From IBMer to IBummer – how I got enslaved in IBM’s tyrannical system

Posted by Ranjeet Menon
May 13, 2017


This is my harrowing story at IBM, about how IBM turned my life into a sleepless nightmare in a matter of just 4 months. This is the story of how IBM’s managers run an exclusive slavery system and lord over their employees as dictators. This is not just my story, I am writing this on behalf of everyone whose life has been ruined by IBM’s managers through their consistent and unbearable onslaught on people’s psyches. This is quite long and I hope it will warn anyone aspiring to join IBM to be wary and careful about the monster managers who rule the jungle they have created.

IBM is a company with a great legacy, but the legacy of every organisation is built on the foundation of how it treats its employees. For the legacy to endure, employee treatment has consistently improve with time. But when arrogance creeps into the system and employees start getting treated as slaves and are considered expendable, the organisation starts to decy. This is one reason why legacy companies are struggling to cope up with the radical changes in the market after the economic meltdown of 2008, because its people are nowhere ready to take the companies in new directions. I have great respect for IBM, but the respect does not extend to anyone within IBM who does not know how to respect people, be it above or below them. I am writing this down to tell the world about how my manager Rajeev Sengupta, his manager Monal Dhama, the HR partner Hema Lakra and Shobha Savkoor from IBM’s internal case management team conspired to produce fake charges against me to push me out of IBM and everyone, including the CEO, Ginni Rometty chose to maintain stoic silence against the injustice that was meted out to me.  My intention is not to portray the company in poor light, but rather to expose the people who hold positions in the company they absolutely do not deserve to and have been surviving in the company because they gang up against everyone who do not bow down before them.

The reasons why IBM treats its employees shabbily is much more than what meets people’s eyes.

1. Every company aspires to employ the services of IBM at some point in time to implement IBM’s processes which are the best in the world. Most of the industry standard processes have been created at IBM.

2. All corporate employees wish to have IBM’s name on their resume primarily because of the market demand for IBMers.

3. IBM portrays itself as the most employee friendly company in the world and key to it is the work from home option it offers to its employees. Most people join or rejoin IBM because of this facility and these people are the ones who are married with kids and are in debt with all kinds of loans. Add to it the 3 months of notice period they have to serve when leaving IBM and they are left with no choice but to hang on at IBM and endure everything the managers throw at them. IBM also has its own hidden agenda in offering work from home facility. They can keep hiring people without expanding their office space which saves them a phenomenal amount of money. Wherever possible they put shared work tables in office. Employees have to wait and even jostle with other employees at times to get a desk.

A company that finds it so easy to get clients and hire people has no need to respect its workforce. There is a system that has been built inside the company, one that revolves around the group or “gang” of First Line Managers (FLMs). These are the people who execute projects and hire and manage people. They are the Invincible and the Untouchables, against whom there cannot be a question raised or a whimper of dissent. Retributions are swift and even mere questions can get employees terminated. Executing projects and managing people are in a way the two low-level jobs in any company and FLMs do both. From the business perspective, it doesn’t matter who the FLMs are and how they do it. So there would be no interference from the business side. In the hierarchy, everyone above the FLMs was FLMs themselves in the past so they know the whole game. This is how the system has developed into one where FLMs behave like dictators and treat their team members as slaves. This is reflected in how they put the manager’s name in the offer letters for employees, something I have come across only at IBM. There is an extremely career threatening aspect to it. My CTC details are mentioned in the same offer letter, so when I join a new company I will have to produce my offer letter before the HR as proof of last CTC. What if the HR person sees Rajeev’s name and decide to contact him directly? Moreover, all companies are filled with ex-IBMers. What if my new manager is an ex-IBMer and he decides to call up his old buddies at IBM? I am sure Rajeev will give the worst possible feedback and try to ruin my career. So, is putting manager’s name in the offer letter the official way of inducting people into IBM’s slavery system?

All the high handedness and callous approach towards people was clearly visible when I went for my interview at IBM’s office in Bangalore. The premise of the office looked like how it would be when a new movie of a superstar is released in a multiplex. It was not a walk-in interview, interviews were for shortlisted profiles and still there was such a big crowd. Two reasons: 1) Scarcity of jobs in the market 2) Opportunity with IBM. I was shortlisted for Project Manager role and after I reached the interview area inside the office, a HR person approached me and asked if I have experience in Project Transition. I said yes, so my interview was assigned to the relevant people. That is where the first of my mistakes happened. I was never shown a job profile, either by the HR or by the interviewers and neither did I ask for it. I took it for granted that they would review my resume and assign me a project according to my experience. Taking for granted NEVER works. I sailed through two rounds of interview and got the offer for the job. I was without a job for 2 years after I completed my MBA and I was working for a startup company on a freelance contract at that time. So my background verification was completed before I received the offer letter.

Then something happened which should have been the warning for what lay ahead of me but I did not notice it. I was eligible for receiving the reimbursement of relocation cost as per IBM’s policy but it has to be mentioned in my offer letter. I requested the HR person for the revised letter over mail and phone but she never responded. After I joined and asked about it, they said nothing can be done now and asked me to speak to my manager who asked me not to raise it up. Little did I know then that it is Rajeev himself who had to send the offer letter with the relocation expense details to the HR and he had refused to bear the cost.

After completing joining formalities, I had to complete a few mandatory internal trainings. I was told one of those days that there were no projects for me at the moment. I was supposed to go to office, walk around on the floor, chat with people, check my emails, have lunch and go home. I didn’t like it one bit. Wherever I had worked before, I was drafted into projects from the first day. I did not join IBM to sit idle. Rajeev started talking to other managers under Monal to see if they can fit me in any of their projects. The situation was all confusing to me. It all came to me after a few days. IBM India gets the nod from their offices abroad to hire people according to the work that gets decided to be pushed to India.  there is no guarantee that the intended work would eventually come to India. Then the hired resources would be assigned to whatever requirements arise in different projects. I realized that assigning a project may not have anything to do with the skills, experience and aspirations of the resource. In the meantime, I started asking to shadow someone from whom I could learn about the work I was going to do. It took weeks, but I was finally assigned a buddy but she was working from home for years. She had kids and her primary focus was on them. At home, our priority is always family and not work. Thanks to the work from home policy, all these people have forgotten long back how to work together as a team.

It took two torturous months before I was finally assigned to a project. Quite a bit happened during that time and some of it was the prelude to what was coming my way. On my first day in office, I was warned by team members not to ask questions to Rajeev because he gets angry very quickly. I was trying to find out who Rajeev’s manager was when I observed him bending down and sugaring up a lady every time he spoke to her. It struck me instantly. That was Monal. It aroused my interest in observing Rajeev even more. As days went by, I figured out four distinct personalities that Rajeev displays in office. 1) When he is talking to Monal, he behaves literally like her slave 2) When Monal is around, he becomes the most polite and friendly neighborhood guy in office 3) When Monal is not around, he walks with a swagger and shows all his arrogance and high handedness when dealing with people 4) When he is doing team meetings, he is the one who keeps talking all the time and he expects people to laugh at his poor jokes and toe his line. I avoided going for team dinners and even for the marriage of a colleague because there was no way I was going to put up with him. He was in the safe zone because he had glued himself to Monal and she was only happy to make him do her bidding. When she went on holiday, she handed over her responsibilities to him and one day I found him sitting at his desk and scratching his head so I went and casually asked him if there was too much work. He said he is going mad because he has to handle Monal’s work as well in her absence. I asked him if he gets a promotion, wouldn’t he be taking over her responsibilities anyways and he said they only talk about promoting him but it never happens. I figured out the entire picture, what his aspirations were and why he was being the way he was. He was definitely below par at work and his way of going up the corporate ladder is by licking the boots of his managers. One day, I was sitting at my desk when he suddenly started screaming and ranting at someone over the phone. Unable to take it anymore after 10 mins, I walked up to him and asked him what the problem was. He said a team member who was assigned to another project at another office location had come to the office where we were located. He had stepped outside the office for a break and his id card had got disabled somehow. He didn’t know whom to speak to that’s why he had called Rajeev for help. Instead of simply sitting at his desk and abusing him, Rajeev could have had just went out and helped him or he could have had asked anyone in his team to go help the poor guy. I offered to go and help the guy in order to diffuse the situation. Rajeev’s ranting was booming across half the floor and Monal did nothing to stop him.

In between all of this, Rajeev initiated my transfer to another people manager and the system used to send him emails reminders with me in copy to initiate the next step but he used to ignore them. When I asked him about it, he told me to ignore it as well. I realized the reason much later. In IBM, to become a people manager, there was a separate process to take up and then successfully complete certain evaluation programs. I do not know how Rajeev, with such poor people management skills got through the evaluation program. Either the program sucks or the evaluators are terrible or he had sucked up enough to the evaluators. To be a people manager, it seems he needs to have people reporting to him. That’s why he was unwilling to go ahead with my transfer.

Things started materializing just as I had expected. The project that was assigned to me was completely misaligned to my profile but I was focused on learning IBM’s processes. The project was initially in the hands of a manager in Chennai, but after a month and a half, the responsibility was shifted to Rajeev. Till then, Rajeev was my people manager and after taking over the project, he became my functional manager as well. His entire personality flipped from the day he took charge of the project. He became a complete dictator and especially during team meetings, he was unbelievably torturous. The other team members wanted to complain against him immediately after the first team meeting itself, but I held them back because there had to be definite proof against him and he had to be given enough time otherwise the management would take it as a rebellion and stand with him. I got to know that he was trying to outperform the old manager in Chennai and show better numbers than him. Then it struck me that Rajeev himself may be having performance issues which is why he is pushing people so hard to work. His growth depends on how much he can get out of his team and he probably believes in autocratic ways to make people work rather than work collaboratively.

Things went from bad to worse for me in the blink of an eye. How it all unfolded is mentioned in the attached emails, some of which I cannot post because I respect the fact that they contain details internal to IBM. Rajeev deployed the tried and tested torture mechanism at IBM against me. The first step is to manufacture performance issues and extend the probation period. I was only 4 months into the project and usual industry practice is to do performance evaluation after a minimum of 6 months. I had signed up for 6 months of probation and if IBM couldn’t assign me a project for the first two months, they were at fault. Moreover there was nothing to substantiate Rajeev’s claim of performance issues against me, no complaints from clients, no process violations, no behavioral issues, nothing. Once a performance issue is initiated against an employee, his/her HR record and subsequent growth in the organization gets screwed up. Then I would have had no option but to lick Rajeev’s boots for growth in the company. This is how IBM’s managers run their employee slavery system. I was not going to stand down and take any of this, so I took up the issue with Monal and requested her to monitor my performance during the next two months. She quietly shied away from taking any responsibility. I wrote to Hema,  the HR partner informing her of the situation, but I got no response from her. Then I approached the internal case management team and they redirected me to speak to Monal and her manager. I saw any more escalations as a complete waste of time. No matter whom I speak to in IBM, be it with Ginni itself, my feedback would still be taken from my manager.

During this time, I went down with viral fever for two weeks. I was informing Rajeev every day about my status but I ended up being too sick to inform him on the 3rd day. I had a work related meeting with a French colleague that day and I missed it. Instead of checking up on my status and informing her accordingly, Rajeev decided to initiate PIP against me. PIP is performance improvement program that is initiated to help an employee work through his/her shortcomings and for the manager to do a focused evaluation of the employee. PIP is usually initiated after at least a year’s performance evaluation and with the full consent of the employee. In IBM, PIP is Thor’s hammer, use it to break the employee’s psyche and confidence and then throw him/her out of the company. Rajeev called me to office forcefully for a meeting to initiate PIP in spite of me being so sick and after I went back home, he kept on harassing me to accept the PIP he had initiated in the internal system. When I informed him that I had to do blood tests, he started harassing me to send the blood test reports. I accepted the PIP on the portal because I was too tired to fight on it with him, but then I decided, enough is enough. It is clearly mentioned in my job offer letter that the manager reserves the right to terminate the employee at any point in time of employment. If Rajeev could use my sickness as a reason against me in the PIP, he could easily find another reason to terminate me. I resigned from the company and wrote to Ginni with all the grievances.

The next day morning, when I came out of my shower, I saw 3 missed calls and a message from Hema Lakra, the same HR partner who had not even bothered to respond to my email before. I had a meeting with her where I made it very clear that neither will I let them start the PIP program nor will I work with Rajeev and Monal anymore. I wrote to Ginni again to inform her that I do not trust Hema because her callous indifference to my email had played a significant part in escalating the situation to the point where I had to write to the CEO of the company to get a mere HR person’s attention. Then the investigation was transferred to the case management team. Everything was in limbo for a week or so after that, then I was called for a meeting with Hema and Shobha from the case management team. In the meeting, I was told that all fault lay with me which was on expected lines. It was evident from the beginning that Rajeev and Monal would be protected in every possible way. In between, Shobha mentioned that I had produced fake experience information from a previous job. Hema cut her off and immediately diverted from the topic.

A few days back, I learnt from reliable sources at IBM that Rajeev has been telling people about how he, Monal, Hema and Shobha had conspired against me by producing fake work experience charge to justify their actions against me. A friend of mine had warned me that the reasons companies give their employees during their exit from the company will not be the same as what they write and talk about me inside the company. I had requested Ginni to ensure that no one at IBM will malign my name after I leave IBM and I had moved on. Now that Rajeev is openly blotting my credentials, I have no option but to narrate my side of the story to the world. This is not just about me anymore. I have come to know that no one under Rajeev wants to work with him and have either quit IBM or are on the verge of quitting. I am calling out against Rajeev on their behalf as well. The root cause of Rajeev’s arrogance sits squarely on Monal’s shoulders because she has been the one playing his Godmother all along and has been shielding and pampering him. What has gladdened my heart is that Rajeev has been overlooked for that promotion he was so desperate for and someone else has been chosen for it. He needs to pay a lot more as retribution for his sins and I am sure he will, along with everyone else for ruining so many people’s life. All the negative energy that has got created from the curses of people who suffered under them will not go anywhere else. I will be looking at legal options to build a case against everyone who has conspired against me and I am hoping to get the justice I was denied at IBM. The latest update I have is that the project itself is getting scrapped.

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