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So, once again Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer moves a pinky and the 24-hour news hounds start fanning the flames of discord among the working world’s haves and have-nots – pitting parents, non-parents, caretakers and others against one another. (For those who missed it, Mayer has issued a June 1 deadline for Yahoo! employees who work remotely from home to work from the office.)

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is about workplace communication, how one goes about finishing a task, face-time, new versus old way of performing work, and other similar issues -- all of which have been studied for more than 30 years by such entities and efforts as the U.S. Department of Labor and the Sloan Foundation’s National Workplace Flexibility Initiative, to name just a few.

No, what this latest edict points out is what a woefully outmoded
workplace paradigm that establishes the direction of power in no uncertain terms.

When Marissa Mayer was hired as Yahoo’s sixth CEO in six years, she had to make some sort of offer of profitability to her prospective board. This latest edict makes perfect sense as a great way to eliminate (reduce?) payroll and therefore increase the bottom line, without “actually” announcing a layoff and thereby “encouraging” perceived non-performers and non-conforming employees to leave on their own. I wonder how many companies are going to use this move in the next few years?

What really matters – and here’s the rub – is that this decision, made
at the altar of money, reinforces a mentality of work that is over 80 years in the making, and so antiquated and out of step with the evolution of present society, that we should NOT be asking “How could a woman, do this?” (Perpetuating the stereotype that this is still a gender issue, when it has not been one for at least 20 years) but, rather, we should be asking “How is it that business leaders are not shamed publicly for these actions in 2013?”

The answer is simple: businesses have taken to assuming, and acting on this assumption, that a division of labor exists and you (the worker) or your partner are going to figure it out. For decades, services, schools, businesses, households have been pushed, prodded, squeezed, contorted and adjusted to fit the square peg of work dictums – 40 hours pay (now close to 60+ but still paid at only 40), low wages, high-costing benefits.

Meanwhile services are now open on weekends because a typical two-job
household cannot take time off during the week, schools offer before -- and after care as do senior centers and the lists go on of the adjustments we’ve all had to make in the face of the un-evolved employer requirements.

The stark reality is that most employers decree the amount of time one has to oneself and offer very little in the way of support to justify the fact that we spend roughly 50 to 60 hours at work per week, 40 hours sleeping (that is if you actually sleep 8 hours), and are left with 30 hours to take care of our lives. Yet, Ms. Mayer feels that reinforcing this paradigm is legitimate and within her purvey.

Secondly, I find it laughable that a person raked publicly over the 24-hour news cycle for her chronic lateness to meetings removes one of the most studied and acknowledged means of keeping employees loyalty and maximum efforts. I’m not about to sit here and pretend to know what her strategy is, but what I do see is one more CEO – age, gender matters little - with ample means (time, money, both) - to afford all the ancillary help needed to address all of life’s emergencies, necessities and nuisances. You know, those things like laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, calling the insurance company to fix a wrong charge, lining up a plumber , dealing with your kids' teachers, taking your elderly parent to a specialist, finding a daycare center (elderly or infants, or both) and the list goes on.

I am sure that any CEO in the U.S. can afford at least three people to help with any of these chores. Or, they have a partner who will do it while they are at work. Which brings me to my next point, and that is that all those previously cited items above that we don’t attend to have costs (if we hire it out to others – even Task Rabbits cost) some may even come with life-changing non-monetary consequences. But, if a partner does all this “other” work, the effort is totally devalued and unpaid, and businesses feel entitled to assume that “someone else” is going to do it all, because your time is theirs for 50 to 60 hours a week.

What is even more insidious is the idea that work continues to prevail, monopolize and abuse its role when compared to any and all other responsibilities for an adult, no matter what their position, familial situation or age. This is a lop-sided equation that somehow continues to be used in this country as meriting society’s tacit acquiescence and acceptance all while we all bash our heads against the proverbial wall of status quo, and voicing our frustration to the lack of equanimity between working life and personal life.

There are over 30 years of studies that show that a measure of
transformation and equanimity is long overdue in this country, starting with work laws, companies urged to change their policies, and adoption of career tracks that support change as one’s life changes. Yet, the majority of employers continue to resist any of these changes – some industries being positively antediluvian – while, here and there are a few shining examples of change, alas too few and far between to be noticed but for those of us that are looking.

In the end, by virtue of who she is, the role she has, and - unfortunately – her gender, Ms. Mayer will continue to grab headlines and feed the 24-hour cycle who will grab the chance to use her actions to once more point out our differences and fan our frustrations. Don’t be fooled! Her tactics are tied to a very old master: profitability.

But, is it not time that we all ask ourselves why is it that a society of the 21st century reflects the values, mores and actions of the early 20th or even, I dare say, the late 19th century?

It’s the paradigm that needs changing. That which once served us, is no longer an acceptable means of conducting our lives in a balanced manner.


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