Melissa Mayer of Yahoo had her HR lackey send out a memo that informed all employees that an end had come to an established and well-loved work-at-home policy at Yahoo. The Internet is up in arms about it, with arguments for both sides of the worth of work-at-home policies.
This really isn’t about working at home, collaboration, or anything else. This is about vetting dead weight at Yahoo without the mess of wrongful termination lawsuits.
I’ve worked in enough tech companies to recognize the schtick: Company has problems. Company needs a quick turnaround. A disdainful eye is turned on the employees. Employees are seen as expensive and unnecessary. Company decides to sell off entire divisions, lay off chunks of staff and replace them with contractors, or company makes sweeping, drastic changes in policy in hopes a bunch of people quit. The latter is probably the real reason behind the Yahoo move.
It’s a cowardly and crappy way to go, but the reality is it’s the most-efficient way to clear out “dead weight” (i.e. underperforming) employees via voluntarily separation. Voluntary separation usually means that wrongful termination lawsuits are not viable. In other words, if you quit a company, it’s more difficult to prove you were fired for unfair reasons.
It looks like Mayer went through some creative strategy planning in order to make this policy change as annoying and as face-slapping as possible:
- Sudden announcement
- Announcement sent by the [always hated] HR department instead of the CEO
- Sweeping and major policy change to the work habits of all employees
- Threatening undertones
- (The nursery for her child attached to Mayer’s office is another kick in the pants to new parents that may work at Yahoo.)
The more pain felt by the staff, the more likely it is that the underperformers will seek employment elsewhere. The “company men” at Yahoo won’t be the ones dusting off their résumés. They’re the “believers”, the hard workers, the ones who will probably applaud the loss of certain feet-dragging team members.
Behavioral Economics researchers like Dan Ariely have discovered that humans will do almost anything to maintain the status quo in any situation. The pain of loss, these researchers estimate, is 2 or 3 times more severe than the joy in gain. Yahoo management is hoping the loss of a comfortable work at home option plus the disrespectful tone and way the message was delivered will be powerful enough to help the “non-believers” move along without much protest.
In a litigious environment, Mayer’s latest move to disrupt the masses is standard practice and definitely a well-thought out creative strategy. My CEO-thinking self admires the move. My employee/parenting self is hoping Yahoo staff can find a way to get over the loss, trust their leadership and be happy and productive at work.
Boat photo credit: thefunklab on Flickr