18 months after being deployed, Amazon's program for underperforming employees may be doing more harm than good

  • Amazon implemented a program early last year for employees at risk of being fired, but the process is causing some resentment among employees, according to Bloomberg’s Spencer Soper.
  • The most controversial part of the program, the option for a videoconference in which the employee and his or her boss present respective arguments in front of a jury of peers, is seen as unfair.
  • As a whole, the program was intended to provide transparency and guidance to employees, but 18 months later employees apparently don’t feel as if Amazon is providing the unbiased support they need.

Amazon is a notoriously demanding workplace. So to go easier on employees at risk of being fired, Amazon last year launched a program called Pivot to help underperforming employees get back on track.

Eighteen months after Pivot was launched, however, the program is creating some resentment among employees, who question how fair the hearing process actually is, according to a new report from Bloomberg’s Spencer Soper.

As part of the Pivot program, which was deployed in January 2017 amid complaints that Amazon wasn’t responsibly handling its growing workforce, Amazon decided that employees who find themselves on the so-called performance-improvement plan – Amazon’s version of probation – have three options:

1. Quit and receive severance pay

2. Spend the next couple of months proving their worth by meeting certain performance goals set by the manager

3. Face a panel of peers in a courtroom-style videoconference, in which the employee and his or her boss present arguments about the employee’s placement in the program – and then start over based on the decision

But the employment lawyer George Tamblyn, who helped a former Amazon employee appeal her case, told Bloomberg the hearings were “a kangaroo court.”

Prior to the hearing, each side gets to read the opposing party’s statement to properly prepare, but the employee won’t hear anything during the actual videoconference. Employees also only get enough say in the three-person panel to determine whether the panelists are people who would have some sort of emotional motive – ultimately, the three panelists are chosen by Amazon.

Those who choose the trial-by-jury option have to deal with the stress regardless of whether they win or lose. The reported 70% who lose these trials get to choose between the first and second options listed above, meaning quit or spend the next months trying to improve. Those who win have the option to stay on their team to return to an awkward workplace scenario, or to switch teams with the guidance of a ‘career ambassador.’

Amazon didn’t share metrics about its “uniquely Amazonian program,” but the company told Bloomberg in an email statement that it was happy with where it was headed, saying it was “pleased with the support it offers our employees” and was “continuing to iterate based on employee feedback and their needs.”

See Bloomberg’s story for more details.

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