Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Why It Is Hard To Say NO To the Boss?

Chapter 10: The People-First Life, Part 11

When the boss asks you to do something, it can be hard to say no.  But saying no is one of the most important career skills you can learn. (And here is a good article with some tips on how to say no to the boss.) Over the next few posts, I’ll share the secret of saying no to the boss. But first, lets review why it is so easy to say yes, even if we don’t want to.

Humans have a psychological predisposition to say yes to authority figures. I’ve included a video that  shows footage of the obedience experiments run by Stanley Milgram, a social psychologist at Yale in the sixties. Milgram showed that ordinary people will give painful electronic shocks to other people if instructed by an authority figure. Participants thought they were testing memory, and started giving shocks of increasing severity. The recipient (who was really an actor) began to cry out in pain and beg for the experiment to end.

How did people react?  Participants got upset, asked to quit, but the man in the white coat told them “the experiment requires you to continue.” The shock was given, again and again, even when the recipient started groaning and no longer spoke. Watch the video; it’s shocking.

So if random people will hurt other people because a stranger in a white coat told them to do so, how much stronger is the impulse to obey when it is your boss asking you to do something less dastardly?

Living a people-first life provides an escape from the blind obedience described by Milgram. I’ll explain in detail in the next post. As a hint, for every yes to the guy in the white coat, there was a no to the guy being shocked.

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The Corporate Ladder Or Jacob’s Ladder?

Chapter 10: The People First Life Part 10

Which is more important to you, getting promoted or living a good life? In the last post, I wrote that Marissa Mayer’s top three priorities are God, family, and Yahoo.  My top priorities are health, family, and my book.

I won’t pretend that it isn’t hard for me to keep the book from creeping ahead of the other two. One thing that helps me remember my priorities is the story of Jacob’s Ladder from the Bible, which ultimately is about values and priorities.

Jacob, (grandson of Abraham,) dreams of a ladder connecting heaven and earth. He sees angels going up and down the ladder, hears the voice of God, and awakens to say “surely the Lord is in this place.”[i]  I interpret this story to mean that God is not just up in heaven but resides down on earth as well. As I argued in Chapter 2, in Judaism God’s teachings can be summarized by the Golden Rule, which itself is a universal value that transcends religion or the belief in God. The Jewish version of the GR reads “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another.”

Jacob’s Ladder is the story of a man who changes his priorities to put other people ahead of his own needs. When he went to sleep, Jacob was a selfish young man, fleeing after stealing his older brother’s birthright. After the dream, he quite literally fathers the Hebrew nation.

So for me, life on Jacob’s Ladder means a life where people are the highest priority – in this world and at this time. Why wait for heaven to be happy? Life on Jacob’s Ladder will bring greater happiness today. For example, in Paula Davis-Laack’s article “10 Things Happy People Do Differently“, three of those things prioritize people and NONE suggest material gain as a strategy.

This doesn’t mean that that climbing the corporate ladder is a bad thing, only that people should be a higher priority if you want to be happy. And putting people first doesn’t mean that you won’t be successful. In fact, Jacob becomes very prosperous, with “large flocks, [servants,] and camels and donkeys.”

Father of a people, and a large flock?  It didn’t get much better than that in the ancient world. And it started when Jacob put his priorities in order.

Have you ever had a dream that influenced your life?

Marissa Mayer, Yahoo, and Idolatry

Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 9

Busting Your Corporate Idol challenges each of us to make people a higher priority than the company.  The mishandled change to Yahoo’s telecommuting policy and the resulting backlash have a lot to teach about idolatry.

Was it Corporate Idolatry to remove the working from home benefit?

No.  Marissa Mayer, the Yahoo board, and many outside analysists perceive that radical change is needed to save the company.  While insensitively communiated to employees, more employees would be hurt if the company cannot turn around the trend of declining revenues.

Was it Corporate Idolatry for Marissa Mayer to build a nursery next to her office?

No.  Mayer was not doing what is best for the company, but rather was taking care of her own needs. In fact, Mayer has stated that her priorities are ‘God, family, and Yahoo! – in that order.’

CEOs always have extra perks. Mayer chose to use her perks to keep her son close to her. To me, this falls under the Rule of Self Preservation.

Mayer did, however, forget one of the leadership lessons shared by Robert Sutton in his book Good Boss, Bad Boss.  Namely, a good leader understands that everything they do comes under scrutiny. She’ll learn.

How about us?  Did we create an idol of Marissa Mayer?

Yes.  I think it was we who are guilty if idolatry, both when it comes to Mayer and Yahoo. Elissa Freeman captured it well in The Broad Side when she wrote “The decision to make Mayer the new face of feminism was ours, not hers. Yet, since her hiring, women have not been kind to Mayer.”

The anger and frustration with Mayer speak to the incredible longing for a better worklife balance among so many people. It speaks to the very real conflict experienced by many working woman who feel torn between career and family.  These normal and natural feelings become idolatry when we expect other people to solve these problems for us.

And in my opinion, we can’t expect the business world to solve a social problem.

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Marissa Mayer’s Quest To Change Yahoo’s Culture

Marissa Mayer Busts Sacred Cows At Yahoo

Marissa Mayer Busts Sacred Cows At Yahoo

Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 8

Yahoo busted a sacred cow when it discontinued it’s current work from home policy. (See the last post for more.) Frankly, compared to IBM’s changes to its pension program in the early 90’s, this is small potatoes.

Don’t get me wrong, I support business strategies like ROWE, which gives employees 100% flexibility about when to come in to the office. Cali Ressler & Jody Thompson the inventors of ROWE, wrote a great open letter to Yahoo, explaining why reducing flexibility is a step backwards. The letter is a business case, as opposed to a moral imperative. As you know, I don’t believe a company is capable of moral agency for either good or ill. Therefore, I think it is far more effective to describe a moral imperative as a business case for good.

While ROWE has a very good track record of business returns, at the end of the day it is only a strategy. And ROWE is not the only good strategy for making money.  Google is decidedly not ROWE.  The “always on campus strategy” works for them, and will continue to work until it doesn’t.

So what can Yahoo employees who like to work from home do, now that they must start coming to the office in June?  If working from home is important to you, my advice is not to take the change personally and use the transition time through June to find another job.

There is another more interesting option for those who will be staying: Use the culture transition as an opportunity to solve The Problem in another way.  And what is The Problem?  Too much time and energy going into work, and not enough left for anything else. Data shows that people who work from home tend to work longer hours, and are more likely to feel “on call” all the time.

What if the tradeoff of going to the office every day is a firmer boundary between work and the rest of life?  “I’ll be in the office every day with energy and enthusiasm, but when I go home the email stays off.”

After all, doesn’t the strategy say that working from home is less effective for what Yahoo is trying to achieve?  And doesn’t the research show that rested, relaxed people are more creative and collaborative?

The previous post explains why I support the changes at Yahoo.

The next post offers some perspective for people upset with Yahoo or Marissa Mayer.


Marissa Mayer’s Quest To Change Yahoo’s Culture

Chapter 10: Embrace People First Part 7

If you have been reading Busting Your Corporate Idol, you might expect me to be against Marissa Mayer’s decision to end telecommuting.  I’m not, and here’s why: I expect a good business leader to make strategic decisions that are best for the business, and not to consider a larger social movement or the impact on individuals. It’s the reality of the corporate world that strategies change, and benefits change even faster. My advice is to embrace reality, and plan your life accordingly.

From her first weeks at Yahoo, Meyer has worked to change the culture, to become a place where people work with energy to create synergy for innovation.  One part of the strategy was free lunches, to encourage employees to stay in the office. (See this post for a discussion of the downside of the free lunch culture.)

At the same time, Mayer has made no secret that she wants to upgrade the talent at Yahoo. In September, the Business Insider reported that Mayer was reviewing every hire at Yahoo to make sure high level talent was coming in. An internal source at Yahoo explained that

“one of Yahoo’s biggest problems over the past couple years has been “B-players” hiring “C-players” who were not “fired up to come to work” and were “tolerated too long.  I mean nobody gave a s— to come to Yahoo.”

So from a company perspective, anyone who leaves because of the telecommuting ban is another chance to hire an A player. And this policy change is a shot across the bow to send a message that anyone can be replaced; sacred cows of the old order will not be tolerated.

In the next post, I’ll explain why busting sacred cows at Yahoo offers opportunities for a better life.

And in the post after I’ll offer some perspective for people who feel let down by Marissa Mayer.

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