A not-infrequent occurrence at Google was the inbox notification that someone in the organization had a birthday or “googleversary.” The few seconds between the initial email and the inevitable wave of ‘reply-alls’ were moments of confusion to someone unaccustomed to corporate behavior. The minutes and hours following would be 30+ emails of Googlers replying-all with creative responses such as Happy Birthday!” or “Congrats!” Then, people would turn to each other and groan about getting all these replies and how the threads were clogging up their inboxes. Of course, just moments ago, these same colleagues had replied-all to the email thread with a gif and a cloying number of exclamation points. More rambling about the importance of getting to “Inbox Zero” would occur. Those who did achieve a few minutes with zero emails would celebrate as if they had successfully defended a dissertation in theoretical physics.
I asked my mentor (a great mentor and also a veteran) why adult humans, at Google no less, would behave in such a silly, contradictory way. He responded, “Just play the game, man. I know it’s ridiculous, but just play the game.” This is when the shell of Google began to crack and my distaste of corporatism started to emerge.
One day, I received an email notifying me that a coworker, who happened to sit behind me, was celebrating a birthday. This coworker and I were friendly, so I wanted to give the appropriate, genuine, human response. Instead of succumbing to the Gmail notification, I walked over to his desk, put a hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eye, and said, “Happy Birthday, man.” He responded, “Thanks, man.” I went back to my seat.
Later that day, my mentor approached me. “Hey I noticed you didn’t wish ‘Alex’ a Happy Birthday. We talked about this.” I responded, “Actually, I did. I went over to his desk and said it in person.” My mentor responded, “It doesn’t count if you say it in person!”
Reading this, the story might seem a bit too ‘on the nose.’ Unfortunately, however, I assure you it happened. Corporate culture created an environment where my birthday wishes were not considered genuine unless they were included in a digital storm of reply-alls in an effort to seem “Googley.” The human-to-human version was considered invalid, even detrimental, in the face of a forced, digital, corporate culture.
I consider that experience at Google a critical moment when my commitment to work humanistically started to emerge. We’re building Sobol to help you work genuinely. Learn more at sobol.io.