International Business Machines (IBM) is a company of good people first, and industry leading products and services second. IBM lauds itself as a corporate culture more diverse than any other. As an employer, IBM leaves time management to its employees. No matter what the employee's background, religion, sexual orientation, or political beliefs, there is an equal chance s/he will succeed given lasting stamina and the passage of time.
Step No. 1
Keep your individuality. When you make your decision to work for IBM, avoid placing your personal life on hiatus. The icons of my life (pre-IBM) -- writing, photography, studying film -- fell into a black hole for nine years. Bending to IBM corporate structure, policies, and paperwork stripped my creative talents. I dried up, became a bore. My sense of humor vanished. Fortunately for this writer, at some point after four years with IBM, I noticed how I'd failed myself and strived to recover. I was no longer an attractive, quick-witted author whose outlook on life was positive; but relied heavily upon Gaviscon to digest my food and was often depressed after work. I buried myself in gardening chores, which became a psychological savior.
IBM celebrates a work / life balance philosophy, but it is up to the employee to celebrate this freedom. I have no one to blame for missing out on life while I kept blue at IBM, although the alternative -- taking work less seriously -- would have seemed somehow disloyal to my employer. The corporate culture of IBM is -- to use a political term -- liberal. As long as you complete your responsibilities on time and on budget, it doesn't much matter whether you work at midnight or noon. Your schedule is up to you. Managing your vacation days are up to you also.
Step No. 2
Take vacation. There is one regret I hold after working at IBM -- passing up vacation benefits. From the chart provided, the reader will notice that of 108 vacation days earned, I only used 50. I was fearful that in my absence my likeness would be castrated by the opposition. In hindsight, I should have taken the vacation days despite internal politics.
Step No. 3
Learn from my own mistake... Do not accept a job with IBM unless your starting salary is appropriate for your education and skill set. Check with your professional organizations to make sure the IBM salary offer is what the industry pays. IBM benefits are no longer the industry's best, but simply industry standard, and salary is the only negotiation you control at the beginning.
"Salary earned" is out of employee's control once you've joined IBM. While my salary rose from $33,800 in 1995 to $81,000 in 2004 - the increase in salary spread over nine years is substantial and significant. However, my end salary did not even touch starting salary for professionals in my position living in New York. Starting salary at IBM for my skill level, education, and background in 1999 would have been between $90,000 - $105,000, which is the only year with which we have to compare this data.
Discussing salaries as an IBM employee is grounds for dismissal, (so is providing a resume reference.) It doesn't mean employees don't compare salaries over a beer or by accident. In the summer of 1998, I was earning $53,000. While helping a college intern with his time card online, I nearly fell over when he showed me his record quite innocently, which showed the salary... $68,000, and he had not yet graduated from college. I held a master's degree. Two years later, after I helped a friend secure a job at IBM, the mentioned starting salary was in the high 60s, with a bachelor's degree, plus commission on successful team accounts. At that time, my salary had finally met $60,000.
When our offices where moving, I found an old pay stub scattered with trash on the floor. I recognized the name of a former colleauge... I'd worked with the employee two years earlier. This employee did not hold a master's degree, was not a manager, and was earning $138,000 in 1997 while I pulled $71,000 in 2001. Doubtful the employee's salary decreased...
During my IBM career, my final three managers were of the greatest assistance to boost my salary. One secured a $16,000 a year raise which took me from $53,000 to $69,000. And my next manager provided the maximum allowable raises in 2002 and 2003 to push me up to $80,000 -- or about $20,000 less than it should be for my role. It is the goal of Human Resources to keep salaries low, and yet competitive, and restrict raises. IBM uses a "band" to determine salaries; however, the range of salaries overlap a great deal. As a simple example, a (lower) band 7 may range from $40,000 - $102,000, a band 8 may range from $55,000 - $125,000, and a band 9 may range from $78,000 - $160,000. So a band 7 or 8 could in fact earn more than a band 9, even though the band 9 is required to meet more responsibilities than lower bands. Standard salary increases within your band -- provided your performance is strong -- could continue without having to increase your band. In my case, I was promoted (by band) faster than the salaries could increase, from 7 in 1998 to 9 in 2001.
Step No. 4
Give it your best. IBM uses personal business commitments (PBCs) to grade your performance (as opposed to time cards) on an annual scale of 1 to 3, with 1 being best. If an employee earns a 4, you are out the door. Depending upon your division and your department's financial success, it is not confirmed that Human Relations dictate how many 1s a manager may give based upon band levels, however the practice is how it sounds. For example, if a manager has five employees (all band 8s,) and the department has not met its financial obligations, Human Resources may force the manager to give only one 1, no matter how well the five employees performed. To my knowledge, none of my 27 managers (in nine years) were forced into this rule. I received two 1s and six 2s during my tenure; my first year as an intern was not graded.
Step No. 5
Copy Western Europe's quality of life (nice idea...) and unionize. IBM US employees owe it to themselves to negotiate company direction through representation. I should have joined Alliance@IBM if for no other reason than show of support for IBM employees.
Depending upon the job you hold at IBM, the hours required to pull your weight vary as widely as political practices of individual employees. As my own responsibilities grew and branched into a worldwide role, the number of hours required increased. I do not recall any single week that I worked more than 80 hours. The average number of hours per week, I estimate, were between 55-70 on a regular basis. In 2003, I consistently worked 70-hour weeks or more and Saturday became a normal work day. Overtime is not a part of IBM salaries.
I found a notable differences between work ethics and people in the USA and Europe. For example, layoff in the USA means you've been cut and it doesn't mean you weren't producing. In Europe, layoff means you've failed to produce and the company gathered the goods on you to let you go. The reason for the difference is European governments protect employees -- in other words, for an employer to lay you off, there must be a performance reason.
I worked at 590 Madison Ave, as well as three locations in Westchester County (NY.) In Europe, I visited IBM offices in Berlin, Paris, and London; with the most frequent trips to a mobility center east of Paris in St. Maur Cretiel. I can describe the comparisons in two simple sentences, although these are not unlike comparing the culture at large between the USA and Europe.
Considering I find New York City a friendly city, certainly as friendly as Paris, my observations more likely reflect the circumstances more than the people. Let's face it, who cares to be friendly when you face a standard 70-hour work week? This is a sign of corporate times in the United States and further reflects the cultural differences between Europe and the States.
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