Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to discontinue flexitime policy triggers debate

work-employmentEarlier in the week Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer announced the discontinuance of its policy on flexitime & working out of home. ET Magazine gets one view that supports Yahoo! and another that is against.
By K Ramkumar, Executive Director, ICICI Bank : Mayer’s Right!

“One Person’s Flexibility is Another’s Inconvenience”

Yahoo!’s decision has raised a furore. When the means get confused with the objective, the end suffers. The objective we all have been pursuing, some wholeheartedly and others out of social compulsion, is equal opportunity and an equitable workplace for all.

The following are responsible for an equitable workplace: where entry is not blocked to sections of the society by bigotry and prejudice; where meritocracy becomes the basis for progression and compensation; where stereotypes do not box people into roles and deny free choice regardless of, gender, age, religion, caste or any personal beliefs; and where there is sensitivity to the social needs of employees, which is balanced against the purpose for which an enterprise has been set up.

The questions we must ask, to examine this dispassionately, are: are we not getting caught up with the means, even before examining the success, or otherwise, of it? Can employment be the larger objective than doing business itself? Have we examined whether the means has compatibility with the broader objective of doing business?

Let us assume that this policy is one of the key enablers that prevent women from opting out during their domestically challenging phase of life. In that case flexitime and working from home by now should have shown reckonable results. Have they? Looks like the jury is still out, after 40 years of practising this!

Where’s the Logic?

Any workplace policy that is not natural to the flow and conduct of commerce and markets is doomed to be a failure. The argument that we need more women at the workplace can be disputed only by a bigot. Equally the clamour for achieving this through means, which at best can be described as utopian, is also flawed. Flexitime and working from home is one of them.

Let us put the flexitime and working out of home policy to test against the market and customer convenience logic. Assume a gifted surgeon in a hospital of repute has opted for this policy. What happens to the idling infrastructure when he is on flexitime? What happens to the other medical staff which has to assist him? More importantly what happens to the medical right of the patients? Or consider a lawyer who chooses to practise on the litigation side. Can the courts postpone the case as per the lawyer’s convenience; or can the clients wait for the convenience of the lawyer?

Consider a bank relationship manager, in a role to serve an allotted set of customers. Can this manager intimate the customer that he has availed of flexitime and can be contacted or will make the customer call only at the time of the manager’s choice?

Similarly, consider a BPO employee, who works for an institution that serves the US, choosing to work during day shift; or a research assistant in a lab, wanting the research facility to be accessed at home; or a music composer or a film actor wanting to work out of home or flexitime.

Own Goal

I have deliberately picked up a very diverse set to underscore the market and customer incompatibility of this policy. If women or any set of employees choose a condition of work that is not natural to the workflow of a business, they will end up discriminating themselves. Imagine your supervisor working on flexitime or working out of home.

What will be your orientation to her/him, however liberal you are in your thinking? As one of my colleagues observed: “One person’s flexibility is another’s inconvenience.”

An athlete who chooses to compete on his/her own, at his/her chosen time and place will have no competition to compete in. If someone only wants employment and not a career, this contrived policy can be somehow made to work, by carving out a few roles that are flexitime fit or working from home fit. But this will not work out for those with an aspiration that transcends mere employment.

No matter what the public posturing by a few, employees with career ambition will get left out in a flexitime and working from home environment.

Those who opt for it will find it difficult to build the market and workplace networks, which are important for influencing and getting work done at a workplace. Another colleague of mine pointed out that workplaces are rife with political dynamics and it is like a contact sport. He adds that you need to be in the arena, clued in to the grapevine, to deal with it effectively.

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