Microsoft Is Filled With Abusive Managers And Overworked Employees, Says Tell-All Book

Steve BallmerSteve Ballmer

Photo: Flickr/Wired Photostream

Over the last few years, Microsoft has gained a reputation as a rough place to work.Ex-employees have publicly complained that the company is political and bureaucratic.

Now a tell-all book published earlier this year depicts Microsoft as downright soul-crushing. 

“Stack Rank This! Memoirs of a Microsoft Couple”  was written by two married, ex-employees who left the company around 2008 and felt compelled to warn others about the Microsoft culture. They identify themselves only as Jason and Melissa.

While it’s true that their stories are just the thoughts of two ex-employees, many of their complaints are still lobbed at Microsoft via employee reviews on Glassdoor and in our research when talking to former employees

We’ve read the book and skimmed out the most outrageous stories.

Stack Ranking: A brutal way to review employees

Stack Ranking is the name for the employee review process that Microsoft used when the authors worked there. It ranks employees compared to other employees. Even if everyone in the team performs great only a few people could be labelled top performers.

Rank determined salary, bonus, and stock awards.

The review model has been revised but is still awful, says a reviewer on Glassdoor in March. 'Due to recent changes in the review model, Microsoft is a less desirable place to work ... The environment has become more cut throat and a higher stress workplace. Employees are constantly worried about being giving a low review score without much control over it.'

Lesson for Microsoft employees: Your co-workers are always your competition.

The myth of the fabulous stock

One author was offered $27,000 worth of options when she took the job which would vest over five years. Sounds like a lot but it wasn't. 'The stock did very little over the last decade but it was sold as a nest-egg of sorts that would bring fortune if kept long enough. ... But when I left Microsoft and sold the stock that was not under water, I received just over $2,000 dollars,' she wrote.

Today, the company uses stock awards, the book says. So Microsoft gives employees the stock outright, which they own after five years. But an annual review might include only 50 shares. 'At $25 a share, that's $250 ... a year. Not much of an incentive for working 14 hour days,' they say.

Lesson: There are easier ways to earn $250, like selling stuff on eBay.

Microsoft managers find ways to label employees

'My whole department was sent to a mandatory training where we were assigned different colours based on the results of a personality quiz,' the author named Jason writes.

The manager then drew up a poster with employee names and colours and posted it in the hallway. The manager used the unscientific personality test to create teams and assign roles and project leaders.

Lesson: How would you like your work to be based on a personality test instead of your accomplishments?

Managers pick scapegoats and treat those employees abusively

Bosses at Microsoft thought nothing of screaming at employees and blaming them for everything, whether it was their fault or not, the authors contend.

This seems to be in Microsoft's DNA. Bill Gates yelling at employees was the stuff of legend at Microsoft.

CEO heir apparent Steven Sinofsky, president of the all-important Windows division, has been described as stubborn, secretive, dictatorial. People we spoke to for an article on him 'claim Sinofsky's influence and personality drove them out of the company. Another former employee called him a 'cancer.' Others used much ruder words than that.'

Lesson: Corporate culture starts at the top and Microsoft's bigwigs are known to be harsh.

Living in The Bubble

The Microsoft Redmond Campus is like its own little city with every convenience right there. 'Whether intentional or not, the conveniences led to a culture or mindset where you were basically at work 24/7,' the authors say.

This leads to 'The Bubble' which is when Microsoft employees only associate with other Microsoft employees. 'If you're in The Bubble it just becomes easier, more convenient, to be around others in The Bubble.'

Everyone works crazy hours and has managers that yell at them and thinks that's normal, they write.

Lesson: The Bubble prevents people from being in touch with the bigger world.

Beer parties on the late shift

Jason worked at the global network operations centre, which controls Microsoft's network.

Babysitting the network was dull work for some of the long time employees so 'the night shift would often bring cases of beer to work and spend the night drinking and watching movies and TV. ... I entered the break room on my way out after working a swing shift one night and I stepped squarely into an unusually large pool of vomit. It was hard to believe that this behaviour was going on at Microsoft.'

Lesson: If frat house living is for you, maybe the night shift at the GNOC is a perfect job.

Microsoft execs sometimes commute in helicopters

Many Microsoft employees are intoxicated by the wealth that surrounds them, the authors say. This is true even though the rank-and-file employees aren't the ones getting filthy rich.

Right across from the street from Microsoft's soccer fields on the main campus is a helipad where execs commute to work in their helicopters.

Lesson: There is fabulous wealth at Microsoft for the top leaders and some use it on fabulous toys.

Steve Ballmer is treated like a God but not trusted like one

'It was the norm to look up to Steve Ballmer as a man of power because of his position and his money. Somehow it felt that most people that worked at Microsoft believed that they too would someday be a rich powerful person like Ballmer.'

Employees cheer for him at public meetings like he was a rock star, the authors tell. But on Glassdoor, they aren't so fond. He only has a 45% approval rating.

Lesson: Fabulous wealth doesn't make Ballmer an awesome leader.

If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere

After all that whining, the authors do end on a positive note about their years at Redmond. 'Microsoft helped us to see how capable we really are. We learned how to face our fears and to move through them rather than running away.'

Lesson: Tough jobs never last but tough employees do.

Still, before saying yes to an offer from Microsoft, we suggest you meet a few of your teammates and make sure you aren't signing up for hell.

This is the next big thing Microsoft is working on

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