Marissa Mayer garnered a lot of media attention when she took the reigns as CEO at Yahoo! this past summer — when she was 5 months pregnant. Whether you are a woman who works in an office, works from home, has a flexible work schedule or are taking time off to care for your family, her appointment had us cheering. That is, until she mentioned that she would take "only a few weeks" off for maternity leave and would continue to work through her leave. Now she's taking on flex-time with a vengeance — and parents will ultimately suffer.
Memo to Yahoo! staffers
In an internal memo leaked to the press, workers got the news.
"To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together."
Years of flexible work schedules by various types of employees have made Yahoo! one of Silicon Valley's favorite places to work. Having the flexibility to work remotely, even for just a few days a week, gives people more of a creative edge, boosts productivity and is great for morale.
It isn't just moms who lose
Women have made significant progress in the working world just in the last decade, when arrangements such as this become more widely accepted. Many women feel that the only way they are able to have a successful career and raise children is because their employers allowed flexibility. While it may be moms who are the most vocally upset about this policy change, these flexible work schedules affect all parents — from the dad who works from home on Mondays so he can coach his son's Little League team to the nursing mother who works from home every morning.
The Human Resources person who wrote the memo even made sure to include a warning to those who don't currently have flexible schedules.
"And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn't just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices."
The policy doesn't just affect parents, it affects anyone trying to manage their life outside of work.
Flexible worker weighs in
Laura Willard is the Parenting Editor for SheKnows and the Editor of allParenting. She doesn't think eliminating flexible work arrangements across the board is a good move for Yahoo! or any other company. "Offering employees who work hard flexible schedules can make all the difference to them, and companies see that in productivity and commitment," Willard shares. "I initially took my position when I lived in another state and I worked strictly at home, traveling to the office for meetings as necessary," she says. She now lives close to company headquarters, and works in-office a few days a week and at home the others. "I love this arrangement and feel I have the best of both worlds. I'm not isolated like I once was — working at home alone day after day can be very lonely — but I'm still able to spend a few days a week in my PJs, working without interruption, in the comfort of my home," she says.
Willard, who has several very serious autoimmune diseases and two young children, says she wouldn't be able to have this job that she loves without her flexible schedule. "I often spend those work-at-home days propped up in bed on pillows, furiously working on my laptop, giving my body a chance to recover for the office days. When I'm in the office, I'm surrounded by creative, hard-working individuals who both inspire me and make my job fun," she shares. Willard says she gets far more done on work-at-home days, when she can lock herself away for 10-12 hours and work almost solid with no breaks. "Having this privilege — and I consider it one — helps further my sense of commitment to the company. And I can tell you this much — I'd never want anyone to perceive my work ethic as anything less than what it is, so I've always worked as hard as I possibly can to ensure my work is done on time and as well as possible," she adds.
Companies need to adapt
Kelly Tirman is a working mother who has long been an advocate of flexible working arrangements. "Ultimately talented professionals will always find the flexibility they need within their career to allow themselves to be good parents," Tirman says. "If they can no longer find it at Yahoo! I am sure there are plenty of other Bay Area companies that will love to add some additional talent to their teams."
Stacey Brooks Delo is the founder of MayBrooks, an online resource where moms at all stages of their careers can go to find jobs, post jobs and connect with like-minded women. Their tools harness the powerful word-of-mouth network among moms, and empower them to help each other find flexible careers. "Our research finds that overwhelmingly, women are interested in full-time work with flexibility," she says, "so we are encouraged that Yahoo! still appears supportive of that structure, though we hope it expands a bit behind the cable guy." A recent survey showed that 60 percent of respondents wanted this type of arrangement.
When companies promote programs and schedules that are flexible and help employees manage their personal lives, everyone gains. It remains to be seen what happens at Yahoo! on the heels of this announcement, but they just may lose a few good team members.