Will Yahoo’s Telecommuting Ban Needlessly Make More Employees Sick?

Don Tennant
Slide Show

Best Practices for Teleconferencing with Employees Working Remotely

Last week, I wrote about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s edict banning telecommuting in terms of its negative impact on parents, especially mothers, who need all the flexibility they can get to meet their professional and family responsibilities. Another repercussion that warrants consideration is the potentially negative impact on the health of Yahoo’s employee population.

Think about it. Mayer’s decision to strip Yahoo employees of the telecommuting option comes in the midst of one of the most serious flu epidemics we’ve seen in years. As it is, according to the third annual Flu Season Survey commissioned by Staples, nearly 80 percent of office workers go to work when they’re sick, and over two-thirds of the ones who do stay home go back to work while they’re still contagious. So you take the telecommuting option away, and you can bet contagious illnesses are going to spread.

In Yahoo’s defense, implementing a telecommuting policy that aims to keep sick people at home is the exception rather than the norm. In a survey released last month by the Society for Human Resource Management, HR professionals were asked whether they were setting up telecommuting options for employees or providing other measures to reduce mixing of employees at the workplace in the event of a flu outbreak in their local area. Only 32 percent said they were already doing so, which at least was up from the 26 percent who said they were doing so in 2009. But 60 percent said they not only weren’t doing it, but had no plans to do it, and that was up from 42 percent in 2009.

According to the SHRM survey, 4 percent of respondents said the flu epidemic was having a large negative impact on their companies’ operations, and 36 percent said it was having a moderate negative impact. Seventy-two percent said their companies were taking action or planning to take action to reduce the spread of flu in the workplace. Among the policies being implemented by those who said they were taking action:

  • Making hand sanitizer and other flu prevention tools readily available (93 percent)
  • Educating employees on flu prevention measures (85 percent)
  • Frequently disinfecting common areas (82 percent)
  • Directing employees not to come to work if they have flu symptoms (82 percent)
  • Offering free seasonal flu vaccines to employees (77 percent)
  • Developing an employee communications strategy related to the flu (68 percent)
  • Implementing an alternative to business travel, such as videoconferencing (26 percent)
  • Restricting non-essential employee business travel (9 percent)


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