Bite Me, Marissa Mayer

Luca’s feet, under the cover, and mine, on the right

Working mom Pauline Gaines is outraged by Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s order to send all employees into the office instead of continuing their work-from-home arrangements. 

My ex-husband Prince is out of town — no one seems to know where, including my kids — so I happily took Luca yesterday and today, which are normally his dad’s days. Franny left for a weeklong school trip to D.C. on Sunday, so my regularly-scheduled timeshare programming is all mixed up. Meaning: I hadn’t planned Luca’s dinner. Franny only wants pasta/broccoli/sausage for dinner, and Luca wants variety. Actually, I don’t know what Luca really wants, because he’s barely lived with me for three years.

Luca’s name popped up on my iPhone screen at 4:30 yesterday afternoon, that time of day when I am drained and bleary-eyed at work. I was staring at my computer screen, which I do more and more these days, now that the residential treatment facility where I work has demanded that clinicians become paperwork drones in addition to treating kids.

I was sifting through reams of densely worded instructions on how to complete a mind-numbingly heinous report due today when Luca called. And what he said made my heart sink.

“Mom? There’s nothing here for dinner.”

There’s sausage…and broccoli, and pasta,” I said lamely.

“We have that every night,” he said. “Can’t we have something good?”

It was a reasonable request, in its teenagery way. But I didn’t handle it well. My eyes welled up from failed-motherdom, and my head almost exploded from failed workerbee-hood, and I snapped. I said something that sounded a lot like “I’m at work! I can’t talk about this right now!” 

And then he said something that made what was left of my heart shatter into little pieces at my feet.

When are you going to be home?”

Six-thirty,” I said. “I’ll fix you dinner then.”

“I don’t think I can wait till then,” he said. “It’s okay, I’ll just make mac n’cheese.”

And then I put down my phone, and my head on the desk, and tried not to cry. I thought of all my married friends who don’t have to work, the friends who have reams of recipes in lovely organized binders, and time to plan dinner menus, and fix healthy snacks after they pick up their kids from school, a job that falls to my babysitter.

I thought of the laundry piling up by the washer, the boxes yet to be unpacked from the move, and my substandard think-ahead, time management skills, those skills crucial to the family of every work-outside-the-home mother.

I thought of all the moms who sit their kids down to dinner at 6:00, the hour that Luca would be sitting in front of the TV, alone with a bowl of mac n cheese, and I thought:

Bite Me, Marissa Mayer.

I don’t work for Yahoo!, the organization run by new CEO Marissa Mayer, the Lady Macbeth of the 21st century workforce, she who returned to work two weeks after giving birth, and who issued a memo, via her HR person on Monday, informing all Yahoo! employees, even those who were hired with the promise of a flexible, work-from-home position, that they now must work in the office to be truly productive.

As HuffPost Parents editor Lisa Belkin pointed out in her excellent piece on this development, this asinine mentality that working in an office is the only way to be productive, is dubious. It is dubious, it is a morale-killer, it sucks for kids, and it is a lousy, Orwellian reality navigated by parents who require two incomes.

And it becomes a truly surreal Orwellian reality for those of us who are single parents and must cling to our jobs like rockclimbers scaling Mt. Everest.

And the more I thought of all this, the more panic descended on my shoulders, and the more hamster-on-the-wheelish I felt, with the mantra nothing-you-do-is-good-enough ping-ponging wildly in my head.

I slunk out of the office early, drove home and found Luca post-mac-n-cheese, sprawled on the couch with his iPad. I practically begged him to let me fix him dinner — “What about potstickers? Cornmeal-crust pizza?”

“Nah,” he said. “I’m not hungry now.”

I poured myself a glass of wine, steamed some potstickers for myself, and stuffed the laundry in the washer.

Later, Luca asked me to get him some ice cream, which I scooped into a bowl and presented to him like a wise king offering frankincense to the Baby Jesus.

He wanted to watch Breaking Bad with me, so we sat on my bed, watching it on his laptop.

“Your bed is really comfortable, Mom,” he said.

I sighed and smiled at him and savored this thin slice of family time, and for a moment, all was right in my impossible, 21st century single-mom-working life.

 

Originally appeared on The Perils of Divorced Pauline

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About Pauline Gaines

Pauline Gaines is the pseudonym of a blogger who writes about divorce, custody, and complicated children. She has survived all three subsisting primarily on caffeine, chocolate, and red wine. Her second husband is a saint. Visit her at Perils of Divorced Pauline or on Twitter @divorcedpauline.

Comments

  1. Good point… and thank you for couching it in non-sexist language. ALL workers, male and female, benefit from the availability of flexible work arrangements.

  2. Marissa Meyer is wasting SO MUCH GAS!!! But yea, your teenager should probably learn he is lucky to get broccoli, sausage and pasta. That sounds delicious. You’re not a bad mom for not cooking for him. Teenage boys *SHOULD* be cooking for themselves, and if he doesn’t like it he can go to the store. As a young woman trying to date, I find the fact that too many young men were over-mommied just leads to them expecting that from me. So it’s okay. Give yourself a break. Your kids are going to be okay, and maybe even more independent. That said, she can bite me, too, right in my ever flattening office chair shaped ass.

    • That’s a good perspective, Katherine, thanks.

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        Yeah, I agree with Katherine, but I also get it that Pauline wants the time with Luca, too. Sometimes doing something nice for someone just feels like giving them a bowl of love. Though certainly watching a great, smart show together and then talking about it will do the trick, too. ;)

  3. I can’t help but get an odd feeling that this announcement comes after she had a nursery set up next to (or inside) her office.

    I’m sure there are plenty of people who were working from home because it was what was best for them and their situation. One my coworkers occasionally works from home. It’s because with he and his wife both working and putting their child in daycare if something happens and the child has to stay home (the dear is prone to getting sick and when that happens he’s basically banned from daycare for the safety of the other kids) he is able to work from home but his wife can’t since her job doesn’t allow for it.

    This is a HUGE set back in progress. Not only does it go directly against the advances that make work from home possible today but it puts people who need to be able to work from home (and I bet it’s not limited to parents taking care of kids) in a very difficult spot.

    I wonder if there will be any sort of data on how many employees end up leaving the company once this ban comes into effect due to not being able to juggle their situations with having to go into the office everyday.

    • The nursery thing is infuriating, Plus, you know it’s not JUST a nursery. It’s a team of personal assistants and an on-call masseuse. This woman has NO idea what it’s like to be a real person raising a family and trying to make a living — or she knows, but doesn’t care.

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        She needs to take personal, managerial and business advice from Yvon Chouinard, the CEO/founder of Patagonia – a company that has seen massive growth and profits in the last 20 years, all while being amazing to their employees – including being one of the first 5 companies in the nation to have on-site childcare, one of the first companies to use Organic materials, etc.

        Amazing interview with him here: http://www.npr.org/2012/01/13/145181615/yvon-chouinard-founder-of-patagonia

        • All big corporations should provide on-site childcare. It’s humane and boosts morale and productivity.

        • Exactly. Some other tech giants actually provide on site day care (along with on site medial, therapy, and workout offerings). They are offered under the knowledge that it can be hard to manage one’s personal and work life so if the company makes it easier its more likely to drawn in more employees and have happier employees which translates into better productivity.

      • How many hours does she work, vs how many hours do you work? Far as I know CEOs pull in 80+ a week so her workload is probably far higher than most of her employees? If so then the nursery would be needed for a job like hers

        • Regardless of how large someone’s work load is it’s a matter of how that workload relates to other things in their life. Even if she has employees that only pull 50 or so hr a week if those hours were being done from home because they were working and doing something else (like taking care of a child) then what then?

          I’ll bet she’s not the only employee that would need some sort of alternative form of child care with this ban coming into effect.

          This comes off as just another example of top dogs looking out for themselves but then expecting total loyalty from the people working for them. Moves like this are probably sure to kill morale.

          (Several months, last October or so, ago the CEO of the company I work for held a company wide conference call in which he announced that our company was getting bought out. During that call he directly told us that the move was being made in the interest of shareholders and that he would already had a position in the new structure, probably meaning that making sure his future was guaranteed was probably a condition of the merger. As for the rest of us we just found out this week whether or not we would have a position in the new structure. And it didn’t go well for A LOT of people. There arent many things that can kill morale faster than a company top dog basically saying, “Got mine, fuck you.”)

  4. I was given information today:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204624204577182451857622844.html

    This is a link to the beginning of a WSJ article. Now, it’s a good possibility that Ms. Mayer just wants to cut costs, and this is her way of getting some employees to quit without having to lay them off (and hence pay unemployment).

  5. I’m sure there are many who want more child-friendly hours for work, are there a lot of like-minded parents starting businesses setup for that?

  6. I can’t say I’m getting too outraged about this.

    I live in Silicon Valley. Everyone knows that Yahoo is in deep trouble. Apparently, one issue (among many) is that the company has too many employees working at home and it’s making the workforce hard to manage. The bottom line is that she’s the CEO and she can call the shots. People who don’t like it can get another job. Hiring is way up in the Valley and tech workers are in high demand again. my boyfriend has been in the tech business in the Valley for 20 years and he’s never had an employer who allowed him to work at home.

    • That’s great that jobs are coming back in Silicon Valley, but the reality in most other sectors is that they’re not. Marissa Mayer’s dictate sent a message way beyond Yahoo, to the corporate culture at large, that workers don’t really matter. I am lucky to have the job I have and I don’t have the option of readily finding another one so I’m stuck with a lifestyle that doesn’t suit a family, especially a family helmed by a single parent. The adage that people can find a job if they don’t like the one they have was much truer 20 years ago; now that’s not a reality for most people.

      • It isn’t Meyer’s job to send any messages to the world about work life balance. Her job is to make Yahoo profitable. I have the same issue when people complain she has a duty to send the “right” message about working mothers or whatever. Her only duty is to run Yahoo, not to be a spokesperson for all women. Everything I’ve heard about her is that she’s insane workaholic, which she’s entitled to be.

        • I would argue that it is EVERYONE’S job to recognize that we are a community and we have obligations to each other, especially to those who have less. The quest for profit above all else has decimated this country. Did Steve Jobs really need all those billions? Wouldn’t it have been better if he had not outsourced labor to China (and exploited Chinese workers by paying them squat) but instead built factories here and hired American workers, giving them a decent wage? He still would have been rich and Apple still would have become a legend. And yes, Mayer is entitled to be a workaholic, but that doesn’t justify the refusal to recognize that work life and personal life are intertwined.

          • wellokaythen says:

            In that sense, Meyer’s policy could be read as a statement AGAINST outsourcing. If long-distance online business doesn’t work as well as on-site business, then theoretically Yahoo should not be outsourcing any jobs, unless they are willing to build and run actual Yahoo sites abroad. Isn’t subcontracting to small suppliers in India the equivalent of letting people work at home?

            We can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that a worker doesn’t have to be present to do a good job AND say that the worker still has to be in the United States. If your workers should be allowed to work from home, then the company should be allowed to hire people working ANYWHERE from “home” – Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, etc.

  7. I’m sure it’s an unpopular opinion, and maybe I’m not qualified to comment because I’m not a parent, and this seems to be a “parent” issue more than anything else.

    But working from home is a privilege. Not a right.

    It’s great when an employer can offer this privilege to its workers, but if it negatively impacts the business – well, like it or not, that’s the employer’s chief responsibility: keeping the business running. Some businesses can run whether or not all employees are physically onsite. Some can’t. Yahoo! needs all the help it can get in righting the ship, so if the powers that be at Yahoo! think telecommuting is hurting the company, I think they’re well within their right to revoke the privilege. It’s not a punishment. It’s a business decision.

    I lament that all of this negative attention is being foisted at Marissa Mayer, as if this was her decision alone and as if she made it completely heartlessly without any thought to the impact it would have on her employees. I’m sure she didn’t just wake up one morning and say “I don’t think parents should be allowed to work from home anymore.” I’m sure this was deliberated with other leaders at Yahoo!, and made based on evidence and fact, not on personal feelings – because that’s how decisions are made at corporations this size. Ms. Mayer’s name is just the one that ends up on the memo.

    I feel Ms. Mayer has been getting an unfair amount of media scrutiny since she became the CEO. People are behaving as though her gender and her role as a mother mean she would/should act differently than any other CEO. Especially with this story, there this sense of “How could she! She’s a mom!” in the public outcry. Well yeah, she’s a Mom… she’s also a CEO, and must behave as such if she wants to make Yahoo! viable again.

    • KKZ, I agree that Marissa Mayer’s gender may have made her the target of unfair scrutiny, but I have to respectfully disagree with the rest of what you said. Her decision is informed by the culture of individualism that has gradually eaten away at the collective well-being of this country since the Reagan era. It is not only bad business, but also inhumane to disregard the practical realities of people’s lives. At the very least she should implement on-site daycare, as well as an on-site health club. Many companies do this and I would bet doing so garners the loyalty of its workers, while also enhancing the well-being of families. I just don’t think we can continue to split off working life from personal life — they’re too intertwined.

      • Agreed. There are workers making up that business success. Labor needs support. Not layoffs, outsourcing and near slavery from other countries workers.

      • PastorofMuppets says:

        Those ideas (on-site day care, health club, etc.) sound great , but your notion of the collective well being is off the mark here.
        First – whether we like it or not, think it’s fair or not, think it’s just or not, etc., etc., – Marissa Mayer’s first duty is to Yahoo’s bottom line, its stockholders and its customers. Not its employees, and certainly not some nebulous concept of collective well being. Good luck walking into a board of directors or stockholders meeting as CEO and reporting “We lost $200 million last quarter, but our employees’ home lives are going great.” Nobody will care if you’re losing money.
        I suppose one could, if they wish, imagine Mayer as some sort of Wicked Witch of the Valley cackling gleefully as she imposes hardships on workers just for kicks. But it’s far more likely that this move is being done in an attempt to cut costs and increase productivity, things that are necessary for her to serve her primary interests.
        And, ultimately, serving those interests – assuming it’s done in a legal and ethical way – is to the collective well being. Because if Yahoo continues to bleed money, people aren’t just going to lose their jobs at home, they’re going to lose their jobs, period. Stockholders – not just rich white old men lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills, but teachers pensions and 401ks and college endowments – lose money. Vendors lose clients (and then they lay of people). Customers lose choices, which means they ultimately pay more.
        Are these things also not part of the collective good, or does employee convenience supersede all?

        • It’s really a philosophical debate at this point: profit at any cost vs. creating environments that work for everyone, not just CEOs. I still think a lot of the problem is the insane salaries/perks or CEOs and Board of Directors, when they wouldn’t even have jobs if not for their workers.

          • PastorofMuppets says:

            I think it’s less of an either/or issue than it is a balancing act, with profits by necessity always having to win out. Profit gets tossed around like it’s a dirty word or somehow unbecoming, but the reality is that a company lacking profits is a company headed for bankruptcy. And then everyone loses, employees most of all.
            I do agree about upper management compensation is horribly imbalanced and, unlike regular workers, it doesn’t often reflect production.

            Ultimately, I don’t think it’s right to suggest Mayer is doing anything more here than try to make Yahoo! successful and profitable again. this may turn out to be a disastrous decision, or it may lead to a sharp increase in productivity. Who knows? But it’s not fair to impose on her (or her decision) all these sweeping generalizations about harming working families, people who work from home, etc.

          • Agreed. If the US believed in subsidizing good child care then this would be much less of a problem, as well. Our US work/life policies are for shit. No wonder we have one of the lowest happiness quotients around.

            “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

            ― John Steinbeck”

            And I’ll tell you what, in todays America, if you aren’t a millionaire, you are poor. It’s a great trick getting everyone to believe that millions are just around the corner and that they shouldn’t fuss to get too many benefits (that would be part of their own tax when they are those millionaires).

            Pay in, get out, live better.

      • Pauline and Julie, I hear you. I don’t disagree that a company has obligations to its employees. It’s an interdependent cycle – a business can’t do well without its employees, but the employees’ positions only exist when the business does well enough to support them.

        My heart says “Yes! Onsite childcare and health club and benefits to make employees happier and thus more productive!” But my head says “Wait, who’s paying for all that?” How many staffers, or contractors more likely, would they need to hire to support the childcare and fitness facilities? How much does each treadmill and weight machine cost – initially and over a lifetime of maintenance? What extra insurance does the company need to cover itself for both childcare and health club liabilities? Does the money come out of the employees’ wages? Out of the employer’s contributions to their insurance or retirement plans? Out of the shareholders’ pockets? Out of the fund where any bonuses or raises would come from?

        So I’m sorry, but I have to laugh at the suggestion that it’s “the least she could do” to replace the telecommuting option with onsite daycare and health club. That’s actually asking a lot. If anything, offering telecommuting was probably the least she could do – but if it’s not working out, then it’s not working out. Again, lest I sound uncompassionate, I do agree that it would be ideal. That doesn’t make it practical, nor does it make it a good business decision.

        And I raise an eyebrow at the suggestion that asking employees to work in the office every day is inhumane. There was a world before telecommuting, and parents found ways to make it work. It reminds me of how my husband freaks out if I leave the house without my cell phone. There was a world before we were all e-tethered to each other and accessible at every moment, and somehow we survived.

        • Perhaps Ms. Mayer and her Board of Directors could accept less pay or forego VIP perks that eat into profit — and a daycare/health club could be funded that way. Again, enough corporations provide those options so it’s doable. A good friend of mine is the showrunner of a hugely successful TV show and the crew travels often to farflung locations. He purposely flies COACH instead of First Class because he wants to stand in solidarity with the crew. This is one of the many reasons why his crew adores him.

          • PastorofMuppets says:

            @Pauline
            Yahoo! headquarters does have a 3,500-square-foot fitness center for employees, as well as basketball courts, volleyball courts and a walking/jogging trail just outside.
            There is no day-care on site, but Yahoo! employees receive priority access at day-care centers in the Bay Area.

        • On the one hand we want jobs and we want to keep them in the US and we believe that serving the bottom line of a corporation is the end all be all of the US. Nearly a religion I’d say.

          On the other hand we worry about our kids, public schools, how stressed and unhappy we all are, price of gas, lack of jobs, the amount outourced etc…

          Greed is good I guess, and everyone out for themselves and to hell with you if you are weak. That’s what today’s corporate America looks like to me.

          I don’t believe in it. Everything Pauline has been saying, I agree with.

          We’ve set up a system that’s gonna kill us all, pretty much.

        • This article from LinkedIn pretty much captures my feelings:
          http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130227181132-110300724-misunderstanding-marissa

          Childcare and health clubs are doable when the business is doing well. Yahoo! is suffering – this is not the time to add perks and benefits, but to “bring the team into the locker room for some tough talk,” to quote the article. Now if we’re talking “least they could do,” maybe partner with local daycares and health clubs to offer discounted memberships & rates to Yahoo! employees? That seems like a reasonable compromise.

          I agree wholeheartedly that a good work-life balance is conducive to personal happiness and professional success. But in my opinion, the onus is on the individual employees to achieve that balance for themselves. If the company lends a hand, great! But it’s not obligated to.

    • wellokaythen says:

      A lot of people own stock in IT companies. She also has an obligation to the shareholders of her company, many of whom are workers themselves. Her decisions have an impact on investors, and not all investors are rich fat cats. There are Yahoo employees whose financial future is dependent on the company’s profits, not just their salaries. Don’t assume that “stockholder” automatically means a member of the 1% club.

    • wellokaythen says:

      The more I think about it, the more I have respect for her decision. Because, what people WANT to believe about working from home and multitasking may not be the real truth, and she has the nerve to say that the stories we believe may not be true.

      Forget the immediate emotional reaction to her announcement. This could actually be a very shrewd move on her part. In the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, everyone is horrified when the kid says the emperor is actually naked, and people actually try to shut him up, but eventually he becomes the hero.

      She’s calling people’s bluff, and she’s caught them with their pants down. That is part of the anger.

      Notice what’s happening now. People who are angry at her are loudly admitting all the things they do when they work at home, all the things they do that are NOT work for Yahoo. She has tricked people into confessing all the things they do working at home instead of doing their Yahoo jobs. “But I spend hours of quality time with my children at home, cooking for them, reading them stories, having long conversations when they come home….” — This is a massive confession about how many distractions there are at home, and she’s tricked them into making her point for her. Brilliant!

      She’s also calling the bluff about multitasking. Multitasking may be the biggest business/technology fairy tale of the past 20 years. The psychological evidence is that there’s probably no such thing as multitasking. You can’t do multiple things at once, not with any great quality, you can only switch back and forth rapidly between two things, which usually impedes performance on both.

      You can’t argue that your children need lots of attention AND argue that they don’t distract you from your work. Which is it? If they need lots of attention, then they will be a distraction. If they don’t need lots of attention, then it shouldn’t be so bad for them if you’re at work. You can’t have it both ways.

      [By “you,” I mean the general you, not anyone in particular.]

  8. I think that all large companies should have onsite day care. But, I also can think of other reasons for why people should work from home, like cutting down on gas, resources, and relieving gridlocked freeways. How about staggered schedules, in which employees work part of the time in the office, part of of the time at home? Employees could share offices in such an arrangement, cutting down on overhead costs.

    And sure, Mayer is getting a lot more flack for this decision than if she were a man (in that case, we’d all just heave a tired, fed up, unsurprised sigh). Is that fair? I don’t know: female bosses can be jerks, too. What needs to change is the realization that employees cannot live in the office and be truly productive. Lives end up suffering under that model, and our overall future suffers, too. No, what Mayer did was send a message to other companies that it’s ok to renege on work promises that were made in good faith. And that is ultimately bad business.

  9. wellokaythen says:

    Seems to me a better approach would be to have an independent measure of productivity instead of a blanket ban. Some people probably abuse the opportunity to work from home, and others don’t. I can see sending out a memo saying that the company may in some cases ask someone to work in the office instead of at home, if that person’s work is consistently subpar. But, to assume that the work will always be worse is kind of silly.

    Why not set a benchmark, and if the person working at home doesn’t meet it, then that person may be required to work on site? If the person meets the benchmark, then they get to keep working at home.

    This blanket ban might also be a big problem for people with disabilities or other workplace challenges. Perhaps some people just work easier and better in their own environment.

  10. Everybody’s looking at this as a parenting issue but based on my own experience in Silicon Valley, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that most of Yahoo’s telecommuting employees are men, not working mothers, and most of them are staying home for reasons entirely unrelated to childcare. The 2 biggest reasons I can think of are probably (a) not wanting to commute thru horrendous Silicon Valley traffic and (b) wanting to work in peace & quiet. For a subset, (c) goofing off. The first 2 reasons are fine reasons but it is legitimate for an employer not to let those reasons outweigh countervailing concerns.

    It is also entirely possible that weak management is a major problem, with managers who never see their employees and have no idea what is going on. Meyer may be in a bind, unable to determine which problems are caused by weak managers and which by weak employees. She wants employees back in the workplace so upper management can get a grip. After things shake out, the policy will probably loosen up.

  11. I think she is making a big statement. It’s too bad. The way that we think about profit and business is really outdated, and it’s too bad it doesn’t seem like it’s going to change anytime soon. We could really benefit by learning from the Scandinavian business model. People before profit actually makes people more motivated and inspired to do great things. We are stuck in a rut in the United States, and are in danger of being left behind because of the backwards steps people like Ms. Mayer are taking. Innovative new approaches are needed.
    I’m lucky that where I work, I can be in the office or at home. I do both. We have a standing meeting once a week for two hours to brainstorm and discuss what we’ve been working on. We use Microsoft Lync to chat and video chat anytime during the work day, and have access to each other’s calendars so we know who is doing what. What more do you need? We meet once a month at my bosses house for a day long retreat. It’s a potluck and we eat, wear cozy clothes, and sit around and bounce ideas around. Our business approach works so well for the whole team and we get SO MUCH DONE!!! We also feel and function like a unit.

  12. I’m lucky, my therapist would say, “so what?”, get over yourself, you are a great mom and he’s lucky to have been born from your womb. I have hateful things like Ramen and Sponge Bob mac n cheese in my cupboard but I am constantly leaving my guilt outside after work. A quick cuddle will be remembered more than any dinner anytime. I know plenty of non working moms who pick up fast food, more than the other type. Plus you’re waaay cool and groovy. Lucky Luca.

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