Maybe Yahoo’s Mayer Made The Right Decision After All

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, and Jackie Reses, their “EVP of People and Development,” made waves last week by apparently banning working from home (and to some extent, flexible schedules).

As a worker who can do 90% or more of my work from somewhere other than my own company’s offices, I take some offense at this, and it makes Yahoo another company I’d not want to work for.

But I can see why Yahoo’s management would do this, and it may well be the right choice for them.

The losers in this decision are many of the workers with families, long commutes, and/or existing agreements with their direct managers to accommodate working from home. Also losing out will be their coworkers, and anyone counting on their efficiency and effectiveness. Also the recruiters trying to bring in Silicon Valley talent with this albatross around their necks, the people on understaffed teams counting on new talent coming in, and quite possibly Yahoo’s shareholders.

I’ve been in a couple of environments where working from home (briefly) became a rift. In both cases, there was a problem with a very small number of employees who couldn’t work effectively from home, and rather than actively managing those few people, management attempted to overmanage a large group.

office-space-face-to-faceIn one environment, the politics at the director level and above were toxic, and were chasing out good talent in droves. I think 2-3 of a dozen coworkers were still there at the end of six months, including none of the people who interviewed me. The director who stepped in felt that people wanted to leave (he was correct), and that the best way to keep that from happening was to quietly cancel work-from-home without communicating this change (he was incorrect). There were a lot of people who “had to take [their] cat to the vet” for a month or two, even people with no cat, and I hear the director finally figured out that he was doing it wrong. I was gone by then as well.

In another case, about two or three employees were abusing work-from-home privileges, sending their “I’m working from home” email at 2pm (if at all) and not answering their phones. So the person in management responsible for these people’s managers declared that anyone wanting (or needing) to work from home more than once a month had to take sick time to do it, even if they were working the whole day. This was thwarted by HR, to the company’s benefit–silly state laws would’ve gotten in the way anyway–but it communicated management’s respect for employees very clearly.

Don’t get me wrong here. Working from home (unless contractually obligated) is a privilege, and if it’s abused, it can and should be revoked on a per-employee basis. It should also be a matter between the abusing employee and his/her manager, not the C-levels and the press.

But if you want to acquire and retain the kind of talent that Silicon Valley thrives on, you need better leadership, not just suboptimal management and one-size-fits-all backtracking mandates. I think people wanted to believe Marissa Mayer brought that sort of leadership to Yahoo, but a lot are thinking better of that belief now.

Some references:

Update: Some interesting articles on the matter from Business Insider:

What do you think? Is this another step in the recovery direction for Yahoo? Does it change how you view them as a prospective (or current) employer?

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