Google Staff Squirm as Remote Workers Face Wage Cuts

That issue of fairness is what really infuriates people. If employees think they got a bad deal, they don’t react well. There is a experiment, conducted by Emory University primatologists Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Waal. Two capuchin monkeys complete the same task, for the same reward — a piece of cucumber. But after a while, a monkey is given a tastier grape instead. Another monkey noticed and reached for her, but when she passed another piece of cucumber, he was furious, removed the cucumber from the cage, and refused to continue doing his work.

The same kind of tantrum occurs when a small child is given half a cookie, after seeing their brother get a whole. And no matter how old we are, we can’t stop our brains from firing when we feel like we’re suffering an injustice. But instead of getting angry, we retaliate in another way.

At work, that can mean quitting. De Vesine wasn’t the only one who did it. “Google keeps saying it’s a normal attrition, and I think you can tell the numbers in two stories,” he said. “But it’s as taller than usual and a lot more senior-oriented than I’ve seen before when I leave, and I’ve seen that continue.”

Even if people don’t stop, they can revolt in different ways. “If you feel like your employer isn’t treating you well, it’s only natural for the person not to work as hard,” said Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at consultancy Gartner. There is a change of mindset, he explained, if people feel they are not being paid fairly for their contributions, then why should they still contribute, or even at all? “Maybe it’s worse than leaving,” he said, “they stopped somewhere.”

A study by Columbia University researchers found that employees reduced their work output by 52 percent when they discovered that their co-workers were paid more. They were also 13.5 percent points less likely to show up (compared to the base of 94 percent attendance). So even if employees refuse to take pay cuts, they are likely to respond by working half as hard.

The worst part of the fall could be what was said about the companies implementing these wage cuts. Kendra, an information architect at Google’s Seattle campus, has seen firsthand how the company’s employee attitudes are changing. “I’ve talked to a lot of different people who have recently left the company because they didn’t see the opportunity to grow within our organization,” he said.

Kendra decides to go back to the office, instead of taking a salary equivalent to losing a new salary she had spent her years earning. “But I also have a manager who is incredibly flexible,” he said. His manager had already told him that he no longer had to enter the office for the entire three days a week. But what if that’s not an option? “I think it will set a deadline for my participation,” he said. Simply put, he would have quit in a year.

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