Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer is:


a.) A traitor to working parents everywhere.

b.) A workaholic who wants everyone else to be the same.

c.) Someone intent on turning around her new company before it’s too late.


While there are some who would turn Mayer’s decision to abolish Yahoo’s work-at-home policy into a national referendum on workplace flexibility, it’s not. The correct answer, according to people familiar with Yahoo and the corporate culture Mayer inherited, is “c.” Mayer was simply doing what was right for Yahoo at the time.


Her decision offers a lesson for executives everywhere about striking a balance between allowing employees to keep flexible hours to balance their own lives and blanket policies that practically invite productivity and morale problems.


Read this commentary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here.


When Wisconsin native Mayer left Google to head Yahoo, she encountered a very different place, even though those companies are headquartered just miles apart in California’s Silicon Valley. As reported this week by The New York Times, parking lots and floors of cubicles were nearly empty because some Yahoo employees were working as little as possible and leaving early. Some 200 Yahoo employees had full-time, work-at-home arrangements. Although they collected Yahoo paychecks, some did little work for the company and a few had launched their own start-ups on the side.


Nothing against start-ups, Mayer reasoned, but how about channeling some of that creativity internally?


Yahoo is a company that largely missed some of the Internet’s major trends – such as social media and mobile – in part because a succession of CEOs left the company seemingly confused and occasionally pulling in different directions. Mayer’s approach is part of an overall campaign to reignite a sense of collaboration and creativity within Yahoo, which starts with people actually showing up.


Yahoo’s work-at-home ban isn’t aimed at workers with family or everyday life concerns. It’s not about losing the ability to stay home and wait for the cable guy. It’s about pulling back a part of the workforce that had grown disconnected and, as a result, less attuned to the company’s needs as well as the needs and ideas of their fellow workers.


Yahoo’s work-at-home policy had also become a morale killer. As in any organization, other employees usually know first who the true slackers are in their midst.


That fact was highlighted this week with the release of a national online survey by VitalSmarts, a corporate training and organizational performance consultant that has worked with 300 of the Fortune 500 companies.


The survey asked, “How much extra work or hassle do you do each week because of co-workers who fail to do their share.” Nearly 60% replied one to three hours a week. Another 26% said four to six hours per week.


That’s time lost to productivity, quality and job satisfaction. The Vital Smarts survey is tied to a book, “Crucial Confrontations,” that offers tips for candidly and respectfully holding co-workers accountable for bad behavior.


Worker-to-worker intervention has its place, but at the end of the day, managers need to manage. That’s apparently why Mayer looked around her new setting at Yahoo and concluded something had to give.


It’s too soon to know how it will all work out, but some of Mayer’s other internal changes reflect her focus on making Yahoo competitive again by first looking within. She introduced free food in company cafeterias – which drew crowds that linger and discuss ideas – and launched a Friday all-employee meeting at which executives take all manner of questions. Résumés have begun arriving from employees at competitors such as Facebook and Google, which was reportedly rare in the past.


While some bloggers are ranting over Mayer’s work-at-home switch, her decision is not an indictment of what may work for other companies. Rather, it’s her best judgment of what will work best for Yahoo.

After all, what’s worse: A company that asks you to show up for work most of the time or a company that goes out of business, taking your job with it?