Staffing Management

Marissa Mayer, Maternity Leave and the Mixed Message She Sends

By Jon Hyman

Sep. 3, 2015

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is in the news.

In one breath, she announced that she is expecting twins, but will not be availing herself of her company’s generous maternity leave policy. Yahoo offers all new parents eights weeks of paid time off, and new moms an additional eight weeks.

Mayer says that she will take “limited” time off and work throughout her short leave of absence. After the birth of her son in 2012, Mayer returned to work in less than two weeks.

The New York Times quotes Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings, who believes that a company’s actions are more important that its written policies: “The underlying work culture sends the message that if you’re really committed, you’re here all the time.” I could not agree more.

Policies are great tools for employee engagement, recruitment, and retention — if a company follows them. When a CEO spurns her company’s generous parental leave policy, she sends this message to all of her employees: “Our policies do not reflect our culture; my actions reflect our culture. When you have a child, do as I do, not as I say.” So much for generous and consequence-free time-off.

Companies need to be very careful not to send these mixed messages. It might be a leave-of-absence policy (as in Yahoo’s case), or it might be a manager that tells employees they must use vacation time for kids’ doctors appointment or school events, but comes and goes as he pleases without regard. These mixes messages are morale killers.

More importantly, these mixed messages teach employees that your written policies cannot be trusted. This message of distrust is one that you cannot afford to send, especially with policies that have real legal significance, like your anti-harassment policy. If your employees disregard your policies as corporate lip-service, why have them at all?

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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