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Is Marissa Mayer's Flextime Ban Bad for Business, Morale and the Yahoo Brand?

Posted by Sheila Shayon on February 25, 2013 08:11 PM

It seems the great divide still exists—a great mother or a great worker. Now, two of the most powerful female executives have set their own standards for work/life balance, but there are faults to be had in both arguments.

Late last week, via an internal H.R. memo that was leaked to the press, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer banned working from home. The Google transplant has been in the process of turning around embattled Yahoo! since taking over in July 2012, but her latest move is inspiring more backlash than anything. 

"Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home," says an internal memo from HR director Jackie Reses, obtained by tech blog All Things D. "We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together."

“Even if that was what was previously agreed to with managers and HR, or was a part of the package to take a position, tough … It’s outrageous and a morale killer,” an employee told All Things D.

Beginning in June, all employees who work remotely full-time must report to a Yahoo! office. Additionally, it seems that even the occasional telecommute may be out of the question, as the internal memo suggests: "And for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration."

The controversial move is one that goes against the grain of current work trends, with more and more companies creating work-from-home programs or introducing flexible schedules in order to accomodate employees with childcare needs and increasingly complicated lives. 

"More than 36% of U.S. workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher and almost one-fourth of all staffers worked at home at least sometimes in 2010, the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics," notes Quartz. "The numbers may be even higher since the recession, experts suggest, as companies try to cut costs further."

While Mayer—who famously had a baby in September, and then returned to work just two weeks later—may be capable of such a superhero-like turnaround, the average working mother or father will most likely find it much more challenging. 

On another beat entirely is Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg, who is an outspoken supporter of work/life balance and is in the process of promoting her book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, an ode to her feminist mantra on women and mothers in the workplace. The book, out March 11, coincides with the creation of Lean In Circles, part business school, part book club for readers to come together to learn the ways of Facebook's leading lady. 

Also a Google transplant, Sandberg makes her family a top priority, telling Inc., "I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I'm home for dinner with my kids at 6:00... I did that when I was at Google, I did that here, and I would say it's not until the last year, two years, that I'm brave enough to talk about it publicly."

Facebook, like many tech companies, provide extensive ammenities to employees inside the workplace including complete meals, laundry services and health facilities so that employees can spend the maximum amount of time working and spend less time out of the office taking care of errands. However, such companies also have extremely flexible work schedules, allowing employees to work from home on a regular basis or as needed. In the end, having such options makes the companies more attractive to top talent and allows them to retain employees for longer.

Besides making the company more attractive, work-from-home policies have been touted as big money savers for corporate offices. Bank of America, who also recently trimmed down their work-from-home program, advertised that the "My Work" program saved the company $6,000 per employee per year in real estate and office costs. (The program cut is supposedly a part of a company-wide budget slim down that includes laying off an estimated 30,000 employees.) In reaction to Yahoo's decision, some believe the "work here or get out" move is part of a "stealth layoff" as well.

Since Yahoo!'s announcement, dozens of business elite have taken to coming out against the decision, including Virgin's outspoke chairman:

“Working from home is one of the only ways some working parents can make it work,” notes The Stir. “When work/life balance is already elusive enough, why would she attempt to try and take this away? It sets such a horrible precedent, and it's not only harmful to parents, but to her company who will surely lose valuable talent by not showing flexibility."

Indeed, what may be Yahoo!'s loss is a gain for others. If by implementing this policy and in turn sending a company that is trying to move forward back in time, Mayer's move may ultimately hurt the Yahoo! brand and their wallets. 

However, not everyone is opposed to Mayer's take on work. Donald Trump tweeted his support, saying, "She is doing a great job!" Alternately, Sandberg's stance isn't viewed as all sunshine and rainbows either, as Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former State Department official argues that Sandberg sets unattainable standards for personal and professional success. 

While pushing opposing views, both Mayer and Sandberg are pigeon-holed into the same over-achieving, highly-paid category. Despite Sandberg's inclusive and positive message, the Lean In project has not been embraced as quickly as expected and some suggest her enormous privilege makes it impossible for her to really understand the average working woman—an argument that has been levied against Mayer, too.

Sandberg's estimated $500 million fortune includes shares of Facebook and Disney, and according to Facebook's SEC filing, earnings of $31 million in 2011, make her one of the highest paid female executives in the U.S. Mayer, who will earn an estimated $26 million this year, further angered working moms with the revelation that she reportedly had a nursery built in her Yahoo! office—obvously a privilege not extended to or feasible for the average working mother, let alone Yahoo! mom.

With statistical data challenging Mayer's theory that in-person trumps virtual connections—a stance that Yahoo! would seemingly support—Mayer and any other exec looking to revert to a more traditional work model will clearly face an uphill battle.

In a statement that seems to be reflective of most views on the decision, The Huffington Post's Lisa Belkin—a noted writer on parenting and work/life balance—warns, "Putting employees back into a box is not good for Yahoo!. It is not good for workers. And it is very bad business.”

Comments

Garage Door Repair United States says:

Interesting article, I think 9 to 5 dorsnt work any more as the world has become more mobile and especially in the internet field.

February 26, 2013 02:05 AM #

Kevin United States says:

Of all the problems Yahoo! has, Mayer makes this a priority? The problem is not her people working at home. The problem is the public's perception of Yahoo! No one understands that 95% (my estimate) of Yahoo!'s content comes either from the newswires or from Yahoo!'s bloggers, who no doubt work on a contract basis. People expect old fashioned, objective news reporting when they go to Yahoo!, but that's not what Yahoo! is equipped to provide.

Mayer needs to re-evaluate her strategy. Maybe having employees working remotely for the company isn't working, but she has bigger fish to fry. More pressing is how the public views Yahoo! and its services. And speaking of services, from what I've seen, the "new" Yahoo! user interface -- particularly the e-mail dashboard -- SUCKS. These are fundamental issues that need to be corrected, no matter where the employees are located.

A long time Yahoo! user,

Kevin C.

February 27, 2013 03:33 PM #

TransparentBusiness United States says:


Yahoo! employees are being punished for the shortcomings of their managers. Yahoo!’s main problems seems to be its inability to manage remote workers effectively. This is not a worker issue. Remote employees tend to work harder and longer hours than their in-office counterparts. They are usually more productive and report greater job satisfaction and loyalty. Remote workers need a different kind of accountability. One that is rooted in productivity rather than hours spent in front of a computer. It doesn’t matter how or where someone works, as long as the job gets done. Managers need to be able to provide clear guidelines, goals, and motivation to telecommuters. It seems to me that Marissa Mayer’s decision completely misses the real problem. If Yahoo! is unable to manage its employees properly, it should look for tools such as TransparentBusiness.com, which allow managers to monitor work being done by remote workers in real time.

February 28, 2013 12:15 AM #

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