How does your company evaluate employees?
Is the system fair, or are there workers who don’t
perform well yet keep their jobs because they excel at
sucking up to the boss?
Microsoft has about 92,000
employees worldwide, minus one married couple who worked
for the company for about six years each before the
evaluation system known as “Stack Ranking” destroyed them,
“It was hard to get out of the darkness and see
clearly,” Melissa says.
“We experienced burnout at a level we didn’t think was
possible,” says Jason. “It feels like you’re not
Microsoft burnout is nothing new. The endless work days
some employees put in so they can get ahead at the company
is almost legendary.
An August “Vanity Fair”
article, examining Microsoft’s failures over the past
decade, concludes the company’s employee evaluation system
contributes to worker burnout and stress, and “effectively
crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate.”
Stack Ranking is like “grading on a curve” in school,
where there is a pre-determined distribution of grades
among the students in a class.
Under this system, in a group of 10 employees one is
rated outstanding, one or two are at the bottom of the
ranking, and the rest are in muddled in the middle.
Jason says stack ranking isn’t entirely objective. It’s
based on judgments such as “how much your manager likes
you, or how much visibility you have beyond your immediate
It’s a popularity contest.
Jason and Melissa both worked in Microsoft IT and tell
me they performed well. Jason says he was promoted every
year for the almost 7 years he was there. Melissa received
the top review one year after working 12 hour days and
taking on extra projects.
“I really did put a lot into my work at Microsoft and
it was important to me. You feel like you put so much into
your work and end up wondering why it’s not being valued,”
In 2005, Melissa says she was diagnosed with Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder brought on by the “hostile”
Microsoft workplace and lack of support from managers.
“I just couldn’t think. It was hard to make decisions,”
Melissa says, describing her PTSD symptoms. “I was very
emotional. On the ride home from work every night, I would
just cry all the way.”
She kept working for the company two years after being
diagnosed with PTSD, and then resigned. She says her
condition has improved after being on medication for a
year to treat her anxiety.
“I could survive there. I could do well. I finally
learned the game, but I decided I didn’t want to
participate anymore. It wasn’t for me,” she says.
In 2009, one year after complaining to Human Resources
about his manager, Jason was laid off.
“It feels like it took away a dream,” he says. “I
believed I could do something big at Microsoft. When a new
manager comes in, all of your great accomplishments can be
wiped clean and you have to start all over again.”
Jason and Melissa didn’t want me to use their last
names for this story, but they did attach their Microsoft
badge numbers to a book they published this year to help
other employees cope with the company’s evaluation system.
It’s called “Stack Rank This!
Memoirs of a Microsoft Couple.”
Microsoft hasn’t commented to the couple about the
book. They also won’t comment to me about the couple’s
claims, but they defend stack ranking.
“Our performance review system is designed to measure
employees’ relative performance across the company using
consistent criteria, improve manager accountability, and
provide the highest rewards to employees who have the
highest impact on our business success,” a spokesperson
says. “We take employee concerns seriously and work
continually to update and improve our performance review
Many other corporations use a similar employee
General Electric, Pepsi, Intel and about one third of
Fortune 500 organizations use some form of stack ranking,
also called profiling, to weed out low-performing
Managers say the most beneficial part of stack ranking
is identifying the high performers so they can take
proactive steps to prevent them from leaving or being
By LINDA THOMAS
Microsoft photo of entrance to Building 99 on the
Microsoft Redmond Campus