Editorial staff members at Washingtonian are refusing to publish online on Friday after the D.C.-based magazine’s chief executive wrote an opinion piece about the future of remote work that generated an immediate backlash.
Cathy Merrill, the chief executive of Washingtonian Media, wrote in The Washington Post on Thursday that she was “concerned about the unfortunately common office worker who wants to continue working at home and just go into the office on occasion.”
Ms. Merrill wrote that by choosing to continue to work from home, employees are offering executives “a tempting economic option the employees might not like.”
Employees who are not in the office are not able to participate in what she called “extra” responsibilities, such as mentoring junior co-workers, helping a colleague, or celebrating a birthday, she explained, and managers may thus be less inclined to continue providing these workers with the status, and benefits, of being a full-time employee.
“If the employee is rarely around to participate in those extras, management has a strong incentive to change their status to ‘contractor,’” she wrote.
By doing so, she wrote, companies could save money by no longer having to pay for costs such as employee health care, retirement benefits, office space and parking fees.
Ms. Merrill apologized to her staff in an email on Friday and assured them that she would make no changes to employees’ benefits or work statuses.
“Washingtonian embraces a culture in which employees are able to express themselves openly,” Ms. Merrill said in a statement. “I value each member of our team not only on a professional level but on a personal one as well. I am sorry if the op-ed made it appear like anything else.”
The opinion piece generated an outcry among staff members at the magazine, many of whom posted the same message on Twitter criticizing Ms. Merrill’s words.
“As members of the Washingtonian editorial staff, we want our C.E.O. to understand the risks of not valuing our labor,” they wrote. “We are dismayed by Cathy Merrill’s public threat to our livelihoods. We will not be publishing today.”
Washingtonian staff, who are not part of a union, are still working from home. The magazine plans to have employees return to the office gradually beginning in the summer and then more fully in the fall.
The article and its original headline — “As a CEO, I want my employees to understand the risks of not returning to work in the office” — felt to some Washingtonian employees like their benefits or jobs were threatened, said a member of the editorial staff who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions. The headline was changed to, “As a CEO, I worry about the erosion of office culture with more remote work.”