Yahoo Ban on Telecommuting a Blow to Caregivers

Since the news broke that Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer told several hundred employees they had to stop working from home or get out, there’s been a lot of uproar (understandably) from working moms everywhere. Certainly being yanked from telecommuting is a hot button issue for those of us – moms and dads, seeking a work/life balance. But what about the growing ranks of us who are parents AND caregivers. Would that we all had the privilege of transforming our office space into a Pottery Barn Kids catalog spread – or the purse springs to recruit a team of geriatric specialists who can drop everything and race to the ER to fill in for us when an elderly parent takes a slip on the ice.

I say this as a hard-working working mom of three and a caregiver of my aging parents who has sat on both sides of the in-cubicle/Skype work station. As my life has shifted from young mom struggling to juggle raising three children and running the risky business of keeping four lives financially afloat, to mid-life daughter adding a new layer of caring for my aging parents.

I get it that Mayer thinks all employees at Yahoo should be as committed to the bottom line as she is and in her eyes demonstrating that commitment means late-night team-building ping pong instead of an iPad emails to friends perched on the sofa in front of The Bachelor. I get the Silicon Valley culture. But most of us live outside that bubble and in the real world with real-life responsibilities we can’t afford to – and don’t want to pay others to handle for us.

I admit I have been very blessed to have spent much of my adult life working for employers who value my contributions to the workplace even when they are delivered via the Internet. I’ve also worked in situations where I’ve been pressed into manning a desk and having my contributions tallied on a time clock. Ironically it was when I was demonstrating my allegiance to the company by working on site, (and ironically writing about my father’s hospice journey for the company’s Web site), that I lost my job in a corporate buyout. Days later, I also lost my father.

Which brings up the point made this morning by a friend and colleague, Michele Woodward, a writer and executive coach from the D.C. area who also is a single mom raising two teens and sandwiched into the generational caregiving role. “What happens to those of us who show up at the office and work 100 hours a week?” “Or the 19,000 employees at JP Morgan Chase who are being let go? Is that the payoff for that commitment to be an onsite workaholic.”

The thing is about working from home – with young kids, and more recently punctuating my day with my mom’s cardiologist, podiatrist, Internist and long hospital stays, I’m always working, and that means late into the evening, early into the morning and weekends. There’s no slacking going on here. With iPhone and laptop, I’m always on duty. In fact, I’d argue that I work harder and produce much more than during the stints where I’ve worked at organizations full-time, office politics and meetings drove the agenda and desks cleared at 5 p.m. to signal the engaged crew is off duty.

That’s also the thing about having a life, being a caregiver for our parents and our children, and working, is that there is no “off duty.” We don’t need a cubicle to mark our commitment to quality work. We need leaders who are human and show understanding and empathy for the challenges real humans face every day. In terms of designing products for those real-life people, might be a strategy to try to honor the individual needs of the employees who are those people.

What are your work/caregiving life challenges and how have you balanced them?

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