abdicated the throne to save the world (in a good way). So when Chairman Google reacts to day care as child’s play, that affects the rest of us. We expect them to “take care of us” as Goffman would say.

What should Google do? Immediately reintroduce affordable health care alternatives or eliminate the health care option altogether. A meritocracy is OK, but an elitist faction subsidized by the masses is not appreciated. And it is a standard I cannot live up to.