Google used to be the epitome of young, smart, techy culture. Its offices have always been lauded as a workplace where free expression, thinking outside of the box, and challenging the status quo were valued more than the ability to keep your head down and meet quotas. Those days are over.
The Mountain View company recently updated its Community Guidelines for employees to reflect a change in company culture. Usually, policy updates don’t warrant a news article, but the language in this particular one is the strongest indication that Google’s finished pretending to be a scrappy startup and it’s now going full-on corporate.
The memo begins by emphasizing that employees at Google are there to do a job:
Working at Google comes with tremendous responsibility. Billions of people rely on us every day for high-quality, reliable information. It’s critical that we honor that trust and uphold the integrity of our products and services. The following guidelines are official policy and apply when you’re communicating in the workplace.
It then reminds employees that they’re responsible for their own words and actions, and that Google will hold them responsible — a part that reads like the Miranda rights, then it gets to this part:
While sharing information and ideas with colleagues helps build community, disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story does not. Our primary responsibility is to do the work we’ve each been hired to do, not to spend working time on debates about non-work topics.
Google’s been embattled over the past few years and its reputation with those who believed it to be an idealistic company hellbent on making the world a better place has been a bit sullied. From working with the US military to develop AI for use with a weapons platform to pissing off the US government by choosing to invest time into a censored Search for China, the company’s made few friends in Washington. And the combination of citizen protests and employee dissent has made clear that Google’s culture is, at least to outsiders, a dumpster fire.
It appears the company hopes to solve this by squelching free expression and forcing employees to focus on the task at hand, not the world around them.
The new rules also seem to prohibit employees from criticizing celebrities and politicians:
Don’t troll, name call, or engage in ad hominem attacks – about anyone. This includes making statements that insult, demean, or humiliate (whether individually or by reference to groups) other employees, our extended workforce, our business partners, or others (including public figures), or that violate other standards of conduct or policies against harassment and bullying.
This equates to “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” And that’s a tone-deaf, disgusting policy that’ll almost certainly have a chilling effect on internal conversations covering politics, terrorism, and journalism – subjects Google has a direct influence on.
This isn’t the end for Google, but it’s the end of Google as we know it. It’s possible the company will continue to attract the same top-tier, blue chip talent as it always has. But it’s more likely that the change in corporate culture means the next generation of developers, engineers, and free-thinkers won’t see it as the cool, rebellious answer to IBM or Microsoft it started out as.
For better or worse: Google’s just another stuffy big tech company worried about its own bottom line. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, it’s how most tech companies operate. But you have to feel bad for the employees who’ve been there for a decade or more – those who were hired back when “don’t be evil” was more important than “don’t upset anyone.”