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We recently got a new CEO and he took away everyone's ability to work remotely, including that of my most productive team member. As you can guess, everyone's productivity has dropped considerably, but nothing hurts more than one engineer's productivity.

To give you an idea of what's at stake here: my all-star engineer has gone from performing at the rate of roughly 2x an entire team of 6 combined, to what's average for a single individual on the team at his seniority level. As you can imagine, everything is now going very slowly and it will be impossible to meet our targets.

I also recently find out he's actively interviewing with other companies and really want to retain him, but I'm afraid no amount of incentives other than working from home will help. As for the catch: this engineer is disabled and HR refuses to accommodate Work From Home (WFH) as it would present an "undue burden to the company." We all use Zoom, Slack and Email without a problem, and WFH is definitely seamlessly integrated into our business process.

Unfortunately, with our "no WFH policy," we've since lost a considerable amount of talent and continue to bleed dry of talent. It used to be that I could have my engineer pick up the slack of other team members, and have him finish a lot of additional work in the sprint queue, but now we're barely getting anything done.

I should also add: it's not easy to replace people in this field. This is Information Security, and we've been looking for team members for years but qualified talent keeps turning us down repeatedly.

Update: He left yesterday, citing lack of handicap-accessible doors. There's no way for him to reliably get in and out of the bathroom without help at work, park his handicap van or open any doors easily. HR refused to accommodate his work from home request and doctor's note, and forced him to take a medical leave, so he just quit.

  • 72
    Have you explained your employee's disability and how being forced to go to the office with this disability is hurting his production? – sf02 Feb 13 at 15:13
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    So when you told HR what you told us, what happened? – nvoigt Feb 13 at 15:16
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    Were you unaware that this employee literally couldn’t go to the toilet on his own? You should have included this information from the start otherwise. – Sebastiaan van den Broek Feb 16 at 4:18
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    Did you talk to the CEO directly? Did you reach out to the Board of Directors? Did you only stop at HR, which was following a policy set above them? Lack of handicap accessibility may be grounds for a lawsuit. I’m sure if the CEO was aware, he/she would take it seriously as they could be held personally accountable. – vol7ron Feb 16 at 16:20
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    This sounds like quite clear grounds for an ADA lawsuit, especially in a state like California. Have you considered and/or mentioned the legal implications of this to HR or the CEO? – TylerH Feb 18 at 16:37

13 Answers 13

238

If it was the CEO's decision to take away the work from home policy then HR is simply doing what they have been directed to do. If there is anyone that needs to be convinced it is the CEO. You can try to approach the CEO and explain the situation with this specific employee and see if they can make an exception. The problem with that, though, is that it won't help all the other non-disabled employees who enjoyed this perk.

Unfortunately, it may be too late for your star employee. You stated that this employee is actively interviewing and if they are as good as you say it is only a matter of time before they receive an offer.

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    Plus, company already showed him it can take away his "privilege" (that may not be a real privilege if it only offsets problems he has due to his disability). Giving it back would hardly help, because what guarantee would he have something else will not be taken away? – Mołot Feb 13 at 15:24
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    You're right that HR are just doing as they are told, but if they can be convinced, they might be better able to persuade the CEO. They could demonstrate the total cost or risk of this policy across the organisation, which would be more persuasive than what could otherwise be (unfairly) dismissed as "One manager wants something special for their favourite". – user568458 Feb 13 at 15:36
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    There is one crucial step missing: Before trying to convince the CEO, you need to first understand WHY the new policy was put into place. So the conversation should start with: "Hey CEO, I'm really worried about losing my best employee to the new no WFH policy, can you help me understand why we have this policy, and what problem we are trying to address". The listen listen carefully. Once you have a list of reasons, you can address each of them point by point. – Hilmar Feb 13 at 16:04
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    By all means ask the CEO, but don't expect to get an answer as the true reasons may be confidential. If they've had to haul everyone back in because there was a data breach or that they have massive trust issues with their employees, they're not likely to want to let you know that. So be prepared to deal with a flat "no" regardless. – Matthew Barber Feb 13 at 21:50
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    If it was me, I'd ask your star employee to recommend you to whatever company he goes to, since it seems like the new CEO is intent on taking the company down the tubes. – jamesqf Feb 14 at 5:58
116

It sounds like your CEO has made a mandate and HR probably has their hands tied by it. The best way to deal with upper management's mandates is to make sure they fully understand the costs of them, and that they are consciously accepting those consequences.

In your position, I would lay out the facts to HR (and the CEO if possible):

  • Since this decision, our productivity has dropped by a factor of X. (The more you can corroborate this, the better.)
  • Morale has also plummeted. Again, provide evidence here, but this can be anecdotal.
  • It is also going to cost us employees that are hard to replace, including our strongest performer.
  • The job is now significantly less attractive as working from home saves employees time and money. You should really drive this point home if working from home is a common benefit offered by other companies in your field. There are people who flat out refuse to work for places that don't allow working remotely. (Added as an edit inspired by LVDV's comment)

If you expose the costs to them and they persist in the decision, then at least you know you've done everything you could to help. I don't think it's hopeless either, but you do need to do your best to be persuasive and substantive in your arguments.

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    4th point: The job has simply become less attractive financially. Some quick googling gives me articles that say WFH saves the employee about €5000 yearly in avoiding commutes and eating out etc. Wages need to increase to compensate for this so the job remains attractive. – LVDV Feb 13 at 16:53
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    Note too that it's not just the cost of commuting, but what that time is worth to the employee. – Andrew Leach Feb 13 at 17:08
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    @LVDV And if the employee in question is disabled, the commute may well be a major problem both financially and physically! – Law29 Feb 13 at 19:17
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    My point is, all these answers are written from the perspective that "Management" is ignorant and therefore making a poor, uninformed decision. If, instead of assuming that management doesn't understand the value of working from home, you take the time to understand what they do already know, and why they made the decision, you may realize that arguing based on the benefit to the employee doesn't make any sense. In other words, it's poor practice to engage in debate, or try to change someone's mind, without knowing their motivations and what lead them to the decision you're trying to change. – dwizum Feb 14 at 18:30
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    @Law29: ... or if the employee is located some non-minor travel away, e.g. in case of a 48 minute commute, one suddenly has 8 hours less spare time per week, equating a full workday == almost a work week less spare time per month. – phresnel Feb 15 at 8:29
77

Some people still think that working remotely damages productivity and just gives people an excuse to slack off.

HR is just the middle man, go straight to the CEO

You need to be able to quantify to the CEO that this is not the case, and that his changes are damaging productivity.

You need to approach him with cold hard facts and demonstrate a clear before and after breakdown of how productivity has been affected.

Do NOT single out your star performer as an example, or the CEO will likely just consider him to be trouble and ditch him.

Show the overall drop in team productivity instead. Again, be able to show numbers! Best of all, if you can break this down to how much it's costing the company, it should really get his attention.

Then he will either reverse himself or he won't.

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    Not singling out the star performer is definitely important. The CEO would likely just assume that they're purposefully crippling their performance at work in protest of the new policy. Harder (though not impossible) to make that argument if it's a systemic issue. – Matthew Read Feb 13 at 16:53
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    @Mavrik I said the CEO might do it if he singles him out. Don't ever assume that an unreasonable person (CEO, in this case) will act reasonably. – Retired Codger Feb 13 at 19:10
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    @MatthewRead, "purposefully crippling their performance at work in protest of the new policy" is a good point. That means the raw metrics themselves is not enough, the OP should also explain, why working remotely makes people more productive in order to be more convincing. – Akavall Feb 13 at 19:45
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    If that employee dropped his productivity by a factor 6, then it doesn't really matter if the CEO likes it or not. The fact is that the company used to get 6 times output and now it gets only 1 times output. The CEO can fire the guy, but that doesn't give him pack the 6 times output. – gnasher729 Feb 14 at 0:16
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    The CEO may be doing it as a strategy to change wider corporate culture, to change communication patters, for 'collaboration', to change power structures or to do many other things. Those things are a big part of the landscape of, say, management education. Misguided or not, if those are the reasons he's likely to consider a drop in productivity of one person in one part of his organisation as a cost worth paying. – Alex Hayward Feb 16 at 11:41
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I'm surprised no one is addressing the disability.

He left yesterday, citing lack of handicap-accessible doors.

There's no way for him to reliably get in and out of the bathroom without help at work, park his handicap van or open any doors easily.

The problem isn't losing a "perk". The problem is your company has failed to accommodate a disabled employee's needs. And not just through negligence:

HR refused to accommodate his work from home request and doctor's note, and forced him to take a medical leave

Your company has specifically refused to give the allowances this disabled employee requested (backed by signed medical advice).

IANAL, but this is the type of thing companies get sued for. And I mean millions.

Being the lowest on the totem pole right above the "problem" you are the easiest scape goat when the other shoe drops. (And they will definitely cite "performance issues", since you said yourself your productivity is suffering without this employee operating at 100%)

What you need to do is at least polish your resume and get ready for the storm. You may not want to leave your current company, so I would start CYA right now. Ask your employee to return contingent on proper handicap accommodations. Regardless of the employee's answer, start specifically asking HR for these handicap accommodations: ramps and elevators, handicap accessible doors and bathrooms, handicap parking, etc. Get all this in writing! Also, communicate your loss of productivity and new timelines given the loss of this employee. They will try to blame you if this employee sues. Don't give them an inch of reason to scapegoat or dismiss you.

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    Some acronyms are not universally known. – Peter Feb 17 at 10:56
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    That's true @Peter; CYA - Cover your ass; IANAL - I am not a lawyer; HR - Human Resources. I think that's all the ones I used. I've seen them pretty commonly used around these sites though, so if you see them again, now we know what they mean. – Kallmanation Feb 18 at 16:49
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    This was my first and immediate thought. This is a massive violation of ADA and OP should be reporting it the state EEO office. Of any state in the country, California, of all places, will come down hard on the employer for not having handicap-accessible everything. – FreeMan Feb 18 at 18:11
  • I'm flabbergasted that HR at this company would sit by while the CEO does this instead of gently but firmly explaining to him that ADA laws prohibit this kind of discrimination. – user1602 Feb 27 at 15:56
34

You don't have to convince HR. That's not your job.

Your job is to report to your manager what your capabilities are given the policy. Explain that you can change timelines, scale down projects, or hire more talent. Your manager can then decide which direction they want to go.

This works precisely the same whether your manager is the CEO or not. If they're the CEO, they can easily take the option of changing the policy. If not, then they're in a better position to get the policy changed than you are.

HR is a bad place to go because they can't really evaluate the consequences of your timelines slipping or make decisions about how projects can be scaled down. So your direct superior is the way to go with this.

Be sure to be ready with a good, complete, and honest list of options. Don't say things like "we can't get anything done". Say things like, "Here are the seven things we wanted to get done by the end of next quarter. We can push these two out to the following quarter."

It's not entirely clear what your level in the organization is or how large the organization is. But generally speaking, someone in one department shouldn't be escalating request to another department without their manager's explicit buy in or they're a peer with the head of the other department. Imagine the mess if someone in HR goes to bat for you and gets the exception and the person you report to didn't want them to have it!

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    A manager's job is not only to inform about the capabilities he and his team have to get projects done, but also to retain his resources and make sure these capabilities don't shrink but rather improve, as such, it is part of his job to forward any issues his workers have with policies. It's not necessarily his job to change said policies as that is not in his power, but he should be an agent for his team members regarding any policy that originates outside of his team. – Frank Hopkins Feb 13 at 23:04
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    @Darkwing I agree. But in this case, not to HR because HR is acting on an explicit CEO policy and HR is not in a position to understand or balance the competing business interests. There are definitely cases where a manager should advocate to HR for an employee, this just isn't one of them. (It might be different if he's on the same org level as the head of HR.) – David Schwartz Feb 14 at 0:46
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    @DavidSchwartz — HR is in a position to point out to the CEO (or ask legal to do it) that he is violating the law (if this is USA or EU). – WGroleau Feb 15 at 3:39
  • @WGroleau Right! All the more reason not to go to HR and to let your manager do it. One of the best ways to destroy your relationship with your manager is to press a high-level issue with another department rather than letting them do it. – David Schwartz Feb 15 at 3:41
18

The way I read your question, it seemed you would have already tried many of the "get it through to them" approaches suggested in the other answers. So assuming that, if its as bad as you say:

As a presumably excellent SecOps team leader, stuck in this position where it seems like your security team may not be able to "deliver on its targets" (keep the business secure),

Is this not the time to step back and, well, do the same as your employee?

Start looking for positions elsewhere? As you said: "it's not easy to replace people in this field. This is Information Security, and we've been looking". The same goes equally for managers who can handle all that craziness. And the one thing I wouldn't want to be around for it that inevitable resultant security disaster that arises from falling behind. I'd say time to either wash your hands of it, or at least start to; perhaps in so doing, if they hear you are considering leaving, it might effect a change in perspective regarding the significance of the policy change.

17

I once found myself in a somewhat similar situation. I had been doing IT work from home on a semi-regular basis with my immediate manager's blessing, but (unknown to me) upper management was not aware of this arrangement. This arrangement had been in place for over a year when he happened to mention it to the CEO, who replied that all employees were required to work on-site at all times.

After a little negotiation, we were able to arrange for me to leave the company, but continue performing the same work as an independent consultant. Since I was then an outside supplier, rather than an employee of the company, this was sufficient for upper management to agree to allowing me to work remotely. Perhaps your CEO might be amenable to something similar.

10

If you're the manager you probably had a chance to protest this when it first happened in management meetings.

As a manager you now need to support the CEO's decision at least outwardly. Any dispensation you want made should be communicated directly to the CEO rather than HR or anyone else, since no one else has the authority to make a difference. If it's a general change you want then again, this is a subject for management meetings.

If you're team lead not management, take it up with your manager.

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    This one of the few answers from @Kilisi don't agree with. If OP is a manager, the CEO's decision is impeding him from doing his job and costing his team. Which in turn might reflect on his compensation package at the end of the year. I would raise this as an issue with my line manager directly ASAP. CEO or not, if it costs me money and resources and not gaining you anything in return, your decision is wrong and I won't support it. – BoboDarph Feb 14 at 13:20
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    "you now need to support the decision at least outwardly" That is how you demoralize them. I have seen managers take that route, and I have rarely seen it work out well, as it causes people to hate their bosses. Managers who are honest, state they disagree with policy and are fighting to fix it, they inspire much more confidence and morale. In fact, I have seen more managers who lie, saying they disagree with policy and are fighting it (works temporarily), than I have seen managers try to defend bad policy. Either way, let your people know you're in their corner, not working against them. – Aaron Feb 14 at 17:58
7

HR are only applying the rules. Upper management needs to know about the impact on the overall motivation of the team, that good people starts considering leaving and the difficulty of hiring a proper replacement in some field. If possible, go talk to the CEO directly, or your manager to make him escalate the issue.

We don't know how the CEO is going to react. I would start prepare for the worst : a simple no. Your team performance relies on only one person, which is a big risk that the manager should have tackled the moment he noticed it.

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    Yeah, having an individual who does the work of six is a problem that needs tackling. But how? By firing him? By hiring six more people? – gnasher729 Feb 14 at 0:24
5

You have to present an inform explaining all of this to your manager and maybe HR and the CEO itself.

Be clear on how this new policy is BAD for the team and for the company itself. Be clear about how much you are losing and how cheap is to stop all that bleeding. If they still don't care, well, there's nothing else you can do.

3

Your company/team loses it's best talent. The productivity of the remaining talent in your company/team has dropped. You disagree with the CEO. You disagree with HR. And finally, you strongly imply that you will under-deliver by a wide margin, and your only explanation is that it's the CEO's fault.

In summary, you are unhappy with the company, and your company is - or soon will be - unhappy with you. And fighting for WfH*, or for legal compliance with handicapped requirements, will not make the company like you more.

The only question that remains is this:

Are you part of the company's best talent? (see first sentence of this answer)


*The time to fight for something like WfH is before there is an executive decision against it, not after.

-3

Your star employee is probably considered far too good for working in your company and it is has basically become the new CEO:s job to try and find ways to push him to find other places where he is more desired.

Of course they will never admit to such a thing and you would probably be marked major troublemaker if you even aired to anyone that's how it looks from your point of view.

  • 4
    Why would the CEO of a company actively make it their task to push their best staff to their competitors? – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 18 at 2:18
  • @Lightness if the guy is as good as claimed he might be worth more to someone than the entire company. Maybe the CEO simply was hand picked for the task. – mathreadler Feb 18 at 4:25
  • Last I checked, the recruiting commission for a programmer was a smidge less than the pay for a CEO. Saying the CEO's job was to force a star employee out for another company is just strange. – Kevin Feb 20 at 21:40
  • @Kevin I can imagine how you think so. I also used to think that way. – mathreadler Feb 20 at 22:55
-5

It seems the real problem is you are unfairly heaping more work on him than on his co-workers since he is better at his job than they are, while I assume they all "earn" roughly the same pay. Expecting this to have no effect on morale is pure folly. Why haven't you fired non-productive team members and replaced them? Why would you think it's fair to expect one guy to do the work of a whole team, while the rest of the incompetent team members face no consequences? In what universe is this an acceptable arrangement? My guess is that your "star" engineer already had one foot out the door because he was tired of carrying the weight of a bunch of slackers, and the work from home thing was just the final straw.

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    Read the definition of what constitutes an on-topic reply. Exactly what in your response is usable by the OP to solve the problem he has? All you are saying is "good, you got your just desserts, here's why..." - how is that "valuable input" for the OP? – TCSGrad Feb 14 at 18:42
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    What this answer is trying to say is: don't let one person take all the work loads. – scaaahu Feb 15 at 7:20
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    If you had an employee that is x6 more productive than average would you tell them to work 1.5h per day? Such people might be hard to stop ;). Why do you think the others are slackers? Maybe they're all well above the industry standard? The difference in productivity in IT are huge and probably in most fields if you compare yourself with someone at the top you won't score very high... – Ola M Feb 15 at 13:06

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