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IBM: About those agreed voluntary redundancies ... we were just kidding

It's enough to send UK staff on 'mental wellbeing days'. Done that? Talk about Big Blue!

By Paul Kunert

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IBM's latest redundancy programme for Global Technology Services staff in the UK and Ireland "descended into near farce" after it reopened the voluntary element and told those it had previously agreed to let leave that they now are not going anywhere.

IS Delivery (ISD) and Technical Support Services (TSS) folk working under the GTS division in the region were warned at the end of November that 1,900 of them were at risk of redundancy with 500 plus job to go. Those that wanted to go had until 15 December to lodge an expression of interest (EOI).

The deadline for "voluntary separation" – Big Blue's sanitised version of "You want to go, and we want you out too" – was then extended until 19 December. On 24 January, IBM shared the EOIs with the Employee Consultation Committee, reps whom workers had voted in to act as their voice during the process.

But everything then changed late last week for both TSS and ISD, according to memos sent by the bosses running those divisions in the UK and Ireland.

Paused

Jon Grubb, director of GTS service delivery for UK and Ireland, wrote to his team confirming the Open Voluntary Offer phase had been "paused to give the opportunity and time for more Voluntary Expressions of Interest to be made".

"The window during which employees can express interest in a voluntary package has been re-opened and will remain open until further notice," he said in a memo that was seen by The Register.

Our insiders said workers were unimpressed that the uncertainty they have endured since late 2017 would continue for the foreseeable future.

The botched job was discussed on an internal forum by a bunch of ISD people including one of the UK reps voted onto the ISD ECC. The rep slammed the turn of events:

"The whole programme has descended into near farce on the voluntary phase, with IBM resisting all attempts from the employee reps to get a meaningful extension to the voluntary phase before Xmas, then coming back at yesterday's meeting (31 January) with a proposal to re-open the voluntary phase but not honour the commitments made to those who have already gone through the EOI phase."

The rep said that trying to confirm deadlines for both the voluntary and involuntary redundancies had become "impossible" and no fresh dates had yet been imposed.

"Information wise, getting IBM to release the 'planning timetable proposals' to the community has been next to impossible, with IBM continually stressing the NDAs [non-disclosure agreement] to the reps. Despite apparent leaks to The Register about IBM redundancy policy, any information shown to us in meetings in as projected slides."

There would seem no inherent advantage to IBM making voluntary or involuntary redundancies, as both come loaded with a statutory minimum payoff, something the company cast in stone in 2017.

Mental wellbeing

On the same forum, another IBMer – whom we have decided not to name – thanks the UK rep for his thoughts, and confirmed they had “just completed the 'Time To Talk' mental wellbeing day in North Harbour.

"There were a number of comments [on the day] about how nice it was that IBM is doing these things to promote mental wellbeing and where to go for help… but it is IBM that is causing the stress in the first place with the current resource action (or lack of action). So prevention would be better than cure."

Another commented, "We have great difficult in understanding IBM's high profile support for this honourable, essential, and long overdue understanding of mental wellbeing within the organisation and what is currently ongoing with this programme."

Staff at TSS were also sent a carbon copy of the mail sent to their ISD counterparts. Andy Roberts, the head of TSS, confirmed the window allowing staff to make EOI had reopened last week and would remain so until further notice.

Sources at TSS told us 35 employees had submitted EOI and 29 offers made, with 21 of those accepted. Until last week – when those offers were retracted. Again, no new dates are yet in the hands of TSS staff.

In notes from the ECC meetings, TSS rep Bruce Singers asked if it was "morally right" to deal with staff in this manner.

New low

An IBM insider described the move as an "absolute kick in the teeth" for staff that had "shown their 'I would like to leave hand'. My personal feeling is that this is a new low (no, I never thought it possible).

"IBM may have found a rather unsophisticated way of identifying people that were going to go anyway, so could, in theory withdraw any offer entirely and play roulette and... they go anyway, saving IBM some dosh."

The Register asked IBM why it has overhauled the process and was sent a statement not addressing any of the points we raised – at least IBM is consistent.

"As IBM transforms into the premier cognitive computing and cloud platform company, we continue to remix our skills and invest in these priority areas. IBM does this in each market in which we operate, adapting to meet local client needs. Our clients expect no less. IBM currently has about 25,000 job openings around the world for new skills in growth areas such as cloud, analytics, security, and social and mobile technologies," a spokeswoman said.

IBM has already told staff that once this latest round of job-cutting is over, it should have the correct ratio of GTS people in on-shore, near-shore and off-shore locations. The firm wants to cut costs to help it beef up GTS margins, following years of sliding sales and profits. ®

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