Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer: Was That Sneaky or What?

By now, you may have read or heard about Marissa Mayer’s new work policy for Yahoo! employees.  In case you haven’t, let me fill you in.

Last week, AllThingsD published a leaked copy of a Yahoo! memo from its head of Human Resources, Jackie Reses, which said: “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.  Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”

As of June, Yahoo’s 14,500 employees will now have to report to work every day at a Yahoo! office, or they will be fired.  No more working from home, and no more working on the road.  It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been operating effectively in a remote situation, or how much value they’ve added to the company.  If they can’t or won’t get used to cube life again, they can quit.

Will Someone Please Wake Me Up?

The level of hypocrisy here is almost unbelievable, like something out of a strange dream. First, you have this back-to-the-dark ages policy coming from Yahoo!, one of the first online companies and pioneers of innovation in the digital space.  And you have this blow to working mothers everywhere coming from Marissa Mayer, who was in fact 5 months pregnant when she took the reins at Yahoo!.

What Mayer Was Really After

But here’s the thing.  I don’t believe Mayer hates telecommuting, flexible schedules, or work/life integration all that much.  After all, she did just fine while on her albeit-limited maternity leave.  I think she had an ulterior motive, and that was to find an easy way to reduce headcount.  Considering the rigidness of this new policy, thousands of employees are certain to self-select out, and Yahoo! won’t have to provide severance or any other costly benefits.

Sneaky, right?  And what makes it even worse is that such passive-aggressive behavior is so stereotypically female.  You know all the male CEOs out there are thinking:  “leave it to a woman to find an indirect, non-confrontational way of getting rid of people.  If she were a man, she’d just pick up the axe and cut.”

Disappointing or Catastrophic?

Like many of you, I had high hopes for Mayer.  I thought she would set a great example for all women who strive to lead families and companies at the same time.  But instead, she has betrayed her biggest supporters and may just have convinced everyone else why it’s risky to put a woman in a top position.

As for Yahoo!, it will be interesting to see if and how the company comes back from this.   How much will the inevitable mass exodus of talent hurt?  Will Mayer be forced to reconsider her policy, and how much face will she lose inside and outside Yahoo! as a result?  Will the struggling company get back on its feet, or, during this disruptive, transitional time when other organizations are moving forward but Yahoo! is moving backward, will this be a final nail in the coffin?  What do you think?

Photo Credit © BusinessInsider

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  • All interesting points, Alexandra – there are many people of a similar mind right now. I am unsure how to take her actions, or what I think about it: while I agree with your points, I’ve also heard that Yahoo!’s remote work policy was out of control and being misused by many.

    But what I have been wondering is this: what happens if this maneuver leads to a major revival at Yahoo! – what are the implications for both remote workers and female leaders around the country if this actually works? That may be what is really scary…

  • Having worked with numerous work from home employees and contractors, I would also suggest that it might be her motive to regain a sense of corporate unity, team spirit, enthusiastic corporate culture. My company has recently made this same decision for my previously stated reasons. I have not seen a company…yet…successfully grow or maintain an organic, consistent, enthusiastic, on-the-same-page corporate culture with workers that never meet face-to-face. Technology is great but you simply cannot replace the human element. In our case we went for weekly productive face-to-face office meetings.

  • Arturo Curley

    Whatever the reason for the new policy, I completely disagree that making this decision somehow discredits or undermines her ability as a powerful, smart, and capable leader. I have experienced many leaders (regardless of gender) who use indirect ways of introducing new policies. In a world where the messenger is blamed or attacked (verbally or physically) for company policies or government policies, indirect ways are often the ‘go to’ tactic to ease the situation. Nonetheless, times change, companies change, industries change, and policies change. The only inconstant thing in life is change! And as a experienced manager, if an employee can’t keep up with the change, then I don’t want them working for me anyway.

    My impression from this article and the responses, is that a policy that allowed employees to work at home (on a few occasions), became permanent stay-at-home positions and that is a problem. If all employees have a physical office that they are able to go to, than that office should be in utilized primarily. Otherwise, it is a waist of money to have offices, when everyone could just work from home. But as beneficial as working at home may be for some industries and positions, I must agree with my fellow commenters that there is a benefit to office interaction and dialogue, if at the minimum it improves the interpersonal communication abilities of introverted software programmers with no social skills (no offense!) :-).

    Lastly, many mothers work and are capable of going to an office daily. I think that it is a blow to working mothers to suggest that they need a job that allows them to work-at-home most days to be effective mothers. If you require or prefer a job that has more flexibility, then apply for a new job that accommodates that want or need (and that is perfectly fine). But otherwise, regardless of gender, and let me put this as directly as possible – get your ass to the office! (excuse my non-HR policy appropriate language.)

  • Thanks for all of the thoughtful comments, guys. I agree that people should have to/want to meet in person from time to time. I just think this policy change en masse is way too extreme and inappropriate for the world we live in.

  • Chris Bonney

    All great points by all. Here is HBR’s assessment. I concur:

  • JamesPFitz

    I wonder how many executive committee members from all the companies in America would admit to anything more than a day or two of working remotely? As the old saying goes, 90% of success is just showing up.

  • Chris Bonney

    Here is a link to a good article to read. The change wasn’t an en masse proposition, Alexandra. It affected 200 people out of 12,000. Some of these 200 people were creating start-ups on the side because they had so much free time from blowing off work. The quick jump that everyone seemed to make about Marissa’s judgment was, in most cases, uninformed and a bit presumptive that one of the people that literally helped build Google, might not have her ducks in a row.

    Here’s the article:

    None of this appears to be “sneaky” from what any of the information has shown over time.

  • You might be right. Another thought is the new way of managing. I see it all the time. The new wave of leaders believe in the “social interaction” of employees. Whether it is going out for mandated after work gatherings, or “tell us something you did fun in your private life this week!” In my opinion that is getting into people’s head space, breaking down personal boundaries and violating rights to a private life. Possibly this is her game plan. Time will tell.

  • Lee Atherton

    It seems to me that whatever her reason for instituting this policy was, it could have had some middle ground instead of all or nothing. She does make a great point that a lot of insights and discussions come from the less formal places and ways we see each other “in the cubicle”. But when your working parents come to the office day after day, what are the costs on that end? Exhaustion, resentment, loss of life/work balance, distraction, …

    I would have liked to see her allow some tele-commuting along with required time on site.

    Not all moms and dads can afford to build a day care office next to their corporate office.

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