February 17, 2022
Photo: Alvarez/Getty Images
Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. Today: IBM’s age-discrimination case, pay cuts versus raise caps, and employees’ comfort with returning to the office.—Amber Burton, reporter (email | twitter)
IBM got a lot of heat this week for an old, newly revealed email that called older workers “dinobabies” and talked about removing them from the workforce. But that “dinobabies” comment was just one line in a complicated and revealing legal filing that detailed how, over the last decade, IBM was desperate to shed its stodgy reputation and find a way to build a millennial workforce. While building a younger workforce might seem logical for a venerable tech giant struggling to keep up with its mighty cloud competitors, its efforts to do that have gotten it into some hot legal waters.
Employment discrimination on the basis of age is, of course, illegal. If you think younger workers are better for your tech company and you want to favor or adjust for a younger workforce, you have to do it in a way that does not explicitly discriminate against your current worker population or future applicants.
An executive calling older workers “dinobabies” in an email seems a little silly on the face of it. What exactly is a dinobaby? A dinosaur? Or a baby? Regardless, lawyers used the phrase as evidence in court filings this week in a years-long fight over whether IBM has tried to revamp its workforce in a way that violates labor laws. If you haven’t been following along over the last 10 years or so, here’s where things sit with IBM today.
In addition to the now infamous “dinobabies” comment, the filings this week included quotes from what Liss-Riordan described as corporate planning documents, including: “A new focus on Early Professional Hires supports the future talent system to rebuild, rejuvenate, and gain momentum” and “A case for change: IBM’s emphasis on experienced level hiring is out of step with competitors resulting in higher costs and a weaker pipeline for future leaders.”
IBM adamantly denies all allegations of age discrimination. The company’s CHRO, Nickle LaMoreaux, said in an email on Monday that between 2010 and 2020, 37% of U.S. hires were over 40 years old, and that the median age of its workforce was 48 years old both in 2010 and 2020. “I also want to emphasize that disrespectful language is not who we are,” she also wrote.
Pay cuts for employees who decide to move to more affordable cities have become common among the tech giants. But the less talked-about alternative is a raise cap for employees who choose to relocate. (It turns out geo-neutral pay is expensive. Who knew?). Instead of docking pay on the front end, several execs told Protocol they are limiting employees' pay increases down the line if they move to a cheaper market. It’s not about discouraging employees from moving, but rather a way for the company to balance out its new compensation structures and variables. “Employees know not to expect really big increases for a bit until the [compensation] bands are more caught up with where they are. But we’re not cutting their salaries as they go, so people feel more supported if they need to move,” Nikki Salenetri, VP of People at Gympass, told my colleague Allison Levitsky.
The concept of flex work isn’t new, but its widespread adoption is. Flex work helps all of us find some semblance of control in the middle of an uncontrollable pandemic. Giving options makes people happier and less stressed. This leads to a greater desire to participate, which helps us build our communities and culture.
How can we attain deep, uninterrupted work when our days are filled with constantly competing priorities? Email, Slack messages, Zoom calls: All request our attention. I talked with Superhuman CEO Rahul Vohra about how he manages his time and finds his focus. The goal is “flow,” Vohra’s preferred term for absorbing, focused work. It’s one of his favorite topics, so we could have talked for hours. But I narrowed his tips — which include logging your tasks throughout the day, staggering your team’s calendars and harnessing active procrastination — down into one story.— Lizzy Lawrence, reporter (email| twitter)
Morning Consult released an update to its report that tracks the “return to normal” at work. The verdict: People are feeling a little more comfortable with returning to the physical office. The company has primarily focused on tracking the sentiments of U.S. employees who once worked in an office and now work remotely. Here’s what you need to know:
San Francisco introduced legislation that would set an 18-month moratorium on new delivery facilities, prohibiting Amazon and others from opening new centers.
Lattice CEO Jack Altman’s thoughts on the VC world’s massive interest in people-management tech and the future of the space.
Airbnb thinks the “work-cation” is here to stay.
TikTok is wooing content moderators from its competitors to help monitor the platform.
A roundup of workplace news from the farthest corners of the internet.
One good read, or listen: Have we entered the age of anti-ambition?
Recent data reveals U.S. tech salaries now average $104,566.
Despite the job seeker’s market, candidates from underrepresented backgrounds say they doubt they have the same leverage as their peers.
Can we really expect robots to solve staffing issues? One restaurant gave it a try.
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great day, see you Sunday.