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The Controversy of Employee Ranking Systems: A Case Study of Blizzard Entertainment

Employee ranking systems have long been a subject of contention within the corporate world. These systems, designed to categorize employees based on their performance, have been criticized for fostering unhealthy competition and negatively impacting team dynamics. The debate surrounding these systems has recently been reignited following a high-profile departure at Blizzard Entertainment, a renowned video game company. This blog post aims to delve into the details of this incident and discuss the broader implications of employee ranking systems.

Blizzard Entertainment

The Blizzard Entertainment Case

In a surprising turn of events, a manager at Blizzard Entertainment chose to leave the company in protest of its employee ranking system. The manager's departure was rooted in a belief that the system was not only unfair but also detrimental to the overall morale and productivity of the workforce. This incident has brought the spotlight back onto the controversial practice of employee ranking, prompting a fresh wave of discussions about its merits and drawbacks.

The Controversy of Employee Ranking Systems

Employee ranking systems, often referred to as stack ranking or forced ranking, have been a hotbed of controversy for years. The premise of these systems is to rank employees against each other based on their performance. While this might seem like a straightforward approach to performance management, it often leads to internal competition and can potentially foster a toxic work environment.

A firsthand account of a similar system at Microsoft paints a vivid picture of the potential pitfalls. The author describes a culture of secrecy, cynicism, and paranoia that was fostered by the ranking system. Employees were constantly on edge, fearing that their ranking could drop, leading to their dismissal. This fear permeated the work environment, leading to a decline in collaboration and innovation, two elements crucial to the tech giant's success.

Why Companies Stick to Employee Ranking Systems

Despite the controversy and potential drawbacks, many companies continue to use employee ranking systems. The primary reason is the belief that these systems help identify top performers and weed out underperformers. The idea is to create a meritocratic environment where performance is rewarded, and non-performance is penalized.

However, this approach has its critics. They argue that these systems can demotivate employees, create a culture of fear, and stifle creativity. Employees might be less willing to take risks or innovate if they fear that failure could lead to a lower ranking. Moreover, these systems can lead to a lack of collaboration, as employees might be more focused on outperforming their colleagues rather than working together towards common goals.

Blizzard Entertainment

The Impact on Employee Morale and Productivity

The impact of employee ranking systems on morale and productivity cannot be overstated. Employees who feel that they are constantly being compared to their peers might experience increased stress and job dissatisfaction. This could lead to a decrease in productivity and an increase in turnover rates.

Furthermore, these systems can create a culture where employees are more focused on their individual performance rather than the success of the team or the company as a whole. This could lead to a lack of cooperation and teamwork, which are crucial for the success of any organization.


The departure of the Blizzard manager serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing debate surrounding employee ranking systems. While some companies believe these systems are necessary for effective performance management, others argue that they can do more harm than good. As organizations strive to create positive work environments that foster collaboration, innovation, and employee satisfaction, it's crucial to critically evaluate the impact of such systems on their workforce.

In the end, the key to effective performance management lies in finding a balance. Companies need to recognize and reward top performers while also providing support and development opportunities for those who are struggling. Most importantly, they need to create an environment where all employees feel valued and motivated to do their best.


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