Google fights brain drain with algorithm

Given that unhappy workers are less likely to quit their jobs in a recession, companies may not have much incentive to try and retain them.

Officials at Google Inc., however, are trying to deal with the company's brain drain with an algorithm that uses data from employee reviews and promotion and pay histories to identify which of its 20,000 employees are most likely to quit, according to a Wall Street Journal story (subscription required).

The mathematical formula has already identified employees who felt underused, a key complaint among people contemplating leaving, according to the Journal story.

While Google should be applauded for trying to deal with its brain drain issues, using such a complex equation for a basic human-resource problem seems a lot less personal, which is something I think employees also complain about. Being told by a computer that you're likely to quit doesn't seem likely to foster the type of personal work relationship that people seek on the job.

There are plenty of draws for good workers, even during a recession. Fewer start-ups are getting off the ground in Silicon Valley, where Google is based, but they are still out there, and the engineers, designers and sales executives at Google could probably parlay their experience at the Internet giant into a better job if they want to leave.

The algorithm is working so well that it helps the company "get inside people's heads even before they know they might leave," said Laszlo Bock, who runs human resources at Google, to the Journal.

The story goes on to say that current and former Google employees said the company is losing talent because some workers feel they can't make the same impact as the company matures. Several said Google provides little formal career planning, and some found its human resources programs too impersonal.

That's one way a company can find out why its employees want to leave: Ask them.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at
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