How Marissa Mayer’s memo is making a mess of Yahoo’s reputation

How Marissa Mayer’s memo is making a mess of Yahoo’s reputation

As a work at home mom, I have to admit, when I heard the news about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s directive to eliminate Yahoo’s work from home program, I was not happy.  How Mayer runs Yahoo is not my business, and I’m well aware of the fact that she probably does not care at all about what a telecommuting employee in Colorado (who happens to work for a company in North Carolina) thinks about her decisions.  Let’s get this straight, I don’t care what she thinks either.  I’m not here to talk about what I think of her personally, or what I think of the way that she’s running Yahoo.  I am here to talk about what she is doing to Yahoo’s reputation.

There’s no doubt that the memo sent to Yahoo’s remote employees was not well-received in the technology world.  Although the memo seemed upbeat and well-intentioned, comments later issued by Yahoo execs carried a different tone.    References were made to “trimming the fat” and “improving productivity”.  Hey Yahoo, I have to say, I really don’t think dragging people into the office so that you can look over their shoulders to ensure that they’re working is going to improve productivity.  I have worked both in office environments and at home over the past few years, and I’ve got to say, I am the most productive when I feel trusted and supported by my superiors.  No matter where my desk is located.  Feeling like someone is looking over my shoulder to ensure that they’re getting the maximum bang for their buck out of me is the quickest way to get me to not want to work.  But I digress.

Saying that the news of this policy has created an uproar would be a bit of an understatement.  Employees are angry, telecommuters from companies all over the world are offended, and tech companies are coming out of the woodwork offering Yahoo employees new work at home opportunities.  My guess?  Many of them will be taking a good look at these offers.  I think Yahoo took a big gamble with their reputation on this one, here’s why:

  • Ultimatums often equal desperation.  It doesn’t matter what the company’s reasoning is for revoking their work at home program.  Sending out an across the board ultimatum never looks good from the outside.
  • Forcing many to pay for the mistakes of few brings Yahoo’s leadership skills into question.  There are allegations that Yahoo was not managing their remote employees well.  Punishing quality employees because of bad leadership does not improve morale on any front.
  • Yahoo’s refusal to comment makes us wonder how bad things really are.  Is Yahoo a sinking ship?  Forcing a change this big feels rather drastic, what is causing Yahoo execs to make it?  Panic?  Last resort?  Who knows, but it’s likely not good.
  • If Yahoo doesn’t trust its own employees, why should I?  A sweeping statement about lost productivity makes me question Yahoo as a whole.  If they can’t trust their own employees, I can’t trust Yahoo.  Ask investors how much confidence they have in Yahoo these days.  My guess? Not much.
  • Mayer continually alienates working mothers.  This is not the first time that she’s given the impression that she values work over work-life balance.  Many working moms look to her as a role model, and her behavior continues to set us back instead of moving us forward.

Guess what, Yahoo?  You can’t force collaboration and creativity.  [highlight color=”yellow”]If employees feel like they’re only valued for the time that their bodies are planted in cubicles, they’re only going to work for you between the time that they clock in to the minute clock out.  Their evangelism for your brand is going to dwindle.[/highlight]  They’re not going to hop on the computer at ten pm because they got a great idea that they can’t wait to share.  In fact, they’re much more likely to try and see just how much they can get away with while big brother is watching them in the office.  Their loyalty to your company will sit exactly where they feel that your company’s loyalty to them is.  You are a technology company, Yahoo, why aren’t you embracing the idea of technology bringing people together instead of fighting it?

As a work at home mom, I am eternally grateful to Andy Beal for taking a chance and trusting me to become part of the awesome team here at Trackur.  I can honestly say that I love what I do, and I work for an amazing company.  Is it an easy balance?  No.  Do I know how lucky I am?  Absolutely.  And I will do everything in my power to ensure that I hold up my end of the bargain, even if that means writing a blog post in the middle of the night, or responding to a customer request at noon on a Sunday.  This is not just a job for me, it is a part of my life.  A part that I value far too much to mess up.  I can’t speak for everyone who works at home, but I’d guess that I’m not alone in feeling this way.

7 Comments for “How Marissa Mayer’s memo is making a mess of Yahoo’s reputation”
  1. Great summary and observations Erin! I think your 2nd bullet point is very telling. You don’t penalize those that are great working from home, with those that don’t pass muster. If you have bad employees that work remotely, you’ve now got bad employees that work in an office–great for the moral of everyone…not!

    1. Exactly! The notion that one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch does not only apply to produce! Why does it take so long for so many “leaders” to see this?

  2. Excellent commentary Erin! I couldn’t agree more (on the business decision front).

    I think there’s another point to be made here though that many may miss. That lies in the question of whether it’s fair to hold up someone as an icon for a particular group of people and then to be surprised when they don’t live up to our expectations. Maybe rather than asking whether or not working moms and dads can “have it all” and choosing someone as the poster child for that mindset, those working moms and dads need to learn to find their own way and their own set of values to live by.

    I know of many, many companies…especially in our industry that are being successfully run by work at home moms and work at home dads. I can even think of several off hand who have built a business model out of hiring work at home parents and providing them not only with flexible hours, but with strong compensation for a 30 or 35 hour work week. These companies are building a new business model that values family and that understands it’s not necessary to become a millionaire to be considered successful.

    Is there a part of us that wants someone to point to while we should “see?? We CAN have it all” so very desperately that we’ll latch on to someone like Mayer and set her up on a pedestal?

    I’m not saying I agree with her in the slightest. I think you made excellent points and I think the sweeping decision was a poor one. But from my perspective, she’s taking as much flak for her “failure” to live up to other people’s pedestal level hopes as she is for making a poor business decision.

    I’m just not certain that’s fair. As someone who spend nearly a decade of her life putting up a good show for the rest of the world while her life was crumbling behind the scenes, I know how very exhausting carrying that mantle can be. It wasn’t until I stopped worrying about how people perceived me and started worrying about making the right choices for myself and my children that I found a truly health “work-life” balance.

    Maybe it’s time we stop judging people for missing the mark on our created expectations and start judging them for their ability to do the things they’ve actually promised to do.

    1. Thanks Jen, some great thoughts.

      Did she get put on a pedestal? Perhaps some did, but not sure we can all be guilty of hoping she’d make one perfect decision after another.

      It’s really not too surprising that she’s calling everyone into the office when she always had a reputation of loving to hold meetings–up to 70 a week!–where she “held audience” with her subordinates. That’s hard to do when they are working from home. 😉

    2. Thank you for the feedback! I completely agree with you, Jen. I was initially hopeful when Yahoo hired her that she’d do great things for women in the workplace. I’m less concerned with the pedestal now, however, than I am with the idea that her move may make others think this is the way a business should be run. I applaud Yahoo for doing what works for them, but I feel like the way they’re going about it is off. It’s just not sitting right with me. She may have hopped onto a sinking ship, but I’m getting some major control freak vibes right now. (Andy, I think the “holding audience” comment you made seems to agree with this idea.)

  3. Great insights Erin. You definitely looked at it differently than the dozens of other articles on this subject. I particularly liked “If Yahoo doesn’t trust its own employees, why should I?” We get it, she needs to clean house, trim the fat and if some innocents get hurt, so be it. Bad for reputation, great for bottom line.

    1. Thanks Dave! I appreciate the feedback, I especially don’t want to be writing what everyone else has already said 😉 Sometimes these decisions end up hurting the bottom line much more in the long run than they initially helped out.

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