Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

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.



  1. Since I am older (or oldest working) generation, I don’t understand the notion of a “sacred cow” including the privilege to work at home. Maybe this is a Silicon Valley/California Liberal state-of -mind.

    Work should be work, and not something squeezed in between other home chores or tasks that assume a higher priority than the job. I suspect that, just by the very nature of human frailties, there will be lots of people taking advantage of the home-working privilege. Apparently Ms Mayer checked the VPN logs and came to the same conclusion.

    In any event the employer calls the dance, because he/she pays the tab. The employee always has the option of finding a cushier gig, if he wants to take a lower salary. I wonder if the Silicon Valley crowd universally embraces the old notion of a “work ethic”.

    • Greg Marcus says

      Hi Brandon
      Thanks for your comment. I use the phrase “sacred cow” to represent something considered untouchable within a given company culture. I agree with you completely that an employer has the right to decide the flexibility policies, and I think Meyer changed the policy as a way of shaking things up. Believe me, work ethic is not an issue in Silicon Valley. If anything, people tend to err on the side of working so much that it becomes counterproductive.

      I think the data is pretty clear that there are good business reasons to allow flexibility, giving people the right to work from home. In fact, I’ve heard that 40% of IBMs workforce does not report to an office. And sales people are completely field based. I think a good manager can tell if people are doing their work whether or not they come into the office.
      I’ve seen plenty of slackers who stay in the office


  1. […] the next post, I’ll explain why busting sacred cows at Yahoo offers opportunities for a better […]