Yahoo’s New Employee Policy – Thumbs Up or Down?

What do you think of Yahoo’s policy of no longer allowing employees to work from home? I am a bit shocked. I worked from home for over eight years and, I can tell you, I was way more productive than I would have ever been if I was in the office. I will tell you why:

  • Fewer distractions. I was able to focus on what I needed to accomplish, be dialed into conference calls and meetings as needed, and have the quiet space for the true work I needed to do each day. 
  • No wasted meetings. If I was on a conference call, and the part of the call had nothing to do with my job, I could put my phone on mute and handle other work. When the meeting focus came to my area, I could unmute my phone and participate. That is hard, if nearly impossible, to do when you are in the office.
  • No time wasted traveling to and from work. I worked longer hours when I worked from home. I also had more “me” time, felt more focused, did not have to waste time on what to wear that day, commuting, going out to lunch. In the end, I was more focused by having my dedicated office space at home.

Working from home is not for everyone. As someone who worked from home and managed a team of employees who also worked from home, there is a respect and privilege that comes from working from home. It means that you do not abuse the unique opportunity for others. I always looked at what I and my team were able to do as trendsetting for the future. If we could make it work, it could mean that others in the future might have the option for a similar opportunity. It also means that the manager has to be aware of what it is like for that at-home worker, and they have to manage differently than you would in the office. You do not have the face-time you have in the office, so you have to be creative in order to connect with employees in different ways.

Based on the experience I had, it shocks me that a company that has already been receiving a bit of a bad rap in the news lately would go backwards in time to not allow employees to work from home. It feels like a decision based on fear. Rather than trusting employees and setting up a system of accountability, it seems like they are removing that trust and bringing everyone back into the office. It is like not trusting your kids to drive on their own when they get a license. Eventually, they have to make their own mistakes and learn from them.

An interesting side note: In the article I linked to above, it says that Mayer (CEO of Yahoo) has built a nursery in her office. Seriously? That will not bode well from a PR perspective. Consumers and customers will roll their eyes and find that just maybe this is all a double standard.

What do you think?

Less money in your paycheck?

Unless you make buttloads of cash, you might have been scratching your head and wondering why your paycheck was considerably smaller this week. I am not complaining, as it is what it is. Politics aside we could be in a worse situation where we are out of even more money. Let’s face it, our country is in major debt and that is not going away anytime soon.

In case you do not know the specifics, the Social Security payroll tax rate is currently 12.4%. Employers pay 6.2%, and for the past two years employees have paid a reduced rate of 4.2%. With the recent fiscal cliff changes, that reduction will now go back to the normal 6.2% which means that employees will now pay 2% more Social Security tax (as we did in 2010). This is also true for those who are self-employed (if you make more than $433). According to Kiplinger: “Originally a one-year break, the holiday was extended at the last minute to cover 2012. Extending it again to cover 2013 would have cost about $100 billion…”

As an example: if you make $50,000 a year, you will now take home $1000 less a year, or about $38 a paycheck (about $80 less a month). If you are a dual income family, the amount is much higher of what will be lost in your take home pay.

A question: If I am paying more tax now in 2013, does that mean I will have a higher refund in 2014 due to paying more taxes now? The answer: Yes. Depending on your allowances. Since I am not the expert, here is Kiplinger’s answer: “By eliminating overwithholding of income tax, the average taxpayer who normally gets a refund can both defeat the paycheck-shrinking impact of higher payroll taxes and add a couple thousand dollars to 2013 take-home pay. (Yes, you’ll be giving up a fat refund in 2014, but wouldn’t you rather get your money when you earn it?)” Complete answer, full article, and their calculators.

What I find odd is that the Social Security website has not been updated with the 2013 rates and details. Kind of sad considering my company was able to make changes in their system to ensure that the Federal government received the extra 2% out of the first paychecks of the 2013 calendar year. Yet, the government still has not updated their website about the changes. Seriously?

Another interesting fact I found: “…many workers do not know that any annual wages above $106,800 are not taxed by Social Security. In other words, a worker who makes twice the Social Security wage cap – $213,600 per year – pays Social Security tax on only half of his or her earnings, and one who makes just over a million dollars per year pays the tax on only about a tenth.”

In case you are wondering: These are the 13 tax changes going into effect in 2013.

Travel much? Read this book.

Some of you may be staying in a hotel right now. You might be on a holiday vacation, or maybe visiting your family. You might also have an upcoming trip to a warmer place so you can get away from the snow or rain for a few days. Or, maybe it is a regular part of your job to travel for work and spend a large amount of your week in a hotel. Have you ever thought about how your experience at a hotel has to do with how often you open your wallet? I just finished reading the book: “Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality” by Jacob Tomsky. Definitely a clever name for a book.

It is a raw memoir of the life of a hotel employee. A book that sheds light on the inner workings and guts of a hotel. It also discusses how the way you treat a hotel employee may have a direct effect on how you are treated, but in ways you might not expect. Are their actions due to how the corporate hotel chain requires their employees to treat you? No hotel is the same. Or does the service you receive have more to do with how much you are willing to fork over from your wallet? One of my favorite excerpts from his book is this quick story from when he worked at a New York City hotel:

“Speaking of area codes, one of the most wonderful tools at my disposal is putting a guest into a certain room on the twelfth floor. What is so punishing about this room? Nothing by the look of it: a decent room by all accounts. However, if I put you in room 1212, your phone will not stop ringing with wrong numbers. Why? Well, a surprising number of guests never seem to learn that from every hotel phone you have to dial out. In general, to place any call, one must press 9 prior to dialing, local or otherwise. So all day, and believe me, all night, idiots dispersed through the building will pick up their phones and try to straight dial a local number, starting with 1-212. Whatever they press after that matters not because they have already dialed room 1212, and 1212’s guest will constantly pick up the 3:00 a.m call and hear the loud mashing of other numbers or some drunk guest saying, ‘Hello? Hello? Who is this?’

What time is it? Why are you calling me? Who is this?

I’d like to order the Szechuan chicken please? Excuse me? Is this Happy Family Palace’?” page 197

Wow. That will definitely make me think about how I treat the employees at hotels. There are many more experiences he shares, as well as tips for how to navigate the hotel world, whether for personal or business. In its own way, hotels are a world of their own. Tomsky shares how desk agents, bellhops, doormen, housekeepers, and management work together, how they have a system of their own, and how it works and sometimes does not. The tips he shares are snapshots of what travelers can do to navigate around hotel policies, and alert them to things they should be aware of when dealing with hotel employees.

If you do not read his book, then you will want to be on your best behavior, plan and connect with the hotel ahead of time, and be sure to open your wallet and tip for the best service. If you do not, beware and proceed at your own risk.

Work In The Office or At Home?

Working environments. A friend recently shared this article from The Christian Science Monitor called: “Why America loves its office culture.” After graduating from college I worked in an office, then we moved to Portland and I worked from home for nearly a decade. I am now working in an office again. Which do I prefer?

I like both options. Working from home I would roll out of bed in my pajamas, make tea, and rev up the laptop to start my day. I always wanted to get up and do all these things before I started my day, but for some reason I was like a magnet to my laptop. I found my mornings were usually those of the liquid diets. After my tea, I had a green smoothie, and after that coffee. By then it was lunch time. I have to say I was VERY productive working from home. Which is interesting because this article just came out from Fast Company titled: “Working From Home Makes You More Productive.” There are some interesting statistics in the article that companies should look at to see if telecommuting should be an option for employees when possible.

Now I am up at 5:30/6:00 am and have my green smoothie, post my blog, check emails, and shower and am off to work. I like my morning routine. I am not sure why it was so hard to get up and have my own “personal time” routine when I worked from home. I guess it was easier to roll over and close my eyes again and again since I did not have to worry about traffic. Or, a shower.

That is my morning routine. You care right? So what I loved about working from home was how much I was able to get done. I was never one to do home stuff or watch television. Everyone always asked how I was able to stay focused. I always had so much to do that I never had time to think about distractions from home. I loved the quiet and the focus I could have in my own space. But. Yes, there is a but. I missed being around people. Sure I would often be on conference calls all day long, but it is just not the same.

Now that I am back in an office I love the interaction and face-to-face time with other people. I love the people I work with, everyone is so interesting, intelligent, and I learn so much from them every day. The hardest part for me is since part of my job involves writing, it is at times hard to find the quiet mental space to write as I was more easily able to do when I worked from home. It is a balancing act in the fast paced world of the office.

Both have its pros and cons. Many people also have the best of both worlds. Some have days in the office, and days at home.

What is your preference?

What? What? What? Would you share your Facebook + Email Passwords?

I had a different blog post in my head today, and then I read this news article and I just was appalled. My two second recap of this news article is that job seekers are being asked to give their username and password for their Facebook and email accounts so that potential employers can look at their accounts and see if there are any issues they might need to be aware of. Definitely read the full CBS News article here as it gives the full context.

Personally I keep my Facebook profile private to my Facebook friends only. To me it is a conversation between me and those I decide I want to be friends with on Facebook. I have been specific about who I have accepted and who I have not. I do not accept requests from everyone that “Friends” me, although others might. If I specifically made my profile public than it is any potential employer’s decision if they want to google me, or look at my public Facebook profile. If I make it private, then I should not be out of the running for a job because I do not wish the company to invade my personal life.

To me it is an invasion of my privacy and a matter of principle. It is also an invasion of your friend’s privacy (email addresses, contact information, and content). I can assure you, I am not appalled by this because I have something to hide. I am appalled because of principle. As it is, the boundaries between professional and personal lives are narrowing. You can do a bulk of work transactions on your phone, or from home, blurring the lines between your day job and your personal life. Is it too much to ask to have a few places that are sacred for your personal life? Maybe at the office you are a manager with a principled and driven approach to managing your team, yet on Facebook a softer side of you shows with comments regarding friend’s babies. Maybe that is not the side of you, that you want the office to see, so you purposely did not friend folks from work so you could have a life and friends separate from work.

What will be next? Will employers ask for passwords for our checking accounts and our credit cards to see what we purchase? How about our library card accounts to see what we are reading? I have many issues with anyone asking for a password for any account. For one thing, many of us use the same password for multiple accounts, so how is it even legal to ask for this type of private information? Another issue I have, is where is the privacy of our personal lives? Does the potential employer need to know that your good friend just died and your Facebook friends have been consoling you? No. You might have been just trying to keep it together each day as you work through the loss of your friend. Is that the potential employers business? No. Why would it ever be okay for a potential employer to have access to your email account, where you may receive emails from your bank, credit card company, mom, sister, etc.?

Maybe what is needed is not so much focus on social media and job seekers, but for employers to hone the skills of those interviewing to be more savvy with their “reading people” skills to ask the right questions of the job seeker. The interviewer can work to get to know the job seeker as a person sitting in front of them, rather than spending their time focusing on what their friends might post on their Facebook wall. What did employers do before Facebook and Twitter? Has Facebook become such a view into a person, that it overpowers the skills and experience of the job seeker?

Please read today’s CBS article. For more information about legislation in Illinois, here are more details, and in Maryland, here are more details. Both states are working to pass legislation that would bar employers from requesting usernames and passwords to job seeker’s social media profiles. More states should be passing this type of legislation. We deserve more privacy. Job seekers should not be put in a position that they feel awkward and withdraw their application or that they willingly go along with such invasion of privacy because they have mouths to feed at home.

Still appalled in Portland.

UPDATE ON 3/23/2012: Facebook has released comments urging employers not to ask for passwords.