Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 


CEOs can be a touch, well, out of touch.

Their exalted position and their stratospheric self-regard can make them immune to the feelings of other humans.

Or, at least, other humans not at their exalted level.

It might be no surprise, therefore, that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer -- in the New York Post's reporting -- turned up at an internal meeting and tried a quip.

"She said there are going to be no layoffs 'this week,' and many of the employees laughed at her," said an unnamed attendee.

Yahoo hasn't been too successful under Mayer's reign. It's become rather irrelevant, as the likes of Google and Facebook have not merely stolen its thunder, but thieved its lightning and purloined the very cloud from which both emerged.

There are a few questions to be mulled over here.

One, could she have been joking?

Two, were the employees amused?

And three, should CEOs -- especially CEOs who are engineers -- employ joke-writers?

It may well be that Mayer thought she was being funny. However, while at Google she would test 41 shades of blue to see which was the right one.

This is surely 41 shades of humorlessness.

One might conclude, therefore, that Mayer might not have been joking. She might merely, in her rational, engineery way, have been stating a fact.

To translate: "No, there will no layoffs this week, but you know that we're not exactly a stellar company or brand, so how smart do you have to be to see that we're going to lay off some people? Hey, maybe even a lot of people."

On the other hand.

Let's assume this was an attempt at humor. In this case, it might not have endeared her to her troops. They might, indeed, have looked at her and thought: "You sniveling little smuggins."

It's somewhat inevitable that when companies falter, employees believe the CEO suffers least. If at all.

Indeed, the most likely scenario is that the CEO has a contract that pays him or her (yet another) fortune upon being bounced.

Some might muse that the only thing Mayer has to lose in this case is some ego points on the cocktail party circuit scoreboard.

So when you're running a company that's rumored to be divesting itself of up to 25 percent of its workforce, why antagonize your employees?

They're already demotivated. Do you need to make them feel as if you're laughing at them?

Human needs, though, are feckless things. Perhaps this attempt at a joke -- if it was one -- merely showed a touch of nerves on Mayer's part.

Engineers like to think they can make everything work. They forget, however, that people aren't (yet) made from metal, plastic, and bits of electronics.

Jokes are engineered in the most maddening way.

Sometimes, it's the way a person tells a joke that makes it sing. Sometimes, the very same joke told by someone else falls flatter than Yahoo's immediate prospects.

Jokes are even more sensitive than Elon Musk's rockets. Handle with care.

Of course it could be that Mayer has something brilliant in the works, something that will make the staff see that her "joke" wasn't gallows humor, but cheeky preparation for a new beginning.

Perhaps Yahoo is about to indulge in a reverse takeover of Google, the launch of a revolutionary communication service via fingernail and has just signed Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian and Tom Cruise to co-host a new talk show.

Now that would be funny.