IBM SVP weighs in on Great Resignation, desire for flexibility, which employees tend to be promoted
While major employers in the United States, especially in the technology industry, have announced layoffs and hiring freezes ahead of an anticipated recession, IBM plans to stay the course.
“We’re always selective with our hiring and we’re constantly scanning the marketplace,” Obed Louissaint, senior vice president of transformation and culture at IBM, told HRD. “We’re continuing to hire, and we’ll continue to monitor and pivot if circumstances require it. We’re continuing to build out and invest in critical skills our clients are needing. In our industry, areas around cloud, AI and security continue to be in high demand.”
That’s reassuring news for workers, considering that more than 450 startups and tech firms have laid off more than 75,000 people in 2022, according to professional social network Blind’s tech layoffs tracker. In just the last month alone, more than 20,000 jobs were cut. Additionally, tech giants Apple and Google have prepared to slow down hiring efforts into 2023.
But IBM has always carved its own path. For example, the Armonk, NY-based company doesn’t use the term “Great Resignation,” at least internally. Of course, that doesn’t mean the tech giant isn’t aware of the nationwide talent shortage and the highly competitive labor market that’s resulted.
“This is a time to ensure we re-engage our population,” Louissaint says. “By nature of my title, my goal is to continue to transform and pivot our company toward being more growth-minded, transforming it directly through leadership: leadership development, getting people in the right jobs and ensuring we have the right succession plans.”
Like many companies since the COVID-19 pandemic, IBM has relied upon its business resource groups – its label for employee resource groups (ERGs) – to maintain and even boost retention. Traditionally, ERGs consist of employees who volunteer their time and effort to foster an inclusive workplace. Due to their motivations, needs and the general nature of ERG work, employees who lead these groups are more likely to be Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and oftentimes women. ERGs are a way for underrepresented groups to band together to recruit more talent like them into their companies and make sure that talent feels supported and gets promoted.
“It’s a lot easier to leave a company where you’ve only interacted with colleagues through a screen,” Louissaint says. “Our diversity groups and communities have gotten a lot stronger, which builds commitment to the company and community to each other. We’ve found that through our communities, business resource groups, open conversations and by democratizing leadership by using virtual technologies like Slack, the company has become smaller and the interactions are a lot more personal.”
A major contributor to the Great Resignation has been the push for workers to return to the office. While Apple and Google have ruffled feathers with requesting employees back for at least a couple days a week, Tesla went one step further by demanding employees head to the office five days a week, as if the COVID-19 pandemic never happened.
Ahead of the game, IBM was one of the first major tech firms to embrace remote work, with as much as 40% of its workforce at home during the 2000s. A shift came in 2017, but since the pandemic, only 20% of the company’s U.S. employees are in the office for three days a week or more, according to IBM CEO Arvind Krishna. In June, Krishna added that he doesn’t think the balance will ever get back to more than 60% of workers in the office.
“We’ve always been defined by flexibility, even prior to the pandemic that’s what we were known for and what differentiated us,” Louissaint says. “Continuing to double down on flexibility has been a value to us and to our people.”
IBM has also been defined by its eye toward the future, particularly when it comes to workforce development. Over the past decade, the tech giant has partnered with educational institutions, non-governmental organizations and other companies to discover and nurture talent from untapped pools and alternative channels. Last year, the company vowed to train 30 million individuals on technical skills by 2030.
“Our people crave learning and are highly curious,” Louissaint says, adding that the average IBM employee consumes about 88 hours of learning through its platform each year. Nearly all (95%) employees are on the platform in any given quarter.
“We’ve been building a strong learning environment where employees can build new skills and drive toward new jobs and experiences,” he says. “We also find that the individuals who consume the most learning are more likely to get promoted. It’s 30% more likely for a super learner to be promoted or switch jobs, so the incentive is continued growth and opportunity for advancement.”