- There’s a word-of-mouth Slack channel used by Amazon employees on its performance-improvement plan.
- Most employees post anonymously; one former worker likened it to a virtual support group.
- Employees do not need permission to create Slack channels, an Amazon spokesperson said.
It wasn’t the conversation the Amazon Web Services employee was expecting to have with her new manager.
The employee, a tech-industry veteran, had been at the cloud company for more than a year. She’d received consistently positive feedback from her prior boss, who’d told her she was on track for a promotion.
But one afternoon in a one-on-one, her manager — whom she’d been reporting to for less than six months — told her she was “doing poorly.” Her manager followed up with what the employee described as an unnerving email: If she wanted to change roles, the move would require approval from a senior VP.
Reeling from shock, the employee confided in a coworker about what her manager said. The colleague told her that it sounded as though she was in danger of being placed on Amazon’s performance-improvement plan, or PIP, and advised her to check out an internal Slack channel for others in the same boat.
“Logging on to the channel, quite frankly, it broke my heart,” she said. “People were freaking out; I could sense their distress. To see that this is how the company is treating good employees — all to meet an attrition target — disgusted me.”
Amazon is well known for delivering packages quickly to customers all over the world — and for being an often tough and bruising place to work. The Slack channel for employees who’ve been put on Amazon’s PIP — which sources say, and Insider’s prior reporting suggests, is used to meet attrition goals and can feel arbitrary — offers a glimpse into the anguish and despair those workers experience as they face the prospect of being pushed out of their jobs.
The Slack channel, #focus-and-pivot-info, is not highly publicized, according to interviews with eight current and former Amazon employees, five of whom are or were members of the channel. Some employees hear about it through word of mouth or stumble upon it themselves.
The channel appears to have been created by an employee in July 2021, and as of mid-April, had 1,888 members, according to two employees who have access to the group. The number of members fluctuates as people join and others are let go.
More than 20 screenshots of messages viewed by Insider show posts that cover a range of content — some contain questions about insurance coverage post-Amazon; others ask whether short-term disability or family leave might buy them time to delay the process. There are pleas for help on how to cope with the anxiety that the company’s performance-review process has sparked. Most employees post anonymously, making their comments difficult to verify or investigate further.
“Are Suicidal thoughts and mental stress + anxiety, depression considered as Short term disability?” reads a screenshot of one anonymous message viewed by Insider.
In another screenshotted message, a member of the channel posted anonymously that their manager had added a project to their 30-day improvement plan. “He has given me 30 days to do 45 days of work. Can someone give some advice pls? Very desperate, mentally fucked and depressed as shit.”
Amazon has said that its coaching program and PIP do not have any relationship to the company’s targets for hiring or firing.
When contacted for this story, an Amazon spokesperson confirmed the existence of the channel. “Employees regularly create Slack channels to communicate about a variety of topics and they do not need permission to do so. Slack channels are typically shared informally and according to interest or need,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
How performance-improvement plans work at Amazon
After a pandemic hiring spree in which the company added hundreds of thousands of corporate and warehouse workers, Amazon is now in retrenchment mode. Last month, the company announced it was letting go of 9,000 employees, or about 3% of its corporate workforce. That’s on top of slashing 18,000 positions months earlier.
Even aside from these recent layoffs, cutting workers isn’t unusual at large companies, including Amazon. The tech behemoth sets an annual goal for unregretted attrition, or the portion of employees that managers aren’t disappointed to see leave the company — voluntarily or otherwise, former and current Amazon managers have told Insider.
Performance-improvement plans are one of the ways Amazon implements this goal, Insider’s reporting suggests. Employees who are struggling or in need of development are first enrolled in a sort of pre-performance-improvement plan, called Focus, according to two Amazon managers and Insider’s prior reporting.
In any company, there’s a need for mechanisms for coaching and, if necessary, removing workers who aren’t cutting it. But at Amazon, managers do not always tell employees that they’re in Focus. And in order to meet attrition targets, some managers have put employees in Focus even if the worker had met expectations, according to the Amazon managers and Insider’s prior reporting.
If employees fail to successfully complete Focus, they are given a choice: They can leave the company voluntarily with severance; they can move to Pivot, which is the name of Amazon’s formal PIP; or they can challenge the assessment that they’re underperforming, according to Insider’s past reporting and conversations with current Amazon managers.
Once they’re on Pivot, it’s often difficult for them to get off, Insider previously reported. Many employees end up leaving the company. Their departures are rarely voluntary, and their severance packages tend to be roughly a third of what they would have been had they left before moving to Pivot, according to two Amazon managers.
On Slack, a sense of community — but also stress
The Slack channel does not appear to be public knowledge within the company. The AWS employee whose colleague tipped her off about it told Insider “that’s not discussed openly” among teams.
“It’s not included in your welcome package,” she quipped. “You don’t know about it unless someone tells you or you go out and search for it.”
Another employee who was recently let go said that being in the Pivot plan was extraordinarily stressful. He said he felt isolated. “You go through the whole cycle — anger, depression. You question yourself: What did I do? How do I improve?”
The former employee said that the Slack channel helped him feel less alone in the process. He added that in the era of remote work, where many people are doing their jobs from home, the channel’s community provided comfort from the pressure. “There were a lot of people going through the same thing,” he said.
He likened the channel to a virtual support group, even though very few employees post with their names attached. “People share stories,” he said. “There are people on visas worried about having to leave the country on short notice. New college graduates posting, ‘It’s my first job. What do I do?’ People asking, ‘Has anyone ever gotten off Pivot? What is the percentage of people passing Pivot?'”
Posts on the Slack channel point to an array of employee reactions to the company’s PIP process, according to screenshots viewed by Insider. “Have a strong feeling that I was hired to be fired in order to meet quota of the URA,” reads one anonymous post of an employee who said they’d been put on the plan within three months of joining AWS.
Messages that offer a sense of resignation and advice
Anna Tavis, a professor of human capital management at the New York University School of Professional Studies, told Insider that Amazon’s PIP seems to be a “layoff funnel” for the company to get rid of employees at the least cost. She added that it could be “a way for the company to avoid litigation and to pay as little severance as possible.”
Tavis said that the existence of a Slack channel for employees in the program to communicate with each other and develop a better understanding of their predicament has both pros and cons for workers. The channel probably provides an element of community and mutual understanding, but the posts are also likely to be disheartening to many employees, she said.
“When people feel like they don’t have control over their situation, they’re going to feel overwhelming stress,” Tavis said. For some, reading the posts will be paralyzing. “Some will get even more distressed and even deeper into depression,” she said.
Others will choose to take action. “They’ll realize they need to get out and that they need to protect themselves,” Tavis said.
Indeed, screenshots viewed by Insider show that some employees post with a sense of resignation and offer counsel to others. “Just fight, accept, and find a new job in the meantime,” reads an anonymous post. “Find companies that appreciate who we are rather than made-up performance plans. Worked 13 years in Consulting and never once had any performance issues, come to Amazon and PIP 16 months later.”
The post expressed sympathy for new college-graduate hires who’d been put on the programs after having recently joined the company. “This is not how you invest in future leaders,” it read.
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