The Exit Interview (Don’t #TellDell)

This extra-long blog is an opinion piece formed via a compilation of thoughts collected from a variety of current and former Dell employees. 

Perhaps the most telling piece of the current culture at Dell is the lack of employee input at the time of their exit. Of course, that’s not true. The most telling piece starts well before that exit point, with the company’s lack of interest in the basic needs of a dwindling, uber-talented workforce. This is a blog that I started to write dozens of times while still working at Dell (knowing that I could never hit “post”) and another dozen times after I was laid off (though postponed endlessly for fear of retaliation).

From my point of view, Dell has been on an internal downward spiral for years though it had mostly managed to keep it well-hidden through Fight Club-esque guidelines that silenced squeaky wheels. 

The first rule of Dell’s downfall is to not talk about Dell’s downfall.

So why finally hit that post button? 

I have passed the severance package finish line which I presume means I can stuff away fears of retraction. You see, that package came with several poorly veiled warnings that any negativity towards my former company could be met with the retrieval of any funds dispersed as a parting gift. I was also guided not to speak to any of my teammates/friends, the very people who had been walking this awkward path with me.*

Dell continued its cadence of laying off 5% of its workforce once per quarter this week and, my goodness, the anxiety level in our home spiked, ironic as we have no more Dell employees in our home. We have joked about Post Traumatic Dell Syndrome but perhaps it is not a joke at all, based on our reactions as we learned, again, of former colleagues receiving their pinkslips. 

I was dismissed in February’s first round of Dell’s 2023 Workforce Reduction Fiesta. My husband voluntarily resigned in May – a culmination of his disgust at Dell’s treatment of its laid-off employees (and especially the one he’s married to). The rumor, at the time of my dismissal, was that this 5% cadence would continue until Dell found a sufficient profit level. 

While I really can’t speculate on how far from the green Dell sits, I can confirm its post-pandemic corporate coupon clipping. Working at Dell means constant objections to requested necessities. It means doubling or tripling workloads in the interest of cost-savings with a hint of “You should be grateful for the opportunity.” 

Even today, much of Dell’s sales force barters via Zoom while virtually all of its competitors are sitting among their customers. Imagine knowing your chance of closing a deal is handicapped from the start because your company fell in love with a lack of travel expenses during a global crisis that has now past.  

Dell did quite well during the pandemic. Computer sales were off the charts. Dell’s teams worked 75 hours a day to get endless companies/schools/organizations working virtually in record time. In my home, the whiteboard was on fire as systems were mapped out that would then be filtered to agencies across the country. 

Those who work at Dell have learned that silence is golden. 

While employee discontent blankets the company’s org chart, those loyal solution seekers are not welcome. As Dell entered its Layoff Era, mixed messages ran rampant. It wasn’t that employees didn’t believe the pandemic affected Dell’s bottom line, it was that each round of layoffs was (and still is) immediately followed with a company-wide toast to its massive revenue achievements in the previous quarter. At least the marketing team finally learned to hold onto that message until after those let go had their emails locked out. 

Working at Dell has come to mean not wondering if you’ll be let go, but when.

When it comes, it will feel way too clinical. I foolishly expected more than a mere ten-second blurb from a manager/mentor/friend that I’d known for over a decade. I expected more than two minutes from a stranger assigned to me to deliver the axe with a five-word summary of my value to the company. Thank you for your service. I certainly did not expect the “or else” that came last, a stern reminder of the first rule of Fight Club. 

The irony? I likely would have never thought to share my opinions of Dell if not for that stern warning.

The most telling piece of the current culture at Dell is not the lack of employee input at the time of their exit. The most telling piece starts well before that exit point, in the company’s lack of interest in the basic needs of its dwindling, uber-talented workforce. 

I suppose it was understandable, in my case, for human resources to pass on my request for an exit interview as I was just one of 6,000 employees let go in February (a number that Dell deemed too high as the media caught wind). I really had only good intentions in the ask – I wanted to protect those colleagues/friends that I was leaving behind. Wait, is that Stockholm Syndrome? I realize now how naive that was. That my input would be welcome rather than left on the table with my employee badge. 

My husband’s departure was sparked as he witnessed the way the company treated its Dell Alumni (no really, that’s our official name). His front-row seat quickly pushed him into the ranks of the disgruntled. He listened along as I was told not to contact any of my colleagues, many of whom I had relationships with outside of the workplace. He read the documents that listed the assets that Dell demanded returned prior to the release of my severance package ($1000 worth of equipment in exchange for twenty weeks of pay). 

He watched me check our bank account obsessively, wondering when the funds would hit, for the entire month that that package was held hostage. The thought crossed both of our minds that we would never actually see the package for, good grief, there were so many ways to lose it according to the very blurry warnings. And hadn’t I written about Dell before? Had they found that out post-dismissal? Anxiety became my go-to emotion. I transferred that anxiety to the rest of those new Dell Alumni. We were fortunate and could wait for the arrival of the package, but what about the rest of those 6,000 people? Surely at least half were put into financial jeopardy. 

Thank you for your service.

What could have been handled with kindness and empathy was handled as if those released had nothing better to do than initiate some sort of cyber attack on Dell. For goodness sake, all Dell had to do was dig into a decade’s worth of IT tickets to learn that just turning on my computer was sometimes a challenge. I have less technical savvy than my three-legged cat. 

It took very little digging to discover that this practice was both unethical and frowned upon by labor laws. 

When my husband resigned, it was a bit of a bigger deal for Dell as lived much further up the org chart than I did. Surely, he would be granted that elusive exit interview, right? 

Well, no, obviously. No surprise about that. 

By then, we had had plenty of time to unpack Dell’s lack of interest in anything but accolades. I suppose that is just Dell. Five years ago, Dell acquired EMC – the company that my husband and I worked for – with promises of a terrific work-life driven by the enthusiasm of the great Michael Dell himself. Statements flew around touting how EMC’s culture will inject a breath of fresh air into Dell’s and Any changes will include input from the EMC teams. While encouraging, we knew such promises often have expiration dates. 

Today, those acquired are still called Legacy-EMC’ers. We are loyal though we still haven’t graduated to being referred to simply as Dell employees. Those who remain face each day at a low level of panic, desperate to know when they will be led to the exit ramp. Many have accepted their fate, now just waiting patiently for their own severance package. As they hang on, they are tasked with absorbing the workload, a reward for making it to the next round. Many are plagued with a frantic feeling of having to get all that additional work done without complaint, or else. 

This is how you kill a company from the inside out. 

Those who have left Dell eventually enter their wagers on “What is Dell doing?” Is there a reason for this dismantling? Is this some long setup for Michael Dell’s ride into the retirement sunset? Surely, this man knows about the endless dismissals, but does he know how his beloved Dell family is treated on its way out? Isn’t his whole schtick Play Nice But Win**?

Each year at this time, employees are highly encouraged to fill out their Tell Dell survey. It is a chance to anonymously report thoughts on the internal culture, except it isn’t anonymous at all. Feedback should only include positive thoughts and certainly not diminish Dell’s RPS score. Tell Dell may have been born to improve employee satisfaction but quickly became a fishing expedition for great press release content. Tell Dell is a collection point for blurbs about what an amazing company that Dell employees are so very blessed to work for. 

Dell’s cadence of layoffs has become quite literally the only thing its employees can count on. Pick any Monday and the chance that the Dell Alumni population will grow is just short of guaranteed. Those of us who have already been directed to the exit ramp are still very much a part of the team, serving as counsel to those let go in more recent rounds. 

No, no need to stalk your email for your separation paperwork. That “within 48 hours” blurb did not reference the hours since your separation meeting, it referenced the hours from your official last day. But you still won’t get it until that actual 48th hour. Oh, and no rush on returning it. It won’t count as “returned” until day five. You see, I think there is some sort of cadence to the process that enables that pile of cash set aside for the latest 5% to be thrown into a high-yield interest account for a full month before it is distributed. No, I’m not kidding. Call your mortgage company and ask for a one-time extension, they’ll understand. Hopefully.

Yes, you can download any personal items to a thumb drive and, yes, Dell will know that you did it and you may even get a phone call from security. Grab only your personal files. My husband did get that call from security for clarification. Yes, seriously. But they were super nice, even embarrassed, that they had to remote into see and scan his thumb drive as if his departure immediately made him a corporate threat. 

Sign up for unemployment immediately. No, you still can even with the package. It’s your right. Don’t feel bad. You don’t owe Dell anything. 

Get refills on all your prescriptions before your last day. Tell your doctor why and ask for a 90-day supply. I know, yes, typically a company honors your insurance until that final day of the month but Dell cuts it off the minute at 11:59 pm on your last day. Perhaps there is a voucher for early withdrawal? It extra sucks because your insurance will vaporize before your separation funds arrive.

Oh! When you get that Return of Assets package, you will be expected to pay for return shipping yourself. Seriously. Zip an email to the Alumni support desk and decline that option. If they push back, request the company’s UPS account number. A shipping label will magically appear. Request a pickup. You don’t need to haul that pile yourself.

Don’t bother asking for internal, professional references, turns out those are not allowed “per company policy.” Yes, it’s bullshit, but remember, you’re on your own now and those you left behind have to protect themselves.

Dell Alumni? Agreed. It’s insulting really. As if offering a cute moniker to a sickening feeling will make it better.I mean, they didn’t even give you any pompoms.

Be patient with yourself. Over the coming months your body will start to eliminate the stress that has hung over you for longer than you can remember. You will pace, anxious to find something to do to prove your worth. You will sit staring at a blank computer screen waiting for make-work that will no longer come. Eventually, a haze will begin to live and you will start to see the positives. You will stop waking up at 4:00 a.m. wondering if today is the day. You will mark 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. (and beyond) as hours you used to spend at your desk, desperately offering more of yourself to a company that turned its back on you long ago. Your family and friends will start to recognize the old you returning. One who is less frantic and panicked. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’d write if given the chance to fill out one last Tell Dell survey. Should there be a Tell Dell, Alumni Version? Perhaps. 

I suppose my response would now be quite short:

You had a choice between people and profit, and you chose the latter. That’s actually understandable but the method to your madness has annihilated employee morale. Without morale, the builders of that financial foundation are gone. If your own employees have no confidence in you, neither will your customers. 

Out here … out here in the Alumni Lounge, comradery is at an all-time high. We have banded together in shaking off our Dell experience. We are finally able to do what we could not within your walls. We are standing up for each other, without repercussion. We absorb each new member with open arms, excited to walk them through this rehab-like path. We are lifting each other up. We are pushing each other forward. We are serving as one another’s cheerleaders. 

We may even order pompoms.

A note from my husband: 

Leaving Dell was one of the best professional and personal decisions that I’ve ever made. I worked with fantastically talented and amazingly good people – but it became obvious to me at the end that we were all just cogs in a machine that cared very little for its cogs. At my level of talent and ability I can choose where I work – and choosing to leave Dell was the correct choice. 

In my opinion, the downward spiral will continue until there is nothing left at Dell save a computer to answer the phone and robots to box the gear. But maybe that’s the plan. 

In contrast, the amazing tech company that I work for now laid off a few people weeks ago due to a reorganization. Unlike Dell, there was no secrecy and no orders not to speak to our former colleagues. Instead, we had a company-wide meeting to remind everyone that those people were human beings, that they were amazing people who had done amazing work and deserved our respect. The company went out of its way to emphasize that those layoffs had nothing to do with performance and that many attempts had been made to place those affected internally. For those who could not be placed internally, our company pledged to work tirelessly to find them external positions and give them excellent references.  Unlike Dell, who cut off our insurance at midnight the day we were laid off or left, Pure paid these folks insurance until they found a new gig. I actually had tears in my eyes as I saw the compassion and decency on display.

Our company actually treats people like human beings instead of worthless replaceable cogs. 

Maybe Dell should learn a few lessons from that. People BEFORE profits. 

*The day after I signed my departure documents, a gaggle of former Google employees won a lawsuit that challenged a similar warning. The ruling indicated that companies could not enforce separation package bylines that sounded like “All of the above will be voided if you do not return your badge with pompoms raised.” Also non-enforceable? Hold packages hostage for weeks because, well, I don’t really know why that’s Dell’s practice, actually. 

**I know … the link to Play Nice But Win actually does not go to that book. You see, when that book was published, employees were encouraged to read it courtesy of a gifted copy. That copy did have to be purchased, though that cost was then reimbursed via a voucher. As a fellow author, I say, “well played,” as it was a sure fire way to land that book on the best-seller’s list … which is why the link above takes you to my book. I had a really cool idea that Dell could have a company bookstore in which all of the company’s authors could offer their books. Alas, rejected.

One thought on “The Exit Interview (Don’t #TellDell)

  1. I never got an exit interview, either. I can tell you that I once stated in my end of year performance review that I referred to Dell as “Dell Hell”…I even had the t-shirt! (a sentiment shared by many) In that same review, for one of my “accomplishments”, I flat out stated that “at least I didn’t have to kill anyone”. NOTHING was ever said to me about that comment – not by my manager nor by HR. Just shows they do not listen to their people. Well, you know me and we have had many gripe sessions (I do miss out weekly hour of venting). Hang in there! Life is SO much better outside of Dell.

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