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Is Google making a mistake?

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Last week, Quartz reported Google was axing its “20% time” programme, which has been responsible for bringing products such as Gmail, Google News and AdSense.

The perk gives all Google employees one day a week to work on other projects outside of their regular scope of work at the tech giant.

Reports state the internet giant decided to do away with the perk, and has been making it more difficult for Google employees to get their 20% time projects approved.

However, employees have spoken up online and claim the story has been greatly exaggerated.

A forum on Hacker News captured the comments by many current employees, one of whom anonymously said: “As a Googler, I can confirm that this article is… completely wrong. I don’t have to get approval to take 20% time, and I work with a number of people on their 20% projects.”

Google’s CEO Larry Page has been redesigning the company to gain better results, and has already shut down Google Labs, where engineers worked on projects such as Google Calendar.

While the most recent reports suggest Google isn’t completely doing away with the 20% time perk, is this a move that will pay off for the company, especially in the industry and business climate they are operating in?

Google has always been high on the list of most innovative companies, ranking well on lists compiled by the likes of Forbes and Fast Company, and I think offering benefits such as 20% time have been instrumental to Google topping those lists.

But the general consensus on forums is while employees are still able to work on their 20% time projects, many are only comfortable taking on the added responsibilities once they are done with their core job scope.

“Calling 20% time 120% time is fair,” a commenter claiming to be a current Googler posted on Hawker News. “Realistically it’s hard to do your day job productively and also build a new project from scratch. You have to be willing to put in hours outside of your normal job to be successful.”

Google has yet to officially respond, but if there is any truth to this, it is safe to assume a culture shift, regardless of how big or small, is happening within the walls of one of the world’s biggest organisations.

Will that shift make a dent in Google’s innovation efforts? Will is impact the company’s employability? How will engagement be affected?

These are questions we will have to wait to be answered, but I think it’s a good opportunity for the rest of us to take stock of how instrumental some perks are.

Providing benefits for the sake of providing them may be doing more harm than good, and maybe that’s what Page and his team are realising when it comes to Google Lab and 20% time.

As we wait and see how this plays out for the company, share your thoughts with us on whether Google is moving in the right direction.



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