When Marissa Mayer added free food at Yahoo, employees 'scrambled to stuff themselves'

Marissa Mayer was not able to turn Yahoo into a thriving independent company, as Verizon is buying it for $4.8 billion, a fraction of its peak price.

But she did wonders for employees who worked there, according to a former manager.

Jelena Woehr, now the community director at Flipagram, writes in a blog post that employees at Yahoo were so cynical before Mayer took over, they didn’t trust her when she introduced free food in the cafeteria.

Thinking it was just a temporary perk, they hoarded everything they could get their hands on:

“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.”

Woehr praises Mayer for turning that low self-esteem around by really listening to rank-and-file employees. For instance, she recounts how Mayer answered her email at 1 a.m. when Mayer was home with a newboard baby, and how she hung out on an internal chat channel where people loved to complain, but never once disciplined anybody who brought up a problem there.

But even if Mayer had been superhuman, she probably couldn’t have turned Yahoo around because there were too many apathetic employees there by the time she joined.

“Many people at Yahoo seemed to have only one work-related skill, and that was ‘surviving layoffs at Yahoo.’…And unfortunately, bringing talented people into an apathetic organisation accustomed to releasing crappy products doesn’t uplevel the organisation. Instead, it mostly turns new, talented people apathetic, or sends them right back out a revolving door.”

It’s a stark but useful tale about what it’s like to work at a company whose best days are behind it. Read the whole thing here>>

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