Google Walkout Reminds Us Why Internal Reputation Can Make or Break a Company

Protests at Google show the very real threat internal reputation can pose if employees feel their company no longer has their best interests in mind.
By: | November 7, 2018 • 3 min read

The Gist: Once lauded as the #1 place to work — six years in a row — Alphabet Inc.’s Google has fallen from employee graces. On Nov. 1, 2018, Google employees worldwide participated in a walkout to protest the company’s mishandling of sexual abuse and harassment claims put forth against Andy Rubin, former head of Android. A Google employee alleged Rubin coerced her into performing sexual acts in his hotel room, and when she brought up what had happened with company leadership, Google did not reveal the allegations despite finding her story credible.


Instead, it paid Rubin $90 million as an exit package when he left the company in 2014. When news of the cover-up was made available in a New York Times article in late October, current employees were outraged and immediately began planning the #GoogleWalkout. Fortune reported that more than 20,000 employees, approximately 20 percent of Google’s employee-base, participated in the walkout from as many as 50 cities.

The Employees’ Demands: The employees who participated put forth five demands to the company: (1) end forced arbitration in cases of harassment; (2) make a commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity; (3) publicly disclose a sexual harassment transparency report; (4) create a clear, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct in a safe manner and with the ability to have anonymity; and (5) elevate the chief diversity officer to answer directly to the CEO and to make recommendations directly to the Board of Directors.

What It Means: This outpouring of employee rage worldwide signals a crisis of faith for the internet giant. It’s a new layer to reputation risk, reports The Wall Street Journalinternal reputation. How do your employees view your company and what does it mean for you long-term if your company’s internal reputation is sub-par? John Wilson, head of research and corporate governance, Cornerstone Capital Group, told the WSJ: “Google hires people who can work anywhere. So if employees don’t trust the company will have their backs, it will impact Google’s ability to attract, retain and motivate employees.” He added, “If you want a high-performance culture, you need a high-trust culture. Any sign that the company is mistreating its employees will impact that trust. Consumers are buying an image as much as a product.”

To put it into perspective, one study put forth by Accenture PLC calculated that perceived material loss of trust from stakeholders and employees cost respondents more than $180 billion in revenue.

What Comes Next: Risk experts agreed that how Google responded to its employees was critical for the company: “They built this mythology as being this great place to work and used that to build their external reputation,” said Anthony Johndrow, chief executive of consultancy Reputation Economy Advisors in an interview with WSJ. “You need to get it right in-house first, and that is coming home to bite them pretty hard.”


However, some say the walkout did Google’s reputation some good. Reports from the Irish Examiner claim that “[the walkout] suggests that a large majority of Google employees stand up for the right thing … While sexual harassment and its mishandling are among the worst indicators of a toxic culture, the widely supported walkout signals the exact opposite: this is a company with a culture that empowers employees to stand up and participate. It signals that Google employees are convinced that they can make a difference and do not fear retaliation for doing so.”

They may have a point. Google CEO Sundar Pichai was notified of the walkout days before and even offered his support for Google’s staff: “We let Googlers know that we are aware of the activities planned … and that employees will have the support they need if they wish to participate,” he told CNN through a written statement. Following the walkout, Pichai outlined how Google planned to get rid of forced arbitration for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims, offering more transparency around those investigations and more. But the employees still expect better answers to their demands. &

This post was updated on 11/13 to include Google’s response to the walkouts.

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer and a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]