Turning its snooping skills on itself, Google has embarked on what it hopes will be a 100-year-long study to explore what makes employees productive and happy.
The study, gDNA, was inspired by the Framingham Heart Study, in which researchers monitoring the health and lifestyles of a yearly sampling of more than 5,200 adults living in Framingham, MA since 1948 have discovered many of the now widely-known drivers of heart disease.
In an article penned for the Harvard Business Review, Laszlo Bock, SVP of people organizations at Google, said he wondered if a similar study could be done around work. He writes, "There is precious little scientific certainty around how to build great work environments, cultivate high performing teams, maximize productivity, or enhance happiness."
Launched two years ago, over 4,000 Google employees complete two in-depth surveys each year as part of gDNA. The surveys cover "traits that are static, like personality; characteristics that change, like attitude about culture, work projects, and co-workers; and how Googlers fit into the web of relationships around all of us." Google then studies "how all these factors interact, as well as with biographical characteristics like tenure, role and performance."
Employees are randomly selected and participation is optional and confidential.
Early findings show that about one-third of Google's employees are "Segmentors" — able to separate work concerns from their social lives. The majority, "Integrators," have trouble making that separation and more than half of those want to get better at segmenting. Those findings led to an experiment, "Dublin Goes Dark," in which Google's Irish employees were asked to leave their mobile devices at the front desk before going home. The trial yielded positive results.
It took 20 years before trends started emerging from the Framingham project, and Mr. Bock suspects the "the real value of gDNA will take years to realize." Longer-term insights are expected around problem-solving, sustaining peak performance, idea generation, and maximizing happiness and productivity at the same time.
gDNA's data and findings will eventually be shared and involve academics and other fields. But Mr. Bock offered four steps for organizations to start their own journey around work/life issues:
How closely related are employee happiness and productivity on the job?