IBM staff grumble redeployment orders are stealth layoffs

Employees believe directive to seek new internal positions is just a way to get rid of them

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna told employees last year that he had no plans for further layoffs.

But according to current IBM employees, managers continue to face pressure to reduce headcount and are trying to do without Resource Actions – what Big Blue calls formal layoffs. Instead, they're trying to encourage employees to leave on their own through redeployment and eliminating jobs without formally doing so.

An IBM employee who asked not to be identified and has been with the company for more than two decades told The Register that multiple people in part of the Systems group (the individual and four colleagues) had been "redeployed to look for another job within IBM."

These individuals are expected to continue in their jobs for an indeterminate period while using some work time to find and apply for another internal position – which may or may not be available, or may require relocation.

No end date was specified for the job search but our source suggested that affected individuals have until the end of Q1 2023. After a redeployed employee fails to find another internal position, Redeployment Initiative may become a Resource Action – a layoff.

"I have talked to at least four of my colleagues that were given the same message, so I'm sure there are many more," this person said, citing age as a likely contributing factor to the redeployment directive.

The Register has seen chat messages from another IBM employee with more than four decades of experience at the company who last year sought advice based on the belief that this person's redeployment represented age discrimination.

"They are trying to drive people out with no severance," this person wrote.

The individual who wrote those messages spoke to The Register on the phone and explained that last year this person had been given two-and-half months to find another IBM job. Eight months on, this person is still with IBM, without responsibilities, waiting for the company to take action.

"I told my manager that I would not go voluntarily," this person said, noting that exemplary reviews over the years have left the company with no plausible reason for a termination.

Resource actions, this person explained, are a big deal because they're public and expensive. "Executives do not want to do that," this person said. "They want it undercover. … What the execs told me is if there's a chance to get rid of people, they have to call it a redeployment."

They expressed certainty that age discrimination played a role in the elimination of their position but also described being disinclined presently to pursue the matter in court. "If they gave me three months severance, I'd probably take it," the person said.

At the same time, the source expressed frustration that IBM hasn't simply gone with a layoff. "What could be crueler than eight months of isolation?" the IBM employee told us.

This isn't IBM's first rodeo

In online forums discussing IBM, there's some push back against the assumption that redeployments are exclusively a way to reduce headcount. Some suggest that finding a new position often depends upon the support of someone higher up in the organization.

The situation appears to be similar to the way IBM approached Watson Health. As sources told us last year, IBM sought to redeploy employees as a way to encourage them to leave on their own, in order to avoid laying them off and paying severance benefits after they were unable to find a suitable internal position.

As argued in a now resolved age discrimination claim [PDF] against IBM, the company has been accused of making employees relocate – often a consequence of a job change – knowing that the typical relocation acceptance rate is only 8 to 10 percent.

Coincidentally, IBM has continued to quietly settle age discrimination claims, the most recent being Kinney et al. v. IBM, which is expected to conclude this month.

The Register asked IBM to comment on whether the company has increased the use of redeployments over the past six months and to comment on claims that AIX development has been moved to India. IBM did not respond to our inquiry.

The jobless IBM employee we spoke with speculated that IBM's CEO just wants good publicity.

"Things are turning around, and it just seems [Arvind Krishna] doesn't want anything to taint that," this person theorized.

"While there's news that Salesforce and Meta are cutting jobs, IBM isn't cutting. But they are. There're just as many people being forced out, just not through formal resource actions." ®

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