Notes from a foreign country (the past)

In 1981, when I left ICL to join IBM, I moved from a company that paid in arrears to one that (for reasons based [I was told, though whether truthfully, I have no way of knowing] on a method of dodging some of the UK's then-recent pay restraint 'guidelines') had changed to paying in advance. Two other notable differences were that I dropped from 30 days leave to 20, and from three month's notice to one month's notice.1 Despite this, IBM seemed to me a more likely long-term haven in the chaos that was UK industry and society as Thatcher's grip tightened.

Good ol' IBM permitted you to bank up to five days of unused leave per year, for consumption in later years. By 1986, therefore, I'd managed to accumulate 22.5 days in the bank, quietly building up my own little salary buffer. Then IBM decided that banked leave represented too high a future potential cost (rather cheeky, given that it was voluntarily deferred salary, I felt). As I mentioned to Carol:

The Corporation is trying to wheedle me out of my banked leave by offering to buy saved days from me at the rate of one day's cash for each day of banked leave.

Date: 23 December 1986

I declined the offer. Fast forward to mid-1989, and confirmation of the corridor talk about the removal of our facility to bank vacation. Being cooked up by an IBM committee, the terms and conditions were unusually complex, being a judicious mixture of the baroque and the Procrustean:

You get a day's pay for each day's banked leave; or you convert pairs of days of your banked leave, getting 1.3 times the money for the leave you cash in and taking one day of each pair as leave. You leave it all in the bank, taking it as leave from time to time as you wish, but with it remaining at the November 1991 salary value in years to come, should you ever leave IBM.

Date: 21 June 1989

Whatever option you chose, nobody could bank any more leave and any leave sold back to the company was converted at the November 1988 salary level. Providing you did get rid of your banked leave, you would then be able to borrow up to 15 days leave from your next year's entitlement for longer holidays, given sufficient notice of your intentions to the gran fromages.

I chose "option 'b', take 1.3x the money and run" on the 29th of June. On the very day, indeed, that this little item appeared in the Financial Times under the heading "IBM attempts to spread worker age distribution":

IBM is modifying its philosophy of guaranteeing employment for
life to all its staff in an attempt to even out a bulge in the
age profile among those aged between 40 and 50. IBM is introducing
more flexible work contracts for graduate trainees in Britain
and is encouraging staff over the age of 53 to retire early with
the opportunity to return to work at IBM part-time.

IBM, which has traditionally guaranteed employment to all workers
provided they are willing to be mobile and re-train in new skills,
is now recruiting a proportion of graduates on four-year fixed
contracts. It has encouraged about 400 older employees to retire
early in the past five years, some on increased severance terms.
It now plans to offer the change from full-time to part-time work.
About 32 per cent of IBM's 18,000 UK employees are now aged between
40 and 50 because of rapid expansion in the 1960s. The skew in its
age profile means only about 30 employees retire at the age of 63
each year.

Sir Len Peach, IBM UK personnel director, said the company faced
a temporary problem in its 'age bulge' in the middle. It was trying
to balance the age profile by encouraging some older staff to retire
from management positions.

The company would continue to offer long-term employment to between
75 and 400 graduates a year and was sticking to its 'full employment'
policy for the bulk of staff. Any retirements after 53 would
be strictly voluntary. Sir Len said IBM faced the difficulty
that some older and more senior employees were unwilling to move
to jobs at a lower position in the company. IBM wanted to ensure
that it could offer younger people attractive careers. The company
has only about 400 part-time workers at the moment, about half of
whom are women on a career break scheme introduced in 1984.

The average age of IBM UK employees is 38, a figure which has been
climbing gradually.

Guess how old I was in 1989? I don't wonder why I don't miss work :-)


1  You might not unreasonably ask "so why did you move?" It certainly wasn't for the salary! But ICL was a union-dominated slow-motion train wreck waiting to happen that had just put everyone in the Worldwide Marketing Group (my little niche at the time) on 90 day's notice of impending redundancy timed for Christmas 1980 and I had a mortgage, a 9-month old son, and a wife who (we'd agreed) would be a stay-at-home Mum for his first few years.