AOD managers felt tech workers were botching too many modifications and updates to core systems, says the employee. And so managers mandated a three-strikes policy, ominously echoing California's tough "three strikes" law aimed at repeat felons: The first strike for a failed change is a written warning. The second strike is a performance plan -- that is, a type of probation. The third strike is the lowest rating on an annual review, which can prevent raises and put the employee more at risk if further layoffs occur. (The July internal e-mail forwarded by the source lists the consequences on employee evaluations for each "offense.")
"It's kind of earth-shattering," says the employee, adding that co-workers labor under a cloud of dread that they'll be laid off soon. "You've got all this pressure building up to do the right thing. Yet when you try to do the right thing, it becomes very difficult -- it's management by fear."
(IBM did not comment for this story before deadline. After the story first appeared, IBM vehemently denied that any unit, including AOD, has or has ever had anything like a "three strikes" policy.)
Managers also threw up roadblocks to discourage tech workers from making even routine tweaks, such as software patches and updates, the employee says. Sometimes they denied change proposals simply because they couldn't understand the technical verbiage. All of this has led to a volatile workplace.
At IBM's AOD unit, tech workers reacted by making unauthorized changes; since managers were unaware of the changes, no strike could be made against the employees' records. When authorized changes do fail, the tech workers now cover their tracks. For example, if a tech worker unsuccessfully tried to patch a computer bug, he'd blame the failure on the bug -- not the patch effort -- to avoid a demerit.
The result of this fear-driven workaround to management's diktats: Many changes are undocumented or incorrectly documented, while other changes simply fall by the wayside.
What particularly galls the AOD tech worker is that a few years ago, IBM managers had instituted a similar three-strikes policy, with troubling results. "People threw up their hands on the small stuff," the employee recalls. "Systems weren't patched, which led to vulnerabilities. We had microcode that hadn't been updated on SAN switches for two years. This resulted in a bug, the system crashed, and we lost customer data."
Cost-cutting gone awry: "My pager goes off all day long"
A veteran engineer at a large Silicon Valley company says the atmosphere in the IT department has become one of distrust. Senior tech workers have been forced out or fired for alleged noncompliance, only to be replaced by less-capable and cheaper foreign workers. As a result, workloads have doubled. The engineer is now required to work weekends without extra pay to troubleshoot old equipment. "My pager goes off every couple of hours, all day long."
Even worse, a tech worker who makes the latest mistake is "on the hot seat to be shown the door," says the engineer, adding that management has moles inside the technical staff to rat out disloyal behavior. Perhaps most telling, the engineer now dreams of working as a cashier in retail. "I'm not motivated by money anymore, just a few thank-yous," the engineer says.