Microsoft Struggles to Improve Worker Morale

The company offers a new perk plan to combat employee dissatisfaction, though some argue that it doesn't address the real issues.

Microsoft has been taking action to improve its reportedly low employee morale, unveiling a series of new perks as part of a program dubbed "MyMicrosoft" at an all-employee meeting May 18. This comes on the heels of a Reuters report that 1,000 Microsoft contract workers were forced to take a week off without pay.

MyMicrosoft will include a range of incentives focused on an improved work atmosphere, including a management development training program, increased investment in the staff share plan, and a career model framework for all employees.

The MyMicrosoft initiative will include changes to the performance management system, doing away with the unpopular bell curve method for ranking employee evaluations.

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While reactions to the changes detailed in the meeting were chiefly positive, many concerns were still not addressed, such as whether the program would include base-pay adjustments, cost of living increases or doing away with stacked rankings.

"Compensation: Dismal. NO mention of raising a COLA bar or of increasing our 65th percentile. This has got to be hard on recruiting. We are just NOT competitive in base pay," wrote an anonymous commenter on Mini-Microsoft, a blog that has become a public forum for Microsoft employee grievances, in reference to arguments that Microsofts base pay is rumored to fall at 65 percent of the markets value.

Others said they felt that a sense of accountability was missing from the meeting.

"It still doesnt change the fundamental fact that the real problem continues to remain: A bloated, ineffective, self-serving rank of senior and executive managers who cant make good decisions quickly enough and who perpetuate a bureaucracy that makes it absolutely untenable for the next generation of leaders to thrive," wrote another anonymous Mini-Microsoft commenter.

MyMicrosoft includes a set of lifestyle perks, including grocery delivery, on-site access to laundry and dry cleaning services, and the return of the much-discussed towel service at the gym.

Yet, it was never just about the towels.

"Its not like were sweaty work-out animals always in need of a shower and a fresh towel. No. What riled us was the bone-headed way the towel cut-back was handled, explained, and justified. It truly made us wonder just who are these people in charge and just who do they think they are leading. The towels became the symbol of poor leadership," wrote the anonymous Microsoft employee who maintains the Mini-Microsoft blog.

Robert Scoble, a Microsoft technical evangelist, and several other Microsoft employees on their personal blogs have directly applauded the Mini-Microsoft blog for bringing causes of employee dissatisfaction into the limelight.

"These changes are due in no small part to you. Even if you dont get official props in the press releases," Scoble wrote.

A report released in March 2006 by WashTech (Washington Alliance of Technology Workers), a Redmond, Wash., technology labor union affiliated with the CWA (Communications Workers of America), exposed a range of complaints by Microsoft programmers about the companys performance review system, from managements apparent use of a bell curve grading system for raises to complaints of a "well-entrenched culture of favoritism."

WashTech president Marcus Courtney said it is too soon to tell what kind of impact the MyMicrosoft plan will have.

"The proof is going to be in the pudding at the end of the year. They can make labeling changes to their compensation program, but unless employees see increases in their pay at the end of the year, all of this talk is irrelevant. Theyre making what could ultimately be just window-dressing changes," Courtney told eWEEK.

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