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Linda Thomas

Woman claims Microsoft caused her PTSD

Listen to Woman claims Microsoft caused her PTSD

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?

MSFTMicrosoft 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, they say.

"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 yourself."

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 team."

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," Melissa says.

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 system."

Many other corporations use a similar employee evaluation system.

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 employees.

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 recruited elsewhere.

By LINDA THOMAS

Microsoft photo of entrance to Building 99 on the Microsoft Redmond Campus

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About Linda
Linda is the morning news anchor and features reporter for KIRO Radio. This is her local news blog, with an emphasis on social media, technology, Northwest companies, education, parenting, and anything else that grabs her attention.

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