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Which Work Environment Do You Prefer?

Updated on March 14, 2018
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Jack is a volunteer at the CCNY Archives. Before retiring, he worked at IBM for over 28 years. As of 2/2020, Jack has over 100,000 views.


I was very fortunate to work at an International Corporation where the people were respected and treated well and paid well. I had a long career and a successful one where I contributed to some significant projects and earned recognitions and awards. That is not always the case in most work environment. I am writing to describe two scenarios. Guess which one you prefer and also guess which company I am writing about.

- Mar. 2018


I decided to describe my experience in general terms and use some artistic license to change the story so as to reflect the general work environment and not necessarily exactly as it happened with me. I want to give people a flavor of what a working environment was like and contrast it with another environment.

The first environment is where the people were treated with respect. We were professionals and well educated. We were part of a small team of people with a manager who was there to support us and help us. We had a secretary who would assist with many of the bureaucratic functions. We had excellent benefits in terms of healthcare, vacation days, sick leave, pensions and 401K programs. Within our group, there were people with expertise in certain areas, and we work together and assist each other to achieve our project goals. We have a budget to buy equipment that we needed and we were given access to stationeries that help us do our tasks. We were also provided computers and phones and all the equipment necessary to communicate with out colleagues. We had a travel budget that allowed us to meet our collegues in various locations and our expenses were all covered. We work well together as a team because we complement each other in our skill sets. We occasionally goes out for lunch as a group to celebrate special occasions. We were colleagues but we were also friends. Some of us socialize frequently outside of work.

When it comes to compensation, we were told from the start that we will be paid based on our performance. There is an annual appraisal by the manager of our performance. There is a simple rating system from 1-5. One being the best and five was unsatisfactory. Your annual raise will be based on that appraisal number along with how well the company performed that year overall. It was a good and fair system. Everyone kept their salary private and no one knows how much the other person makes. Only the manager knows and he is also paid on a scale based on his overall performance which included how well his people did. The motivation is in place for people to excel and thereby having the confidence that they will be rewarded financially. Every so often, a promotion is in order and the person is recognized in a group meeting and that person will get a bump in salary. It also implies a higher expectation of responsibility and work. There is also an annual award across the whole company where some exceptional employee were recognized for their outstanding contribution that year. Beside monetary award, there is also a plaque and a small jewelry as a memento. These events allow people to celebrate their achievements and receive recognition from their peers. All is part of the reward structure based on performance.

Another aspect is personal development. Once a year, the employee meets with his manager and they discuss a plan to help the employee improve their skills. It may be attending a class, or participate in a conference, or writing a technical paper or just hone an existing skill. It may be improve ones public speaking skills, or brush up on technical skills or even time management. The point is there is an active plan to help each employee reach their highest potential. This way, the employee benefits but ultimately, the company benefits from having a better employee.

An employee that worked for 25 years are inducted into a special club called the quarter century club. It is an honor and a luncheon is given and colleagues invited to attend and offer their congratulations. It was a big deal.

The Other Work Environment...

In this case, the employee is treated as a cog in a wheel. They are hired to do a job. When the time comes, they are let go or laid off. They are to follow a strict set of rules. Time off must be requested and scheduled ahead of time. There is little team work. Everyone is on pins and needles and watching their back. Information is not shared among the team unless absolutely necessary. There is no department secretary and everyone handles their own affairs no matter how mundane. Some of the basic necessities are hard to come by like stationeries. The stock room is non existent. In order to order a box of pencils, a supervisor signiture is required to sign off.

People were allowed to work from home, Teamwork is almost non-existent. Tech support is outsourced to a foreign country.

A traditional pension is converted and merged to a 401K plan. Compensation is capped and annual raises are low and not tied to performance. In fact, the appraisal system are in-place to justify a low raise. Your performance are down graded to meet a certain preset quota.

Morale is low among the workers. The supervisors are told to keep their mouth shut and keep any information related to the company secret. The workers are left guessing when the next cut will take place. When a layoff does take place, the people remaining are expected to pick up the slack.

The stress working in such an environment day in day out takes a toll. People are less likely to take a chance or innovate. Group meetings are few and when they do occur are long and tedious and nothing gets accomplished. Decisions are made by a committee so that no one can be blamed.

There is strict restrictions on travel and attending conferences. This has the effect of reducing exposure to outside and new developments. Interactions with external colleagues are at a minimum.

Recognition is also not high on the agenda. When a person does a good job, it is not acknowledged by management.


I guess there is no contest. Everyone would prefer the first. Here is the shocking truth. What I described are actual work environment in the same company. One that is separated by time. The first was what working at IBM was like prior to the year 2000. The second is what is going on since and getting worse. The morale at IBM is low and the conditions are poor. Why is that? What changed? You have to wonder...

© 2018 Jack Lee


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