What It's Like to Work at IBM

job interview I spent 25 years working at IBM, most of it in fairly technical programming jobs, but the rewards (and the frustrations) are much the same regardless of your particular job assignment. In many ways, IBM is still an excellent place to work. Their benefits are very generous, although the pension no longer is, and for the most part employees are treated very well.

Some years ago, all employees under a certain age were switched from defined benefit to defined contribution pension plans. Fortunately, I missed that cut-off by a year or two (because of age/seniority) and was able to keep my original pension plan. Younger workers had their pension investments subject to the vicissitudes of the stock market, and many lost half their value in the 2008 crash. This also happened to everyone's 401(k)s, reducing them to "201(k)s."

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Great benefits

Vacations at IBM start at two weeks and over time go up to five weeks. The six-week vacation was killed off some years ago. However, you cannot carry over unused vacation time to the next year, which sometimes bites you when a year-end work emergency keeps you from taking that vacation. In that case, it depends on your manager. In addition, employees get 12 holidays every year, usually eight national holidays and four "floating holidays."

IBM does not have a sick day policy. Instead, you are expected to stay home if you are sick and return when you are well. In extreme cases you may need to provide a doctor's note indicating that you are well enough to return to work.

Benefits at IBM have always been good, but like most other employers, the cost to the employee has skyrocketed with the cost of medical care. IBM does offer both dental and vision care as an add-on to your benefit package, and the price is quite reasonable.

A variety of assignments

The technical work to be done at IBM is very interesting and there is a great deal of variety in most jobs, so you aren't stuck repeating the same tasks over and over again. In the years I spent at the company, I worked in the (now defunct) scientific instrument division,then in a marketing division supporting higher education and finally (for the last 19 years) at IBM Research, considered one of the strongest industrial research organizations in the world.

The nature of the work in the Research Division oscillated over the years from long-term, blue-sky assignments to very short three- to six-month projects supporting customers and other divisions.

The best part of working at IBM has always been the people. You can walk down the hall and get advice from any number of very intelligent people on whatever project you are working on, and sometimes you can provide your expertise to them as well.

When I joined IBM, one of its main tenets was "respect for the individual." This meant that you had some freedom and flexibility and that they respected your views and approaches as well as you as a person. Sadly, many employees feel that these principles are no longer stressed after IBM began instituting layoffs for the first time in 1993. More layoffs are likely to continue into 2011 according to informed sources.

While IBM is still a major global force, it has reduced its U.S. work force from 133,000 in 2005 to 105,000 in 2009, according to the nascent employees union, Alliance@IBM. Many of the missing jobs are now being done overseas, leading to a company-wide fear of substantial job "offshoring."

IBM does not have any unionized facilities or groups of workers and does everything it can to keep unions from forming. While this is primarily accomplished by providing good salaries and benefits, there is a real executive paranoia about labor unions, one that probably is not justified. It is only since layoffs became common at IBM that talk of unions became significant.

A formal culture

The formality of the dress culture at IBM has loosened over the years. Sales and marketing people have always dressed in fairly formal business attire, but starting with the Lou Gerstner regime (1993-2002), the powers that be no longer required that your dress shirt be white. About 20 years ago, I was working with an educational marketing group in Milford, Conn., and decided to go down to the cafeteria and count how many others were wearing colored dress shirts, as I was. I was the only one. Nowadays you will see a bit more color than that.

From time to time, I would go on sales calls with sales and marketing people. They would always be wearing suits, ties and white shirts. I was usually wearing more casual shirts and wash pants, because I would often have to crawl around connecting up machines and making things work. After the call was over we would meet for dinner. I'd usually change my shirt and slip on a sports jacket, while I found it amusing that the marketing people would "dress down" since they were now off duty.

Working with the salespeople and with customers was always a rewarding part of my job, because I always learned something new. And watching salespeople at work was fascinating. They may not have had the deep technical knowledge of the products that I did, but their ability to form relationships with the customers was unsurpassed and was the key to successful sales.

A sliding scale

Each IBM division ranks its employees annually and uses those rankings to determine merit pay and salary increases. Employees are ranked as 1, 2, 2.5 or 3 with "1" as superior and "3" as needing improvement. Receiving two or more 3s is likely a death knell for your job; it is a way to ease people out. Needless to say, this can be and is manipulated from time to time.

In February 2009, IBM laid off about 10 percent of the workers in the Research Division, along with a number of other employees. Faced with that eventuality, I chose to retire at the bottom of the market with my "201(k)." While the official statistics seemed to show a wide age range being affected, there seemed to be a fair amount of feeling that older, more expensive employees were being targeted.

My career at Big Blue was a really good run, and I enjoyed most of the time I spent there carrying out one challenging assignment after another. But the last year or so were not pleasant, and it was time to go.


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Parker

"...Vacations at IBM start at two weeks and over time go up to five weeks. The six-week vacation was killed off some years ago..."

They did away with the 5th week a few years ago too. Now the max you can get is 4 weeks.

Getting raises at IBM is kind of an ongoing joke with the employees. Even with profits in the Billions each year, IBM does not give it's employees a cost of living wage increase. Every year the cost of living goes up and I find myself actually making LESS (due to inflation) than I did the year before. I am actually looking for a 2nd job to try to make ends meet. IBM really needs to start treating their employees as human beings who have lives and families, and not as numbers on a computer screen.

August 12 2013 at 6:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Unknown

This article is pretty accurate, but should have been written by a newer employee, or at least had the input from a newer employee. A lot of this is not accurate for the way that IBM does things these days.

January 20 2012 at 10:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lorilynn King

I hired on in 1983. A lot of promises and it was a great company in the beginning. Unfortunately I'm about 10 or 15 years too young. IBM has screwed me out of benefits and medical and retirement (yeah I was too young to be included on the pension plan, even the 2nd choicers) to the point that I will not be able to retire until I'm dead. I'm too old to start another career with another company (believe me I've tried, but in this economy, GET REAL.). I only hope that new college graduates are smart enough to avoid this company at all costs. The executives are out to make the stock price go as high as possible and they'll get out before things crash, and those of us that are left will be left with NOTHING. My kids are CS/EE graduates and I am telling them to avoid IBM. I was made a nonexempt three years ago (15% pay cut) and now that I can PROVE that I deserve an exempt rating they refuse to reinstate my salary to its previous level... in other words, if I'm made exempt it will be yet another INSULTING pay cut. Respect for the individual died a lonely death when Gerster and his ilk took over. Employees supposedly were IBM's greatest asset... sadly, this once great company will never be the same.

July 12 2011 at 12:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Richard

I worked for IBM for 28 years. It is very disturbing the way the company has become. IBM used to care about the employees and the work they put in now the powers that be are off-shoring what used to be a great company. There are so many issues that It will be hard to describe all the IBM truths (1/3 truth and 1/3 part truths and 1/3 out right lies) that are told to customers and employees. I am sure if folks were to be honest that more people should really tell what goes on inside a company who now has allot of classified information on IBM customers in the hands of Russians , India, China, Brazil and many other low salaried employees who had DOD, Navy Army Pentagon and other information in databases that these low paid support personal have access to as RETAIN has no restrictions as to who has access to that data. I was very frustrated when working on key project to be told that if a pandemic were to happen we can not count on India , China , Russia or Brazil to assist customers during a crisis as they could not develop a comprehensive Business Continuity or Disaster plan. The exposures to customer business is great. I used to be on call with JP Morgan Chase and many other large purchaser of IBM software and Hardware and the out right stories that were spun on how they would be protected during a crisis and if pushed to produce the documentation IBM would hide behind a statement that this could not be divulged due to IBM confidential. Yet they are more than , willing to put IBM confidential in the hands of INDIA, China,Russia and Brazil.. This double standard goes on all the time take for example when the head of server division was caught for insider trading. Take for instance when the CFO of IBM software group was banging the CIO of software group who worked for him and they were married to other people and neither one we disciplined or fired and all the senior executives knew about the affair as I went to a meeting in Armonk and was pulled aside by folks from Armonk and told. Of course the two of them were allowed to retire from IBM and now are married to eachother. Appaling is the word.

March 23 2011 at 8:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Richard's comment
Matthew

Is a security clearance a requirement for working at IBM?

July 18 2011 at 7:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ret1992

I worked for IBM for 36 years from 1956 -1992. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have worked for such a great company during those years. With just a high school education I was hired as a Customer Engineer (IBM's title for a field service technician)and retired after many years in middle management. Working for IBM not only provided you with a good job but also many opportunities to advance and build a very satisfying and lucrative career. In those days, IBM's intent was to hire, grow and retain career employees and resulted in a highly skilled, experienced, fiercely loyal workforce. This concept was very successful for many years. Unfortunately, in the late 1980s IBM fell on hard times. Enter Lou Gerstner.
While no doubt he did some good things to turn around IBMs fortunes, he also ruthlessly destroyed the IBM culture and the basic beliefs in the process. Today IBM is a good company and the powerhouse of the industry but the employee satisfaction has greatly suffered and the loyalty is non existant......sad.
At one time IBM was considered the "most admired company." This is no longer true and it's doubtful that it ever will be again.

March 22 2011 at 11:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ret1992

I worked for IBM for 36 years from 1956 -1992. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have worked for such a great company during those years. With just a high school education I was hired as a Customer Engineer (IBM's title for a field service technician)and retired after many years in middle management. Working for IBM not only provided you with a good job but also many opportunities to advance and build a very satisfying and lucrative career. In those days, IBM's intent was to hire, grow and retain career employees and resulted in a highly skilled, experienced, fiercely loyal workforce. This concept was very successful for many years. Unfortunately, in the late 1980s IBM fell on hard times. Enter Lou Gerstner.
While no doubt he did some good things to turn around IBMs fortunes, he also ruthlessly destroyed the IBM culture and the basic beliefs in the process. Today IBM is a good company and the powerhouse of the industry but the employee satisfaction has greatly suffered and the loyalty is non existant......sad.
At one time IBM was considered the "most admired company." This is no longer true and it's doubtful that it ever will be again.

March 22 2011 at 11:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ret1992

I worked for IBM for 36 years from 1956 -1992. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have worked for such a great company during those years. With just a high school education I was hired as a Customer Engineer (IBM's title for a field service technician)and retired after many years in middle management. Working for IBM not only provided you with a good job but also many opportunities to advance and build a very satisfying and lucrative career. In those days, IBM's intent was to hire, grow and retain career employees and resulted in a highly skilled, experienced, fiercely loyal workforce. This concept was very successful for many years. Unfortunately, in the late 1980s IBM fell on hard times. Enter Lou Gerstner.
While no doubt he did some good things to turn around IBMs fortunes, he also ruthlessly destroyed the IBM culture and the basic beliefs in the process. Today IBM is a good company and the powerhouse of the industry but the employee satisfaction has greatly suffered and the loyalty is non existant......sad.
At one time IBM was considered the "most admired company." This is no longer true and it's doubtful that it ever will be again.

March 22 2011 at 11:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve W

I worked for IBM from 1969-1992, starting in the Queens Branch Office as a customer engineer for seven years followed by 16 more years in Kingston. I had some great assignments while working in Kingston, most notably in marketing on the 3270-PC, where Windows was actually "born." Although I planned to stay a lot longer, I decided to take advantage of "ITO-II" in 1992 when I went on a bridge to retirement. I started collecting my pension in 1999. Layoffs started at IBM a year after I left, and several of my colleagues who were eligible for the ITO stayed and were caught in the layoffs.

I used to think that the smartest people worked at IBM, but since I left, I've worked at several other high-tech companies and I've found that IBM does not have an exclusive on the smartest people. Luckily for me, I'm now working at another major high-tech company where we are developing great mobile computing products, where employees are still treated with respect and I have an opportunity to learn something new every day.

March 21 2011 at 10:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike

I was an IBM employee from 1967 until I took a buy out in 1993. I started in the field as a CE and moved to the factory in 1972. I worked as a system tech, a manufacturing manager and a quality control manager before I moved to the engenering division.

I have to say that the work I did was always chalenging and rewarding. IBM was a great company to work for and I retired at the right time.

March 21 2011 at 3:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
xrx00

Are there any current IBM salespeople on this thread? I have a buddy there who says the salespeople cannot take spouses to the Presidents Club events held annually for performance. Usually you bring the spouse and thank them for support of the salesperson all year. any insight is helpful.

March 21 2011 at 2:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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