Amid a week of turmoil that saw thousands lose their jobs

  • Amazon began the largest corporate layoffs in its history this week. The cuts will extend through 2023.
  • The device workers and HR departments had to be cut first, including many who worked on Alexa.
  • This is an inside look at Amazon’s week of turmoil.

On October 18, Jeff Bezos tweeted that companies should “batten down the hatchesIn view of a possible recession. For Amazon, the company he founded, the painful adjustments were just beginning.

A series of internal messages from the past two months, obtained by Insider, show Amazon managers trying to identify underperforming employees and force them out using performance improvement plans, or PIPs.

In late September, a compliance manager instructed colleagues to “identify the lowest performing player please and contact me before 10am tomorrow”.

By mid-October, the company had shut down or downsized several teams, including its robotics division.

Soon after, a senior AWS manager ordered colleagues to stop hiring and “rank your team members as soon as possible,” referring to the practice of benchmarking employee performance and trying to force out lower-ranked workers. . “I know it may sound like a mixed message, but we need to hire quickly and also identify 3-4 employees that we don’t think are a good fit for our growth ambitions.”

The next day, Amazon announced a company-wide hiring freeze. It still wasn’t enough.

As of Tuesday, November 15, Amazon has begun the largest corporate layoffs in its history, reportedly cutting about 10,000 jobs.

A work machine stops

Amazon has been a powerful job-growth engine for more than a decade, building a massive network of warehouses run by hundreds of thousands of workers while developing a steady stream of ambitious projects like its live radio platform Amp. video game streaming service Luna. a travel section, Explore; a Project Kuiper satellite constellation and consumer electronics such as the Astro home robot, the Halo fitness tracker and the Glow children’s tablet.

This week marked the end of this incredible run. Many of these ambitious initiatives are now dead or, at best, limping along. The pandemic-era online shopping boom has stalled, leaving the company to sublease unused warehouse space. Hundreds of recruiters have left, signaling a continued decline in hiring.

Amazon has cut the number of employees from several Alexa teams, including those working to make Alexa more human-like, acquire new skills and answer questions more creatively. Amazon also made deep cuts at Luna and offered voluntary buyouts to hiring companies in the US and India.

Later in the week, workers at Amazon’s retail business unit learned they would also face layoffs — just as the peak holiday shopping season ended.

“Is it what I think it is?”

Andy Jassy, ​​Amazon

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy

Amazon



The abrupt change — from hiring machines to serious layoffs — appears to have taken Amazon’s leaders by surprise. While Amazon CEO Andy Jassy has confirmed that the layoffs will continue through 2023, executives have remained shockingly quiet over the past week, sharing few details with their workforce. This let the employees make sense of any scraps of information they could find. The information vacuum has been filled with anxiety, anger and doubts about the future. An Amazon representative did not respond to a request for comment.

After the New York Times reported on Monday that Amazon planned to lay off 10,000 people, employees at Amazon’s appliances division – which houses the virtual assistant Alexa. as well as Luna — received cryptic calendar invites to meetings with executives and HR.

In internal Slack messages and on social media, employees frantically asked if receiving such a calendar invitation meant they would be fired. “Is it what I think it is?” one employee asked, according to messages seen by Insider.

“I just don’t know how to break the news to my kids”

By Tuesday morning, employees had set up a Slack channel to share information about the layoffs and compile a list of affected departments, as well as a “Safe List” of teams that apparently avoided major job cuts. In the absence of communication from leadership, the channel quickly grew to nearly 20,000 members.

Using a feature that allows them to post anonymously, the fired employees openly discussed their sense of devastation. Immigrants worried about finding another employer to fund their work visas to avoid being forced to leave the U.S., in some cases uprooting their families. Some Amazonians shared that they had been fired while seriously ill or pregnant. Again and again, employees asked if anyone knew if their group was safe.

“I just don’t know how to break this news to my kids,” one employee wrote. “Once they are very proud of their father who is an employee of Amazon Alexa. But now, I have to worry about whether I have to go back to my hometown.”

Other employees used humor as a shield. A number of satirical posts poked fun at poorly designed Amazon products or features.

“I got fired from the Amazon Photos app – I was the one who developed the feature where your photos will only back up when you have the app in the foreground and not at a useful time like 2am when you’re on wifi,” joked one employee.

“Fired from Ring Mobile Org :(. I was the one who developed the alert that gets sent to you when a dog goes missing in some town miles away from where you live,” wrote another.

“I got fired from the Alexa Devices tool,” said a third. “I’m the developer who created the feature where when you ask Alexa a simple question, she’ll suggest something you’re not interested in.”

“At some point we have to stop calling them leadership”

The most prevalent emotion on the channel was anger, directed at Amazon’s top executives.

“Meta got at least one message from Zack himself,” one employee wrote, referring to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s memo to employees announcing the company would lay off 13 percent of its workforce. “We get news articles on Monday. Radio silence from everyone and firing emails late Tuesday night. Very upset by our S team. Leader with empathy or leader with greed.”

“When are we going to field questions about the S team? I have a few,” wrote another employee, referring to Amazon’s top executives. “Chief Among Them: How do you plan to win back the trust you so thoroughly destroyed in November?”

“At some point we need to stop calling them leadership,” wrote another employee.

Employees also reassured and supported each other. Some have released a “Scary Incident Response Form,” a one-page document developed by an Amazon product manager to help manage crisis moments. Others promised to share the LinkedIn profiles of their fired colleagues with their networks.

Alexa was gutted

Amazon SVP Dave Limp September 2019

Amazon’s head of devices, Dave Limp.

image alliance / Getty Images



As of Wednesday, Amazon executives began confirming what many of their employees already knew, from media reports or the Slack channel: The Devices unit had been gutted and more cuts were on the way.

In a memo to employees, Amazon’s head of devices, Dave Limp, attributed the layoffs to an unfavorable economic climate.

“Having been through times like this before, I know that when there’s a tough economy, customers tend to gravitate to the companies and products they believe have had the best customer experience and best care,” Limp wrote. “Historically, Amazon has done a very good job of this.”

Teams responsible for work on Alexa’s artificial intelligence systems, natural language understanding and conversational capabilities were among those hardest hit by the cuts, according to a growing number of LinkedIn posts by laid-off Amazon employees.

The cuts suggest that Amazon envisions moving forward with a significantly more pared-down Alexa. The company has reportedly known for years that customers primarily engage with Alexa to play music, control lights and set timers. Amazon, however, continued to pour resources into developing ever-greater features for the virtual assistant, contributing to billions of dollars in losses.

After the holidays and in 2023

At Amazon’s sprawling retail division, some employees learned Thursday morning that layoffs would likely hit their unit after the holiday shopping rush, leading one employee to wonder if he should keep showing up for work.

“No motivation to work,” the employee said. That person, and others who spoke to Insider, asked not to be identified discussing sensitive topics.

And on Thursday afternoon, Jassy confirmed in a company-wide memo that the layoffs would continue through 2023 and affect the retail and human resources divisions. In the letter, he struck a note of remorse.

“I’ve been in this role now for about a year and a half, and without a doubt, this is the most difficult decision we’ve made in that time,” he wrote. “It’s not lost on me or any of the leaders who make these decisions that these are not just roles that we’re doing away with, but people with feelings, aspirations and responsibilities whose lives will be affected.”

A new turning point for corporate employees

Indeed, some Amazon employees had already reached a breaking point. On Thursday, some staff urged colleagues to join a public Discord server to continue discussing the job cuts anonymously after internal layoffs at Amazon’s HR department effectively dismantled the Slack channel.

On Discord, a small group of Amazon employees began to broach a taboo topic: Unionization. Although the number of workers discussing organizing was small, the fact that they did so openly was a surprising development at a company known for its aggressive stance against labor activism.

“The only way to have any job security is through organizing,” one worker wrote.

Do you work at Amazon? Do you have a tip? Contact reporter Katherine Long by phone or the encrypted messaging app Signal (+1-206-375-9280) or by email (klong@insider.com).

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