What sort of message is the Yahoo CEO sending to her employees -- and to the future workforce?
This week my employees took a child to the orthodontist, got an estimate for fence repair, moved an aging parent into an assisted living facility, had taxes prepared with their accountant, cheered on children at basketball games and attended a seminar on reducing high blood pressure. And they did all this without missing a deadline or letting anything drop off the to-do list.
Like many people today, my employees and I work from home at least some of the time, and it varies week to week. We use iPhones, laptops, iPad minis, Skype, and Gmail to remain just as productive as if we were all in the same location. And sometimes complex or highly strategic projects are more easily completed with fewer distractions away from our very collaborative office.
Meanwhile, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer mandated that, by this summer, everyone who works at Yahoo! will be required to work on-site five days a week, erasing all the advancements in workplace flexibility over the past 20 years. It’s as if 1985 called and wants its HR policies back.
Have you heard of Instant Messaging? Email? Document sharing? Online collaboration? Ironically, Yahoo! gave birth to many of these technologies you use every day.
I trust the people I hire to do their jobs. And I give them the flexibility they need to have balance. In return, I get grateful, healthy, happy employees. Employees who take care of themselves and their families are more productive, less stressed, and more likely to stay loyal to my company -- all of which means less turnover and better business.
So why do I feel sorry for Marissa Mayer’s baby?
First, I feel sorry for all the times Marissa won’t personally be there for him, and what she doesn’t know yet. Sure, with all her resources, she can outsource anything she wants, but what is truly priceless is actually being there. “Mom, will you stay with me until I feel better?” “Mom, will you be at my 10:00 am Halloween parade because I don’t want to be the only kid without parents there?” “Mom, tonight is opening night of the school play. You’re coming, right?”
Second, the woman who gave birth to her first child and took a mere two-week maternity leave also built a nursery for the baby and his full-time nanny in her corner office. So while Marissa can be there for her son, will her employees have the same luxury of attending to their personal life in their office? It’s not about sporadic cable installation, and not just for employees with kids. Who gets to decide what reasons are acceptable for certain employees to work from home? “Hey Mom, why do my friends’ parents get to work from home but you never do?”
Third, will Marissa make the same judgments about her son’s productivity and work habits as she does about her employees? Will she put him in the same, inflexible box? “Mom, why can’t I start my homework essay at 10 pm because that’s when I get really creative?”
I’m not näive. Maybe Mayer is trying to get rid of deadwood employees and doesn’t want to pay out hefty separation packages. And certainly I believe in the benefits of face-to-face and eye-to-eye meetings when necessary. Clearly, she thinks working together will lead to better and more creative decisions. It’s possible.
But what’s impossible to ignore is the message her technology company is sending to employees about the value of their contribution and their life--and the message she is sending to her son and the future workforce.
As a mother of three, I started a company to find the flexibility I couldn’t from my corporate employer, and now I’m empowering the fastest growing segment of the American workforce: independent, home-based workers. My employees know that I care about my business, but I care about my family and my health more. The brain-trust of America is on the move--and neither chained to a desk nor a stove.
RENE SHIMADA SIEGEL is founder and president of High Tech Connect, a unique consulting partner for expert marketing and communications. After a successful career in Silicon Valley, she founded her company 15 years ago while juggling three kids under the age of five. @renesiegel