‘Rest and vest’ may just be the worst-kept secret in Silicon Valley. Also known as ‘coasters’, these are institutional employees, typically senior engineers at big tech companies like Google and Facebook/Meta, who have it easy in their job and who hang about on company rooftops shooting the breeze with their fellow coasters, all while collecting a 7-figure paycheck and an even healthier stock.
The tech Fat Cat narrative earned a joking reputation when HBO’s “Silicon Valley” did a bit on it. In the show, Nelson “Big Head” Bighetti gets a promotion at the tech giant Hooli, the fictional company inspired by Google. Bighetti wasn’t assigned to any project and instead he chooses to squander his days with fellow resters-and-vesters, getting rich while doing little to nothing.
How resting-and-vesting became a thing
It’s not just fiction. Reports and interviews with actual, real-life coasters at the likes of Google, Meta, and Microsoft say it happens more often than you think. “My days began at 11 and I took long lunches,” laughed one former Googler.
It happens, others say, because the behemoth tech companies are able to afford it – at least until now. With bottomless pockets, these organizations had been able to hire or promote the hot shots in rising fields like AI and quantum computing, and not expect them to put in the regular 40+ hours. It’s a “defensive measure” because you’d rather hold onto top talent, even if it means they don’t hold up the end of their bargain.
Coasters will coast no longer
Google was the place for resters-and-vesters. But it sounds like it will be coming to an end. At Vox Media’s Code Conference last week, Pichai revisited Google’s plan to find efficiencies wherever it could, citing their plan for a ‘simplicity sprint’ and even discussing a possible reduction in headcount of up to 20 percent.
With looming recessions and inflationary pressures, there’s growing concern of slower growth and fiercer competition. At the conference, Pichai talked about TikTok and other entrants in the Chinese market. Things that they didn’t have to think about two years ago are suddenly becoming real issues for the big guns.
There will be a number of solutions put in place to find efficiencies and weather this economic downtown. One of the approaches may just be a concerted effort in uncovering the resters-and-vesters and calling them out. Or getting rid of them altogether.
How employees will react
But I say, easier said than done. Pichai and other senior leaders must proceed with caution. Coming after people with a militaristic productivity tracking system could easily backfire. People don’t like to be measured and monitored so intensely, especially when their work is knowledge-based. They aren’t creating widgets. They’re creating ideas.
The devil’s in the details of the messaging. The change ought to be framed in two ways. First, it’s about fairness and leveling the playing field. Equity is now part of any good D&I strategy. Reminding a person that their sub-par contribution is inequitable may motivate them to pull their weight. We have a deep-wired aversion to being perceived by others as a cheat or defector.
Second, it’s about belonging, also a piece to the D&I puzzle. We’re humans at the end of the day. No person wants to be a social pariah, even one that’s talented. Contributing, belonging, building alongside your fellow creators – this can be a strong motivator to get people involved more evenly.
Google and others will have their work cut out for them in creating a new norm around what it means to work at such an organization. In the end, it’s probably a good thing that the resting-and-vesting secret gets called out.