Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s declaration that beginning in June all company employees must report to the office or lose their jobs may, in her mind, boost productivity and improve the corporate bottom line, but it’s terrible for working mothers.
Years ago, when we wrote Comeback Moms, many women were in crisis over how to balance work and family. While we found that oftentimes husbands were incredibly supportive of their wives’ working either because the family needed the money to make ends meet or because they enjoyed the extra income, they weren’t always keen on pitching in to help their wives with issues at home.
Many of the women we spoke to felt the pressure of this situation. They felt incredibly torn between the amount of time required to excel at their jobs and what they felt was necessary to do what’s best for their children. If they threw themselves into work in order to compete with their male counterparts, this often meant neglecting family issues. If they spent too much time dealing with family matters, their work suffered. When they tried to balance both, they often felt they were doing an overall average job at best.
When forced to choose between the two, many of these women simply left the workforce altogether.
Companies soon noticed this trend and began searching for ways to bring these women back to work. Frustrated by investing large amounts of capital on female employees only to see them quit in their most potentially productive years, these companies decided to get creative.
One solution was allowing women to work from home. This gave women a greater opportunity to balance career with family and kept many women who otherwise might have left remaining in the workforce.
Most women don’t have the means of a person like Marissa Mayer to afford childcare that they find an acceptable substitute for their own presence at home. It’s interesting because when we interviewed these women, those who found it most imperative to either find ways to be more accessible to their children or to quit were the mothers of middle school age and older children. They were even surprised by this fact. Almost uniformly they would say that they always thought the time their children needed them the most was in infancy and as toddlers, but they’d learned (sometimes the hard way) that preteens and teens often need their parents even more.
Obviously, companies are in the business to make a profit or they go out of business. They ultimately answer to that bottom line. Nevertheless, it was a noticeable brain drain at many companies and thus profit loss that led to the development of work at home programs in the first place.
Working at home should carry the same responsibility as working in an office. Metrics should exist so that productivity or lack thereof can be measured. As long as an employee is being productive, it makes sense to keep the work from home policy in place.
Some jobs may simply not lend themselves to work from home arrangements. Yahoo! may be one of those companies where that’s the case.
I’ll bet, however, that if this policy goes into effect, Yahoo! will experience the lost talent that fostered the advent of work from home programs in the first place. That would really be a shame for a company where the CEO is a woman.