Yahoo has been a powerful player in the tech and internet world since the 90s, been the target of a lot of strong opinions both good and bad, and made a Glassdoor best places to work and best CEO list. The company holds a rather unique and interesting place in the corporate world, one of ignominy, guts, controversy, and free food. That list should give you an indication of the singularity of the company we’re getting ready to explore. Get ahead of the hiring game with our free online recruitment system! You can start using Recruiteze today for free!
5 Hiring Lessons We Can Learn from Yahoo!
#1. The Importance of Food
There was a long, probably undefined and fluid period of time in the latter half of Yahoo’s stretch, they’ve recently been acquired by Verizon, where employees were disheartened and ashamed by the company’s lack of importance in the public’s eyes. Much of that negativity existed before Marissa Mayer became their CEO and some of it lingered afterwards.
A longtime employee at Yahoo, Jelena Woehr, included this story in a post she wrote about Marissa Mayer. It was actually intended to illustrate a different point than the one I’m making now, but it does lead into and indirectly describe the importance of food.
“To truly understand how soul-crushing it was to work at Yahoo in pre-Marissa times, you should have been in Sunnyvale (I was, on a business trip) on the day Marissa announced free food in the company’s cafeterias. People scrambled to stuff themselves as if the announcement would be taken back in a day or two.
The coffee shops were stripped of pastries. Yahoos packed multiple boxes at the salad bar and hoarded them in break room refrigerators. You’d think that the announcement Marissa made was a coming price increase for lunches, not free food. Good news at Yahoo was treated as suspect and likely to change at any minute.”
Glassdoor was summing up pros and cons of working at Yahoo and included the following in a list of words most mentioned in positive comments,
“‘Free food’ is mentioned in 229 reviews. For example: ‘Great benefits including free food at all hours, free phones and laptops, occasional filed trips and parties plus your phone bills are paid.’”
Reviews that included free food also appear on Indeed.
People both really enjoy food and need it. Think about going to a party or being asked to visit someone without being offered food. Everyone hates that.
Well, in reverse, employees value being fed, whether it’s from:
- free food offered onsite,
- being allowed to eat the business’ menu options for free,
- being given a long enough lunch break to really sit down and have a relaxing and healthy meal,
- having great eating options paid for by the employer.
It’s also practical. It saves employees money, promotes wellness when you’re offering healthy options, and keeps employees onsite when you’re offering food onsite so they can still mingle and collaborate.
So, if you’re thinking of building or tweaking your benefits plan, give the inclusion of food serious consideration. It can be an inexpensive option to provide a lot of value to your employees and your business by addressing a wide variety of desires and needs.
#2. Making Hard Decisions
That heading should probably be the job description for a CEO, but that doesn’t mean people do it every time they should, that they aren’t afraid of being unpopular, don’t lose sight of their main goal, and don’t make mistakes doing it. Marissa Mayer is well known for being willing to make unusual and/or controversial decisions. Her most widely discussed decision of this sort was her choice in 2013 to rein in Yahoo’s remote work policy.
Mayer had already been disappointed with the remote work policy at Yahoo, one where employees were mainly in-office employees but were allowed some remote time. The parking lot was a bit too empty and people were not checking in as they should, but when employees started complaining, Mayer decided to take action.
BusinessInsider described Mayer’s comments at a conference in 2015, “Certain employees ‘who were working really hard on some key products’ had complained to her that they were being hamstrung by absenteeism by coworkers.”
This particular form of remote work had become more about “waiting for the cable guy” than really being productive.
Mayer also wanted to foster a more collaborative environment, as employees had requested.
BusinessInsider quoted her again from the conference, “People are more collaborative, more inventive when people come together.” She brought up a joint effort involving Yahoo’s Weather app and Flickr, “Those things don’t come together unless someone from Flickr runs into someone from Weather in the hallway or cafeteria and has that conversation.”
The memo from 2013 written by head of HR, Jackie Reses, confirms this idea,
Over the past few months, we have introduced a number of great benefits and tools to make us more productive, efficient and fun. With the introduction of initiatives like FYI, Goals and PB&J, we want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum. From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing — I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices.
To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.
Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.
Thanks to all of you, we’ve already made remarkable progress as a company — and the best is yet to come.
The internet went wild, in a negative way, over Mayer’s decision. It seems pulling back remote workers was taken as a dig at remote work in general, though Mayer denies that was her intent.
She also said during the conference BI quotes, “Actually, I had less of an issue with people who had really good work-from-home setups. A lot of time when people work from home formally, it works really well. I have nothing against working from home per se. My brother works from home.”
Mayer still defended her decision two years later at the time of the BI post, “I hope it’s not my legacy. I definitely got more of an external response than I even did internally.”
#3. Do What’s Right for Your Business
Other businesses, ones who had been some of the largest supporters of remote work like IBM, have backtracked as well. Others like Cisco, continue to thrive on remote work.
There isn’t an easy black or white decision regarding remote work. It’s a complicated mixture of the work you need done, your company culture, and your management style.
Many businesses want more innovation and teamwork like Mayer mentioned, and they believe remote work is holding them back. The evidence to back that up is inconclusive largely because remote work is such a new thing and there are so many variables that determine whether it will work.
In a prior post, we said, “Remote work is taking a beating right now as companies who have explored it discover there are problems and limitations with it. Many people are thinking the answer is black and white, that remote work is great or it’s a mistake. The answer lies somewhere in the middle. Remote work is best for individual companies to address certain goals.”
During the 2015 conference, BI says Mayer was asked “if she realized at the time that the decision was going to be controversial or thought it was going to start a trend.” She replied, “Not really. I don’t know that it’s necessarily the right stance for industry or the world at large. We weren’t trying to make a broader commentary on working styles or working for home. We were just saying, ‘Look, it was the right thing for us in that moment.’
#4. People Need to Feel that Their Work Matters, That People Care
Woehr described, “Before Marissa, working at Yahoo was an education in notoriety and shame. I liked that when I mentioned where I worked, people had heard of it — but I didn’t like the reaction ‘They’re still around?’ or ‘Oh, I use them for my spam email.’”
The sentiment regarding Yahoo was so bad in 2012 that this Quora question came to be, “Why Do People Still Work At Yahoo!?.”
Some employees were fiercely loyal to Yahoo, such as Gil Yehuda who responded to the Quora question,
“If the industry puts their thinking caps back on for a few moments, they’d realize they should be rooting for Yahoo!’s growth and success — as this company has been a very beneficial force to the overall health of the Internet technology landscape. Use your critical thinking skills and you’ll see the current technology Balkanization trends in the hottest technology areas (e.g. mobile, big data, and cloud) and how companies like Yahoo! are keeping the markets open.”
And there was this review on Indeed,
“Dial-up the learning curve
Senior Engineering Manager (Current Employee) – Sunnyvale, CA – July 22, 2018
Happy that our business unit Yahoo SmallBusiness works just like my previous startup. At times, I am the architect, designing new component functionalities , or I’d find myself deciding on front-end scheme, or be designing backend APIs .
Be it designing interfaces or interfacing with customers , screening candidates, or defining product roadmaps, there is always a sense of freedom to call the shots and do more, that is what I like about my work here.
Yahoo was a wonderful place to work full of people who bled purple (as they liked to say). Sadly the culture was dramatically impacted when Verizon took over and merged Yahoo and AOL into Oath.”
Woehr said, “Although I worked with some of the best people I’ve met in my career at Yahoo, the company was also stacked with some of the least motivated. Many people at Yahoo seemed to have only one work-related skill, and that was ‘surviving layoffs at Yahoo.’ Marissa was able to vanquish the chronically poor self-esteem in the organization for a little while, but eventually Yahoo’s organizational depression took hold again.”
#5. Listening to Employees
Mayer was the perfect person to address that low self-esteem as she was an exceptional listener, to everyone. When employees complained about feeling strained by remote workers not being a part of the team, she acted. But she didn’t just wait for people to come to her. She didn’t initiate an open door policy and let it take care of itself. She actively listened. She sought out input.
Woehr wrote a passionate description of this aspect of Mayer,
“Although most posts on d-r were petty and/or nonsensical — parking shaming, rants about food choices in the cafeteria, a long thread about how to learn to drive in snow for the first time — there was also a real sense of community. Sometimes it was a “misery loves company” sort of community. But, at other times, it was the biggest source of hope and imagination at Yahoo.
Marissa seemed to have an infinite capacity to read and respond to email; her emails were usually very brief, but when she saw a real issue brought up on d-r or an employee who was due congratulations for a life event, she always took time to send a quick sentence or two. When I sent d-r a picture of myself meeting Marissa’s mother-in-law at a Christmas party, Marissa emailed me off-list to say that she loved the photo and had shown it to her husband.
Hours after Marissa gave birth to her son, we were told by one of her lieutenants that she was sitting up in bed answering email. I believe it.
Another important point about d-r: There were bitter, vitriolic complaints about some of Marissa’s decisions there, especially her work-from-home policy update. She read them, often responded calmly, and, to my knowledge, never disciplined even the nastiest gripers.
The thing I cherish most about my time working for Marissa is her ability to make me feel seen, known, and heard, when she had no reason, in such a large company, to see, know, or hear one community manager working in Denver for a singularly unpopular Yahoo product.
I don’t even remember why I emailed her the first time, but what I do remember is that she responded at 1 a.m. PST on Sunday morning. Her son was just a few months old at the time.”
Yahoo is an interesting study in things to copy and things to avoid.