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Published 28 February 2013 08:21, Updated 12 April 2013 09:43
Working mum . . . Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer returned to work after Silicon Valley’s most publicised pregnancy and built a creche next to her office paid out of her own pocket. Photo: Bloomberg
As a business leader, I think you’d know that if Donald Trump praises something you have done, you are probably doing it wrong.
And so new Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer should be worried about a response to her edict that all her telecommuting workforce should come back to the office.
“@MarissaMayer is right to expect Yahoo employees to come to the workplace vs. working at home. She is doing a great job!” tweeted the controversial US property developer and reality TV star this week. Ouch.
.@marissamayer is right to expect Yahoo employees to come to the workplace vs. working at home. She is doing a great job!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 25, 2013
Yahoo’s ban has certainly stirred the hornet’s nest. You can see where she is coming from. Having drunk the Google-juice while working at the Googleplex as an executive, Mayer has absorbed the philosophy that great ideas come from face-to-face contact and incidental meetings.
So she is trying to turn around a flagging company by adopting what she sees as a competitive strength at Google.
However, once you give employees a benefit or privilege, it is extraordinarily hard to take it away again without doing real damage to employee engagement – the factor that drives innovation, creativity and productivity.
When brainy, highly sought after people join Google, they know that the company goes out of its way to create an environment where people need never leave. They can eat, drink and sleep there if they so choose.
The company has been a world leader in making its offices great places to be, with free food, swimming pools, recreation areas, on-site dry cleaning and haircuts, and massages.
But at Yahoo, which cannot match these conditions, people have arranged their lives around the ability to work flexibly, at least part of the week. Coming back to the office could well involve some serious and painful sacrifices – people may have to sell up and move closer to headquarters (if flexible working allowed them to live in cheaper or remote areas), or they may have to find care for children or ageing parents for the extra hours they will be commuting.
It has been reported that Mayer is frustrated that the people who do come in to the office are in a hurry to leave at 5pm – but she has used her own money to build a nursery for her baby next to her office so she can work longer hours.
Is she paying people to do their job to the best of their ability? Or is she paying them to sit at their desks to watch the clock? If they are getting the job done, why not let them go home to their families and dinner with their kids?
They don’t have the ability to install their loved ones in a creche next to their workstations – and maybe they are not workaholics.
It has also been reported that there was a culture of “slacking off” by those who were working from home.
All this leads me to believe that Yahoo’s performance management has not been up to scratch. If it was, managers would be able to look at the outputs and outcomes of their people and quickly identify who is not pulling their weight.
And, while the Yahoo culture may need a shake-up, Mayer is risking losing some of her most prized staff to competitors in what is surely the most cutthroat market for talent in the world.