ColumnYahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s controversial decision to outlaw working from home has nothing to do with motherhood.
If we all follow Marissa Mayer’s lead, I can stop working from home. This is going to be awesome. No more answering emails while I make dinner. No more updating my company’s Facebook page after 5. No more Sunday afternoon proposal reviews. It will be like the early ’90s when we left work and work was over. The ’90s were great.
I think you see my point. Marissa Mayer’s new mandate that all Yahoo! employees work onsite feels like a big step back in time. There are loads of studies showing that flexible work days are better for people—and productivity (not to mention the environment). And there are studies showing just the opposite. Most tech workers don’t have to punch a clock anymore, and very few people want to. But, I don’t work for Yahoo!—and neither do most people who are freaking out about this. Why do we all care so much about Mayer’s new policy?
More than a fear that our own employers will make us suit up and come in, reasoning that if it’s good enough for Yahoo!, it’s good enough for us, it’s pretty clear that people are interested because Mayer is a woman, not to mention a new mom. Many are asking how she, a working parent, could do this to us.
Which begs some questions: Why is working at home linked to parenthood? If a male CEO did the same thing would anyone bat an eyelash?
There are tons of reasons to work at home, or in a coffee shop, that have nothing to do with kids. And shouldn’t. Once the right to work remotely is tied to whether a person has kids, how long her commute is or another matter unrelated to her job responsibilities and performance, the door is open for an HR nightmare and employee morale problems.
If someone is working at home, he should be working, not just replying to email in between watching kids—or the episode of Nashville he missed earlier in the week. In reality, there’s time spent not working no matter where you spend the workday, whether that break is to throw in a load of laundry at home or watch a cute animal video for two minutes at your desk. For many people, that mini break between tasks is actually part of how they work effectively.
As an employer, you either trust people to get their work done wherever they are, or you don’t. It seems Mayer doesn’t. I don’t see how taking away a benefit most people seem to want will change that, but then, I am not the CEO of a global enterprise, so maybe she knows something I don’t.
Which brings me to my next point. There’s been criticism about Mayer not sympathizing with real women—which I assume means those women with kids and without access to a private jet and unlimited resources. To that I say, so what? She has worked her ass off to become one of a handful of high-profile female CEOs. This isn’t US Weekly and she’s not just like us; she’s Marissa Yahoo! Mayer. She doesn’t have to identify with us (and doesn’t seem to)—she has to turn around a struggling empire.
I would hope her decision to put the smackdown on working from home was a business decision, not a personal one. And the assumption, by men and women alike, that her decision had anything to do with her ability to make babies leads us to the second question: If she was a man, would this discussion be about anything other than employee productivity? Maybe. There might be criticism about him not sympathizing with work-life balance, but I don’t think the outrage would be the same. She’s the CEO. She’s not the kindly Yahoo! aunt, and she didn’t do this to screw over women or families.
Ultimately, Mayer knows her workforce, and if it needs cleaning up and a strong kick in the ass, that’s her job. But, to an outsider like me, it looks like a throwback blanket policy that is going to be a disaster for morale. What it says to most of us is what most people already think about Yahoo!: It’s no Google.