Work-life balance and Google

I’ve seen this Lockergnome article about what it’s “really” like to work at Google linked to from a lot of places, most recently by Marco Arment. The article, apparently based on an interview with current and former Google employees, describes the supposed pressure on Googlers to work unhealthy long hours at the expense of family and personal life. The most damning snippet, the one that Marco highlighted in his own commentary, is the following:

While he says there is no direct pressure to conform to “crazy hours,” he hints at the reason he lives a Google-centric life: His pay is directly related to the amount of time he spends with Google. For those who can’t keep up with the demand, they simply have no choice but to leave, as previous (and notably older) Google employees have done when they must make the choice between raising a family or getting a raise. (I personally know at least one former Seattle-area Googler who quit under similar circumstances after being forced to either choose seeing his newborn less, or receive a demotion if he didn’t travel more.)

I can’t claim that this description is untrue—it apparently came from someone’s direct experience, and I have to assume that they were telling the truth—but what I can say is that it doesn’t resemble in any way my experience of working for Google at any point in the last five years. Not only that, but everyone I’ve spoken to about it is as surprised as I am to see this kind of picture painted of our workplace. If that paragraph is true of some Googlers, it certainly isn’t true of most of us.

Certainly there are times when I’m in the office until late in the evening, sometimes as late as 10PM. But my impression, without having any data to back this claim up, is that these long evenings are at least made up for by corresponding late mornings, early evenings, and flexibility to leave the office during the day to do things that can’t be done (or can’t as easily be done) outside of normal office hours.

Many of the people I work with are married, and a decent number have children. They have just as much freedom to work a regular 9–5 day as I have to work wildly irregular times. It’s whatever suits the individual. If your life is set up such that regularity and structure are beneficial to you, because you have commitments to your spouse or because you want to see your kids before their bedtime, you should have no problems living by those hours in all but exceptional circumstances. And if you like to be able to leave early one day to go to an event and stay late the next to make up the time (not that anyone’s counting the hours, but you need to get something done some time) then that’s an option too.

In a company the size of Google, there are bound to be some people who don’t get on as well as they’d hoped to, or teams that aren’t as forgiving or as welcoming as the rest of the organization is. But it’s important to me for people to realize that that’s not the majority experience. It’s certainly not my experience.