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Monday, March 04, 2013

Yahoo, Flex-time, and the Elusive Work-Life Balance

Thanks to Dan and PrawfsBlawg for inviting me to guest-post again.  This past week, I've been thinking about the controversy over Marissa Mayer's decision at Yahoo to end all work-from-home arrangements.  The memo from Yahoo's HR head justified the decision on grounds that "some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings," concluding that working at Yahoo "is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices."

I actually think there are some interesting connections between this controversy and law school life, in terms of both students (distance education, in particular) and faculty (e.g., how much time faculty should spend on campus)--more on that in a future post, maybe. 

But my first thought was about the workplace itself.  A few months ago, the NY Times ran an article about flextime (here) in which several people argued that flex-time policies shouldn't be only about accommodating employees' family obligations, but should apply more broadly.  At Ernst & Young, apparently, "the policy is that everyone, no matter their age or life circumstances, has equal claims on flexibility."  This sort of broad approach has important advantages.  But perhaps the Yahoo development highlights some of its drawbacks, at least in the context of significant flex-time arrangements.  Once a large number of employees are working from home,  it seems inevitable that the workplace environment itself is going to be quite different.  I'd think that the change builds on itself, too: if not that many people are coming into the office for work, doing so becomes a less appealing option even for those employees who would have preferred working in a social, interactive office environment.  And if things hit a tipping point--as they apparently did at Yahoo--then the employer may retract the whole policy, including for those employees who needed it the most. 

Posted by Emily Gold Waldman on March 4, 2013 at 02:02 PM | Permalink

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Yahoo's decision seems to be based on the financial situation at Yahoo as compared to its competitors' growth. Yahoo has been in the doldrums for some time. So some changes may be necessary. I have heard the suggestion that Yahoo may even need a name change. Perhaps as the telecommuting ends in the next several months, and the impact starts to be felt in Yahoo's financial performance (especially if negative), then here's a suggested name change:

YA-ZOO!

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Mar 5, 2013 9:35:32 AM

I agree with the comment above; this seems like an economic calculation. There is a risk that talented employees will lateral to more flexible companies, but Mayer will gain man-hours anyway because I read that this policy was in response to Mayer's review of records that showed employees working from home were not logging into the work networks much.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 10, 2013 6:38:24 PM

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