Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

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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The Harvard Business Review Tip For The Overworked

Build Your Community: Part 12

The The Harvard Business Review tip of the day: People who are overloaded by work should “create rituals—highly specific behaviors, done at precise times, that become automatic and no longer require conscious will or discipline. For example, go[ing] to bed at the same time every night [ensures that] you consistently get enough sleep.”

As a baseball fan, I’m all over rituals. This year during the SF Giants World Series run, I listened to the first two playoff games (losses) on the radio, and then I watched next three (wins) on tv.  It was a bummer, because I was afraid to turn the radio on for the rest of the playoffs, lest The Giants start losing again.  Unfortunate, because Jon Miller and the other local radio announcers are so much better than the various clowns broadcasting on tv.  But what could I do?  I didn’t want The Giants to lose on my account.

My silly-but-true example illustrates something important about human behavior: much of what we do is driven by emotion, not reason.  And while my turning on the tv was not a ritual per say, rituals serve the same function: emotional comfort from the sameness of an activity.

Rituals are one of the ways that corporate culture is perpetuated. A primary example is the quarterly company meeting, when all employees gather to hear senior management go through a scorecard of performance, talk about what is coming up, and try to inspire employees for the future.  Employees at dysfunctional companies sometimes refer to these as “cool aid sessions” while companies like Google and now Yahoo use weekly all hands meetings as a way to build a culture of transparency and trust among employees.  (For more check out this interview with Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations on Thinkwithgoogle.com).

This tip from HBR is spot on, although I disagree with the overt suggestion to use rituals as a means to maintain a work-first mentality.

“Sebastian Tate,” who we met in Chapter 7 in this post, uses the ritual of the male-bonding camping trip to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

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Is There A Down Side To The Free Lunch At Google?

Chapter 6:  Corporate Culture -The Invisible Hand of the Company Part 8

Shortly after the arrival of Marissa Mayer as CEO, Yahoo started giving free lunches to its employees as a means to change the culture and improve morale.[i]

Google, where she worked for many years is known for having free, very nutritious lunches.  It’s a great benefit and while I’ve never eaten there, I did go to the Califia Café, started by a former Google Chef. The food is fantastic.

One writer estimated that Google spent $72 million on food in 2008 .[ii] Why does Google do that?  Does anyone think it’s because they care about employees, or are being nice? (Sorry, I realize I am getting that snarky tone again.  Normally, in situations like this, I ask my wife read to help me moderate, but since she just got back from a business trip, I’ll spend my time with her catching up and let the chips fall where they may with the tone of the post.)

The benefits to Google include higher morale, a stronger culture, a talking point to keep salaries lower, and a way to keep people close to the office.

And it’s not just food that Google and other companies offer.  According to tech enthusiast Jonathan Strickland the Googleplex offers on site haircuts, medical, dry cleaning, laundry (complete with employees bringing in dirty laundry on the weekend), massage, as well as pools, gyms, video games and ping pong.  According to Strickland, the strategy is “keeping the employee workforce in the office more often. Give employees enough reasons to stick around and you’ll likely see productivity go up. Why head home when everything you need is at work?”[iii]

These perks are one way to address the difficulty of work life balance by bringing some of the life tasks into the workplace.  Is there a downside to this?

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[i] http://www.geekosystem.com/yahoo-free-lunch/  The only way to truly change this theme is for the company as a whole to embrace a new vision and strive for it. For that, they need happy workers.

[ii] Google’s Ginormous Free Food Budget: $7,530 Per Googler, $72 Million A Year* by Vasanth Sridharan | Business Insider| Apr. 23, 2008, 2:36 PM  Retrieved October 24, 2012  Read

[iii] How the Googleplex Works by Jonathan Strickland Howstuffworks.com. Retrieved October 24, 2012 Read