Thursday, February 5, 2015

Massive Worldwide Layoff Underway At IBM - IEEE Spectrum / By Tekla Perry


Photo: Scott Eells/Bloomberg/Getty

IBMers: Please share your experience with me directly at t.perry@ieee.org, on Twitter @teklaperry, or in the comments below. Keep yourself anonymous if you'd like, identify your job function and location if you're willing, but tell us your story, we want to hear it.

Project Chrome, a massive layoff that IBM is pretending is not a massive layoff, is underway. First reported by Robert X. Cringely (a pen name) in Forbes, about 26 percent of the company's global workforce is being shown the door. At more than 100,000 people, that makes it the largest mass layoff at any U.S. corporation in at least 20 years. Cringely wrote that notices have started going out, and most of the hundred-thousand-plus will likely be gone by the end of February.
IBM immediately denied Cringely's report, indicating that a planned $600 million "workforce rebalancing" was going to involve layoffs (or what the company calls "Resource Actions") of just thousands of people. But Cringely responded that he never said that the workforce reductions would be all called layoffs—instead, multiple tactics are being used, including pushing employees out through low ratings (more on that in a moment). And some managers are indeed admitting to employees that their job has been eliminated as part of Project Chrome, leading employees to coin a new catchphrase: "Getting Chromed."
The news is coming in from around the world, and is affecting folks in sales, support, engineering—just about every job description. The only IBM'ers spared are those working in semiconductor manufacturing, an operation that is in the process of being acquired by Global Foundries.
Alliance@IBM, the IBM employees' union, says it has so far collected reports of 5000 jobs eliminated, including 250 in Boulder, Colo., 150 in Columbia, Missouri, and 202 in Dubuque, Iowa.  Layoffs in Littleton, Mass., are reportedly "massive," but no specific numbers have been published. Pink slips have been said to be flying at IBM Australia, with rumors of 400 workers to be cut. And the Economic Times in India reported last week that employees of IBM's offices in Bengaluru were scrambling to find new jobs, trying to get out of IBM ahead of the coming tsunami.
Those are official layoff numbers. But then there's that performance rating ploy—also known as a stealth layoff—that involves giving a previously highly rated employee the lowest rating (a 3), before showing them the door. The 3 can lead to immediate dismissal, particularly in older employees on what IBM calls the "Bridge to Retirement" program, in which employees commit to a specific retirement date and accept cuts in hours and pay in return for being protected from dismissal unless they get a poor performance rating. For younger employees, a rating of 3 can put an employee into what is called a Performance Improvement Plan, and if the rating doesn't improve in a set period of time, the employee can be fired for cause. Giving out 3s works to the company's benefit even if employees are officially laid off, because it can lead to reduced severance benefits.
This isn't the first time IBM employees have received aberrant poor performance reviews shortly before a layoff; it's reportedly standard operating procedure. A former employee who was the victim of a Resource Action in 2010 confirmed this, telling me that after years of top ratings, he received a 3 just before his job was eliminated, even though he'd just had what he perceived as his best year ever.
Anecdotal evidence is beginning to pile up. At the Alliance@IBM website, an employee comment thread indicates that a sudden flood of bad reviews indeed starting coming in last week. A few examples:
  • "I worked in the Lenexa, Kansas, lab for a year and 8 months. I received an unexpected 3 on Tuesday and then had a meeting Wednesday informing me that I am part of the resource action."
  • "After 13 1/2 years got RA'd today, age 38. Received a 3 after years of 1,2+,2."
  • "In [Research Triangle Park], I have talked with several people this week who were given unexpected '3' ratings and were told that they have 30 days to improve their performance, with consequences if not successful."
The comments to date also seem to indicate that older employees are getting hit hard. Women, also, may be finding themselves first on the chopping block. These allegations, of course, are unproven—and may find themselves adjudicated by the courts. Some examples:
  • "54 years old, 22 years of experience rated 2 last five years, just had my rating with my manager, 15 minutes, rated a 3, no reason given by manager. RA'd"
  • "RA'ed yesterday. I'm 56 years old. I [had] a consistent 2 as an information developer in [the software group] in San Jose, CA."
  • "RA'd; last day 2/27; Rating: 2; Age: 61; Job Responsibilities: Chief Engineer. Played and RA'd"
  • "I was included in the resource action in spite of consistently high performance numbers. I am the only woman in the work group and one of only a handful in the whole region. The male partners that were retained have crucial chummy drinking buddy relationships with their customers. The treatment and support of professional women, in spite of the window dressing at the top layers is appalling."
Of course, the appearance of the situation, in the eyes of employees and the public, is not being helped by the fact amid IBM's actions comes the board's announcement on Friday of a big raise for CEO Ginni Rometty.
"Just call her Machete Rometty," one current (or about to be former) employee posted.
The fascinating stream of comments is available here.

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