While I’m lucky to be able to be at home with my daughter for now, I understand the challenges of being a family with two working parents. Around this time one year ago, my husband was traveling nonstop, I was working full-time and trying to finish graduate school, all with a 6 month old baby to care for. I was eating tortilla chips for dinner on a regular basis and would go days without washing my hair. I wasn’t sleeping, sometimes because of the baby but mostly because I couldn’t shut my brain off. My daughter was constantly getting sick and kicked out of daycare with a fever. I remember feeling like I was on auto pilot, just going through the motions of what needed to be done to make sure everything didn’t fall apart. And it always felt like a full-blown system failure was just around the corner.
Needless to say that Marissa Mayer‘s announcement last week that Yahoo is doing away with flex time and remote work arrangements struck a nerve with me. I don’t work at Yahoo, but it’s the principle that irks me. Working parents are spread thin these days and when a high-profile company, and woman in business for that matter, takes such a negative position on flexible work it sets a precedent.
Work has become the cornerstone of American life. According to The Center for a New American Dream, Americans work 1,778 hours a year and nearly 11% of employees work more than 50 hours a week. After eating and sleeping, it’s what occupies the most of our time.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in hard work and the value of having a career. But there is and needs to be more to life than work. Working families, and all employees for that matter, need balance to survive.
Flexible working arrangements help provide that balance and so much more. PhD in Parenting wrote a fabulous post on Mayer’s announcement and summed up the benefits of flexible working arrangements with this:
Flexible work location and flexible work hours give people quality of life. It can help talented people who might not otherwise be able to take a job to take it. It can help people be happier and more productive in their jobs.
Sounds pretty great, right? Of course its more complicated than it sounds. There are plenty of arguments against flexible work arrangements, many of which Yahoo has used as the basis for its decision. Yes, there will be people who will slack off, but proper management should mitigate that. Yes, working remotely also creates a “lack of serendipity” and reduces collaboration – if employees work from home 100% of the time and work in a field where collaboration is critical. But that’s not always the case.
I wish I had approached my employer about flexible work options when things got tough last year, but I didn’t. It might have made all the difference, or my request might have been turned down. In any case, there has to be a better way for work and the rest of life to co-exist. And Yahoo’s announcement is a step in the wrong direction.