Bosses are rein­ing in staff be­cause they can

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - John Gap­per

MARISSA Mayer, Ya­hoo's new chief ex­ec­u­tive, has caused con­ster­na­tion by in­sist­ing that em­ploy­ees who have worked from home must in fu­ture come to the of­fice. Her crit­ics have pointed out that home work­ers are as pro­duc­tive, if not more so, as those in cu­bi­cles.

They are, how­ever, miss­ing the point. Mayer is mostly do­ing this as a rough and ready way to re­form Ya­hoo's no­to­ri­ously dys­func­tional and dis­or­gan­ised cul­ture. She is also do­ing it be­cause she can.

The les­son to draw from Mayer's whip-crack­ing - in Sil­i­con Val­ley, of all places - is that this is an age of harder work. From in­tense team­work at the top to mon­i­tor­ing and sur­veil­lance at the bot­tom, man­agers are squeez­ing more from em­ploy­ees than they pre­vi­ously would have dared.

Even Santa Clara County, where Ya­hoo's head­quar­ters are lo­cated, has a 7.5 per cent un­em­ploy­ment rate, and Ya­hoo is among the old Val­ley com­pa­nies shed­ding lay­ers of em­ploy­ees so it can re­gain its edge. The US and Europe still suf­fer from high un­em­ploy­ment long af­ter the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

That has un­der­mined em­ploy­ees' bar­gain­ing power, en­abling man­agers to im­pose greater de­mands on their shrink­ing work­forces. "For sev­eral years, man­agers have been able to ask work­ers to do two jobs with­out any of them quit­ting," says Peter Cap­pelli, a man­age­ment pro­fes­sor at the Whar­ton School of the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia.

Man­agers also have more tech­nol­ogy than in the past to mea­sure what each em­ployee con­trib­utes - from billing soft­ware at law firms to track­ing tech­nol­ogy in ware­houses. The in­cen­tive, par­tic­u­larly when any worker who leaves can eas­ily be re­placed, is to push this to its lim­its.

On the face of it, Sil­i­con Val­ley is at the be­nign end of the scale - it is de­vis­ing soft­ware to mea­sure oth­ers rather than be­ing mea­sured it­self. Val­ley com­pa­nies were pioneers of team-work­ing and em­ployee au­ton­omy com­pared with tough meth­ods else­where.

"There are mil­i­tary type or­gan­i­sa­tions in which the per­son at the top is­sues an or­der and it is passed down the line un­til the per­son at the bot­tom does as he or she is told with­out ques­tion or rea­son. This is pre­cisely the type of or­gan­i­sa­tion we at HP did not want," wrote David Packard, the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, about his com­pany in the 1950s. In­deed, com­pa­nies such as Google sound like hol­i­day camps by com­par­i­son. Free buses from San Fran­cisco with WiFi! Free food! Free hair­cuts! Wacky fur­ni­ture! Saunas! Bring your dog to work!

But th­ese perks are there to en­tice em­ploy­ees to spend as much time along­side each other as pos­si­ble. "There is some­thing mag­i­cal about shar­ing meals. There is some­thing mag­i­cal about spend­ing the time to­gether, about noodling on ideas," Pa­trick Pichette, Google's chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, told a con­fer­ence in Aus­tralia last week.

Mayer, a Google alumna, pre­sum­ably wants to achieve the same ef­fect at Ya­hoo. Engi­neers at start-ups, and at the most suc­cess­ful of the big com­pa­nies such as Google and Ap­ple, have plenty of au­ton­omy, and are paid and re­warded highly. They also work very hard.

Th­ese com­pa­nies use an ex­treme ver­sion of the mo­ti­va­tional tech­nique called The­ory Y by the man­age­ment the­o­rist Dou­glas McGre­gor in 1960.

The op­po­site ap­proach - The­ory X - as­sumes that work­ers need to be tightly man­aged and su­per­vised be­cause they are in­her­ently slack­ers.

The­ory X goes back to the "sci­en­tific man­age­ment" no­tions of Fred­er­ick Tay­lor, a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer who, in 1911, ad­vo­cated break­ing down the work of un­skilled labour­ers and as­sem­bly line work­ers into small tasks and then telling them ex­actly what to do, while watch­ing them closely.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.