“Rest and Vest” is perhaps Silicon Valley’s worst-kept secret. Also known as “coasters”, they are institutional employees, usually senior engineers at big tech companies like Google and Facebook/Meta, who have it easy and hang out on corporate rooftops shooting the breeze with their fellow coasters, while collecting a 7-figure paycheck and even healthier stock.
Fat Cat’s tech tale gained a reputation as a joke when HBO’s “Silicon Valley” did a bit more. In the series, Nelson “Big Head” Bighetti gets a promotion at tech giant Hooli, the fictional company inspired by Google. Bighetti was not assigned to any projects and instead chose to waste his days on other stayers and vests, becoming rich while doing little or nothing.
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It’s not just fiction. Reports and interviews with real, real-world coasters at Google, Meta, and Microsoft say it happens more often than you might think. “My days started at 11 and I was having long lunches,” laughed a former Googler.
It happens, others say, because the giant tech companies are able to afford it – at least until now. With bottomless pockets, these organizations had been able to hire or promote hot shots in emerging fields like AI and quantum computing, and did not expect them to spend more than 40 regular hours. It’s a “defensive move” because you prefer to keep top talent, even if it means they don’t hold their end of the bargain.
Coasters will no longer coast
Google was the place for stays and vests. But it looks like it’s coming to an end. At Vox Media’s Code Conference last week, Pichai reviewed Google’s plan to find efficiencies wherever he could, citing their plan for a ‘sprint for simplicity’ and even discussing a possible reduction in workforce of up to 20%.
With looming recessions and inflationary pressures, there are growing fears of slower growth and fiercer competition. During the conference, Pichai talked about TikTok and other entrants to the Chinese market. Things they didn’t have to think about two years ago suddenly become real problems for the big guns.
A number of solutions will be put in place to find efficiencies and resist this economic downtown. One of the approaches may simply be a concerted effort to discover the remains and call them. Or get rid of it altogether.
But I say, easier said than done. Pichai and other senior leaders must proceed with caution. Going after people with a militaristic productivity tracking system could easily backfire. People don’t like to be measured and watched so intensely, especially when their work is knowledge-based. They do not create widgets. They create ideas.
The devil is in the details of the message. The change must be formulated in two ways. First, it’s about fairness and a level playing field. Stocks have become part of any good D&I strategy. Reminding someone that their less than normal contribution is inequitable can motivate them to push their weight. We have a deeply wired aversion to being perceived by others as a cheat or defector.
Second, it’s about belonging, also a piece of the D&I puzzle. We’re humans after all. No one wants to be a social outcast, even a talented outcast. Contribute, belong, build alongside your fellow creators – this can be a powerful motivator to engage people more equally.
Google and others will have their work cut out to create a new normal for what it means to work in such an organization. In the end, it’s probably a good thing that the secret to rest and acquisition is revealed.