Does A Billion-Dollar Valuation Buy Employee Happiness?

According to The Beatles, money can’t buy you love. According to the Bible, the love of money is the root of all evil. But according to Glassdoor, a billion dollars can actually buy a decent amount of employee happiness.

Looking through The Wall Street Journal’s “billion-dollar startup club,” employees tend to rank their employers higher the more valuable their companies are—or, perhaps, the more ambitious their companies are.

Buying Happiness

Among the 26 billion-dollar technology startups based in the U.S., employee satisfaction tended to skew quite high—on average, a 3.9 out of 5. Ranked No. 1 on that list is Dropbox, which earns a 4.6 employee satisfaction rating. Every single respondent evaluating CEO Drew Houston gave him a thumbs-up, and 92% of people indicated they’d recommend Dropbox to a friend.

As one former employee writes, Dropbox offers “Great learning opportunities, great culture, great people,” concluding that they “Could not have asked for more during my time here.”

See also: Why Every Tech Company Needs An English Major

Another billion-dollar technology startup, Uber, is the personal chauffeur for the generation tired of lame taxi service. Uber scores a massive 4.7 rating, with 100% of employees who voted on Glassdoor approving of CEO Travis Kalanick and 100% willing to recommend the company to a friend. Why? Apparently because “Work never feels like work” at Uber.

The same holds true at Box, the company reimagining enterprise content collaboration. CEO Aaron Levie gets a 91% approval rating while 80% of employees would recommend the company to a friend, highlighting the company’s offer of “amazing opportunity for advancement.”

And Pure Storage? It gets a 5 out of 5.

Some Startups Are Bigger Than Others

Not everything is rosy at the industry’s richest startups. Palantir, for example, notches a 3.6 rating, with employees citing a “terrible” work-life balance. Sure, “They give you ‘unlimited vacation time'” but “it’s VERY hard to take time off.”  

Ditto to SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space exploration startup, which gets a 3.5 score. While 85% of folks approve of Musk, only 68% would recommend SpaceX to a friend because of reportedly terrible work-life balance. Yes, SpaceX gives employees “Unprecedented access to a rocket factory,” not to mention “lots of perks like free frozen yogurt and soda,” but it’s apparently not enough to compensate for “Persistently lengthy work hours, occasionally brutal,” with “no time for a social life.”

Apparently spying on the world (Palantir) and leaving the world (SpaceX) are not big enough missions to make up for a loss of personal time.

How Do Rich Incumbents Fare?

Larger technology companies averaged just 3.4 out of 5 in a similarly-sized sample. However, big companies can still stand out if their ambition can lift employees.

No one has more cash than Apple, and few can match its impressive track record for product leadership. Among its employees, Apple scored a 3.9 in Glassdoor’s rating. Apple CEO Tim Cook received a 93% approval rating, but a smaller 81% of employees would recommend Apple to a friend. What were the primary knocks against Apple? An out-of-whack work-life balance, and a dearth of career opportunities elsewhere. 

Apple’s approval rating, while imperfect, was off-the-charts compared to other technology incumbents—even Samsung Mobile, which got a miserly 3.3 rating.

  • IBM – 3.2. CEO Virginia Rometty earned a 67% approval rating. The work-life balance got top billing from current and former employees; everything else received a lukewarm response. Still, 59% of employees would recommend IBM to a friend. (“Management allows me to work from home and have flexible working hours”)
  • HP – 3.0. CEO Meg Whitman got an 80% approval rating but a mere 47% of employees would recommend the company to a friend. Why? Even though everyone loves the work-life balance, the ratings for senior management are very low, and the same goes for by compensation, career opportunities and more. (“Too much restructuring in the company senior management changes happening too frequently”)
  • Oracle – 3.3. Still king of the database, Oracle got higher ratings than its enterprise peers, with 78% liking CEO Larry Ellison and 65% recommending Oracle to friends, in part because of the work-life balance. (“Excellent work life balance ( but no one will prevent you if you want to work more 😛 )”)
  • Juniper Networks – 3.4. A whopping 100% of Juniper employees on Glassdoor approved of CEO Shaygan Kheradpir, and 73% would recommend Juniper to a friend, in part due to superior compensation. (“Salary is quite ok”)

Moving away from the incumbents and back to the cutting edge of technology, Google earned a 4.2 rating with 95% approval for CEO Larry Page and 90% of employees willing to recommend it to a friend. Yahoo!, meanwhile, got slapped with a 3.4 rating, with employees dissing senior management even though 84% of people love CEO Marissa Mayer. One employee lamented, “Too many [problems] to share here but most importantly the lack of direction the company is going.”

Correlation, Not Causation

As this study shows, it’s not all about the money. A billion-dollar valuation (or more) is simply a signal that a company is working on important things.

See also: The Internet Of Things: The Real Money Is The Internet, Not The Things

Apple and Google are hardly startups but they do work on industry-defining technology, and their employees are willing to put up with a lot of unpleasantries that come with working for a company that leads the industry—like a poor work-life balance—up to a point.

Employees want to work for a winner. They want to change the world, and they’ll rate highly any employers they perceive to be doing the same. As it turns out, Wall Street and Sand Hill Road tend to value companies the same way. 

Even so, on average, employers that failed to give employees a life outside of their work got lower approval ratings, regardless of the company’s ambitions. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but employee happiness is certainly reflected in company valuations. 

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