World of Warcraft Classic co-lead software engineer Brian Birmingham has claimed he was terminated from Blizzard for protesting a forced employee ranking system.
As first reported by Bloomberg, Birmingham sent an email to his former colleagues saying he was terminated after revealing his intentions to resign instead of deeming certain staff members insufficient to fill a quota. Birmingham said in a Twitter thread (below) that he didn’t share the email himself but “[believes] the quotes are accurate.
The “stack ranking” system asks managers to rank their employees under different labels, with the poorer “developing” status potentially affecting bonus money, raises, and promotions in the near future. Birmingham claimed that Blizzard managers, under parent company Activision Blizzard King (ABK), were forced to place 5% of their employees in this “developing” category.
I wasn’t intending to make this public, but apparently its in the news already, so I’d at least like to set the record straight. I am no longer an employee of Blizzard Entertainment, though I would return if allowed to, so that I could fight the stack-ranking policy from inside.
– Brian Birmingham💙 (@BrianBirming) January 24, 2023
Birmingham said he refused to drop some staff from a “successful” category to “developing” in order to hit this quota, and also refused to work until the policy had been revoked. According to his email, Birmingham was later terminated after speaking with HR.
“This sort of policy encourages competition among employees, sabotage of one another’s work, a desire for people to find low-performing teams that they can be the best-performing worker on, and ultimately erodes trust and destroys creativity,” Birmingham wrote in the email.”
He added: “If this policy can be reversed, perhaps my Blizzard can still be saved, and if so I would love to continue working there,” “If this policy cannot be reversed, then the Blizzard Entertainment I want to work for doesn’t.” I don’t exist anymore, and I’ll have to find somewhere else to work.”
A Blizzard spokesperson told Bloomberg that the stack ranking system was in place to “ensure employees who don’t meet performance expectations receive more honest feedback, differentiated compensation, and a plan on how best to improve their own performance.” They also said it’s “excellence in performance”.
Birmingham later said on Twitter that he would return to Blizzard if he could, to “fight the stack ranking policy from inside”. He said this had only become an issue now because managers had protested and avoided using it in the past, and Birmingham “truly believed we had reversed the ‘developing’ quota policy.”
He continued: “The realization that there’s still a minimum quota for ‘developing,’ despite our objections and sternly worded letters leads me to believe I was operating under an illusion. I hope Blizzard’s positive culture can overcome ABK’s poison, but it isn’t succeeding in doing that yet.”
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