Engineers in bluejeans glide by on scooters at the Manhattan office of Google, the absurdly young and wildly successful pied piper to a...

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Engineers in bluejeans glide by on scooters at the Manhattan office of Google, the absurdly young and wildly successful pied piper to a changing work force.

There are cafes for 24/7 snacking, and gourmet cafeterias serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Of course, the food’s all free.

There are spaces to lie down for a massage, stretch out on a yoga mat, pump breast milk or curl up in front of the basketball finals. The game room has Ping-Pong, Foosball, air hockey, aerobics and weights. Happy hour — beer, wine, snacks — is Thursday at 5 p.m.

The amenities at Google’s West 16th Street office in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood mirror those at the Mountain View, Calif., headquarters of the world’s leading Internet search company.

The stir-fry of fun, food and work is central to the eccentricity of Google, which went public in 2004 with a prospectus that began:

“Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.”

But the perks and the playfulness aren’t why so many of the world’s technophiles pine for a job at Google, named Fortune’s 2007 “best company to work for,” according to product manager Jonathan Rochelle.

“The perks give you a sense of feeling valued,” Rochelle said. “But the most important thing for me is that I have what feels like the right amount of autonomy.

“I have a very high degree of decision-making power, and that doesn’t mean I’m a senior person — that’s just the culture of Google,” Rochelle said. “People take ownership of what they do and make decisions, so things get done quickly. Every day feels like a productive day.”

It also matters very much to Rochelle, 42, that Google’s culture lets him design his workday around getting home for dinner with his wife and their two sons, ages 6 and 4, and 1-year-old daughter.

Rochelle leaves Chester, N.J., around 6 a.m. and starts working via laptop on the train. He leaves Manhattan around 5 p.m., often logging back on to get some more work done when the kids are in bed.

“My children know I’m excited about going off to work each day,” Rochelle said. “I guess that’s a rare thing.”

And of course, there’s the money.

Each employee’s compensation includes some stock, and Google is thought to have scores of millionaires among its 10,000 workers.

Founded in 1998, Google went public in 2005, at $85 a share, and the stock now trades around $500.

Advocates for employee stock ownership point to Google’s explosive revenue and profit growth as evidence that stock ownership motivates employees to do their best work.

Fortune’s annual “100 Best Companies To Work For” list comes from the Great Place to Work Institute, which reports Google received 472,771 résumés in the past year.

But it takes more than stock ownership. Several independent studies have demonstrated that corporate performance is enhanced if employees both own stock and have a voice in the company’s direction, said Cory Rosen, executive director of the Employee Stock Ownership Association.

Says Google analyst Derek Brown of Cantor Fitzgerald: “Certainly, the opportunity to make money alters behavior, but I think the culture at Google is also fairly enticing. They are willing to experiment, and that’s a very attractive element in a job.”