- An Amazon marketing manager was told they were a high-value contributor.
- The person then received emails from their boss that they were underperforming and needed coaching.
- A coworker said the person might be on a coaching program for underperformers called Focus.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with an Amazon employee. Though the employee asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak to the media, their identity is known to Insider.
I joined Amazon as a marketing manager in 2021. They have a big brand reputation, so I was really excited for the opportunity.
Toward the end of 2022, I let my manager know that I would like to be promoted and that I was raising my hand for any and all projects. I didn’t want to lose momentum.
My manager said yes, we love that energy. We have all these great things that are a good fit for your skillset that we need to get working on. Let’s get you signed up for them.
I immediately took on two high-profile projects for our team. Everything was working well. I started my promotion doc [a document explaining why an Amazon employee is ready for a promotion]. In my performance review, I was told I was a high-value contributor, one of the best on the team. I was training other team members, receiving positive accolades, and taking on big projects.
‘It just seemed un-Amazonian’
But in December, team processes started changing. There was a lot of miscommunication. Things were getting moved up and reprioritized.
We would be told, “upload this here,” then “no, upload this here” and “this project’s prioritized,” then “no, this project’s prioritized.”
For example, we were transitioning to using Asana. By the next day, managers were asking, “Why isn’t everyone’s stuff in Asana?” It felt like a very harsh, micromanaging turn of events that happened in a one- to two-week period.
One thing that’s in the ethos at Amazon is you’re supposed to be allowed to make mistakes. You’re supposed to be supported by management to try new things and fail. So if it’s something as simple as, “Hey, let’s all try this new thing in Asana,” and then the next day you’re told you’re horrible at Asana and that you’re being put on a coaching action, it just seemed un-Amazonian.
‘I started getting strange communication from my manager’
By the end of December, I started getting strange communication from my manager.
We would have a conversation: “Hey, how did this go?” “Oh, looks great. Here’s where we’re at.” “Good. Can you do this?” “Yes, I can.” A typical one-on-one meeting.
Then a recap email would come through. In the email, my manager would say something like, “I thought our one-on-one meeting yesterday was less productive than I would’ve liked. Here are the actions I would like to see going forward. Here’s where I would like to see you improve communication. Here’s where I would like to see you deliver results.”
None of this had been mentioned in the meeting. I’d never seen this from a manager at Amazon. This was not feedback that I’d ever been given in my career. I would think, “Were we having the same conversation? Were you speaking to an alien just now?”
And none of the points in there were valid. For example, my manager said that I didn’t deliver part of a project by the deadline. And I had not only delivered it in our one-on-one meeting that morning, I had also marked it complete in Asana, which is how we track all our documents. She was telling me it wasn’t complete enough because I didn’t verbally communicate it to her.
My manager also let me know that if I looked for other roles within Amazon, the hiring manager would have to obtain VP-level approval for my transfer. Obviously, I was looking internally because I was not happy on this team at this point. I was thinking, “Is my manager monitoring me?”
I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.
That’s when I knew something was wrong. My manager was documenting this for someone else’s eyes.
‘You might be being put into Focus’
I approached a coworker and said, “I just got this email from my manager an hour or two ago. What is this?” She said, “You might be being put into Focus” because my manager had mentioned something about how I was not meeting expectations for my role.
At the time, I thought it was just me. Then I realized colleagues on my immediate team were getting the same feedback. In fact, every third person I talked to at Amazon was experiencing the same thing.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve realized that, alongside the 18,000 layoffs that were reported, there has been an unreported attrition number that they are trying to hit through performance plans. It’s called unregretted attrition, or URA.
This year, I heard, Amazon is unofficially trying to get rid of an extra 10% to 12% of the corporate workforce this way. And I heard there’s going to be a second wave of employees who are let go in March, after their managers have documented that they were not meeting expectations.
In January, I got another email from my manager that was very similar.
I sent an email back that refuted each and every one of the points in the second email. I had dates; I had screenshots of the Asana statuses.
‘Amazon is not taking care of its people’
I was prepared to be laid off in January, but I wasn’t. I was not prepared to watch a lot of really good people go.
As a marketer, I admire so much about the company and its potential and history. But right now, I’m feeling pretty dissatisfied and disillusioned. I feel like Amazon is not taking care of its people.
When you look at what people say about the Focus program on Blind, it’s like you either quit or you subject yourself to ongoing ridicule and shame. But I don’t want my situation to be dominated by some completely arbitrary, terrible, and shady program. That, to me, sounds demeaning as hell. I’m not standing for that.
Amazon didn’t respond to Insider’s request for comment.