Random PR Thoughts

Imperfect…and Tense


“Doesn’t it seem like somebody is working awfully hard to convince us of how imperfect we are? If we could be more emotionally resilient or get up at 5:00 a.m. every morning or remember to do that one thing that successful people never forget to do, would our awful dispirited work lives really be better? It’s seductive to think so. But here’s the thing, I don’t think we’re the problem. I think the problem is that people deserve a certain level of sanity and safety and security that is just not available in today’s workplace.”Lauren Letellier, “The Fiery Sword of Justice” 

If that quote doesn’t resonate with you, congratulations for landing a position at Santa’s Workshop.

For the rest of us, this insight from Lauren’s solo show performed at last months’ New York International Fringe Festival has to strike a chord.

I can’t think of a better example of how to convince your employees that they are lower than pond scum than that provided by IBM a few days ago. According to a blog post by New York Times reporter Steve Lohr (http://nyti.ms/1ASixxW), Big Blue recently reached out to a number of employees in its Services division to inform them that their skills have been found to be lagging, and that they are going to be spending about a day a week for six months participating in company sponsored training and development programs.

At first blush, this seems like a progressive and far-sighted idea. It is important for employees to pursue continuing education and refine their skills in order for a company to remain competitive and earn more money for its shareholders. And it has long been shown that employees who participate in these programs generally feel better about their employer and their job, which in turn can reduce turnover – a significant cost saving to the company.

But (and you knew there was a “but” coming) IBM then dropped the other shoe: the pay of these employees will be cut by 10 percent during that six-month period. At the end of the six months, the salaries will be restored to prior levels, but the money withheld will be gone forever.

IBM says it believes that the program is a form of “cost sharing” with employees who will acquire valuable new skills. But in his post, Lohr suggests something very different and insidious may be afoot: “Employees receiving the offer are given little choice, other than to look elsewhere in the company ‘for opportunities for which your skills may be a better match.’” Or more likely, opportunities outside the company, a thinly veiled cost-cutting strategy.

Annulalized, it’s a five percent salary cut.  At the very least, a person selected for this program who has a couple of college tuition bills looming might simply drop out of the IBM 401(k) plan to offset the salary reduction — this is neither progressive nor far-sighted thinking on IBM’s part.

Is this even legal? It may be (http://bit.ly/1pcbf2n) but it is certainly not an effective strategy for energizing employees and increasing loyalty. On the contrary, it is more likely to increase the sense of hopelessness and modern-day fealty, both for the people directly affected and those who are watching and wondering what fresh hell will be coming their way someday. It’s certainly not a move I would have expected from an iconic company like IBM, and we can only hope that the company reconsiders this plan — or at least that other companies do not follow Big Blue’s appalling example.

Categories: Random PR Thoughts

4 replies »

  1. Chris, The unions would just love to take a bite out of IBM’s ass on this one! Is it time to organize the employees? By the way, after 14 yrs. of not having a job, my boss Beth sent me an email last week telling me that because I am so proficient at my retirement profession and more than satisfy the requirements of my position I will not be required to attend any kind of training one day a week, nor will my pay suffer any deductions. Tom

  2. Chris – DGIH! (Dear God in Heaven). This rivals Cube Farms for another wonderful advancement in corporation-employee relations. – Don

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