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IT layoffs at insurance firm are a 'never-ending funeral'

Patrick Thibodeau | June 1, 2016
Workers train replacements as some IT duties shift overseas

The IT layoffs at MassMutual Financial Group will happen over a period of many months, and it's going to be painful for employees.

Employees say they are training overseas workers via Web conferencing sessions. There are contractors in the office as well, some of whom may be working on temporary H-1B visas. Employees say they notice more foreign workers in the hallways.

Approximately 100 employees are affected. They work in IT support and infrastructure, which includes managing operating systems, virtualization, databases and other systems.

The employees are angry but can't show it. A loss of composure, anything other than quiet acquiescence, means risking two weeks of severance pay for each year on the job. But maintaining composure is hard to do.

"I know a few people that are probably close to a breakdown," said one IT employee.

Many employees are over the ages of 40 and 50, and have worked for years at the firm. Some have been rebadged to Cognizant Technology Solutions, a U.S.-based IT services contractor and major user of H-1B visa workers. Most of the layoffs are expected to take place between June and October, say employees, but the company put the entire process at around 18 months.

A second IT employee described the emotional impact of the layoffs on employees in this way: "It's like a never-ending funeral."

Two MassMutual employees were contacted directly by Computerworld. A third was reached through Sara Blackwell, a Florida labor attorney, who began hearing from MassMutual employees before the layoffs were officially announced. None of the employees wanted to be identified by name.

When local Massachusetts media first reported the layoffs in early April, MassMutual didn't disclose the name of the contractor, or explain that some of the work was moving overseas. Employees have had to sign nondisclosure agreements as part of their severance, and were told not to talk to outsiders. These kinds of gag orders have been criticized by lawmakers.

When MassMutual was asked by Computerworld about employee claims that they have to train their replacements, a spokesman said this "is not correct." He declined to elaborate.

Despite the denial, it appears to be going on, only by a different name. The outsourcing industry generally calls the process "knowledge transfer." At MassMutual, the term is "transitioning knowledge," say employees.

The argument for calling this transitioning knowledge, versus training your replacement, is that the contractors know the underlying technology and applications and are not in need of technical training. Instead, employees are passing along specific processes, methods and knowledge unique to the client company. But IT professionals subject to this are adamant about calling it what it is: Training your replacement.


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