Amazon managers have been told to keep performance-improvement plans secret from employees, according to a report

Amazon office front-desk staff stand in front of an orange sign with the Amazon smile logo
Amazon’s New York office. Mark Lennihan/AP Photo
  • Amazon managers were reportedly told to keep secret their staffers’ performance-improvement plans.
  • “Do not discuss Focus with employees,” read an internal Amazon page, The Seattle Times reported.
  • An employee told the Seattle Times he was in a “weird, nebulous performance hell for a few years.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon managers have been directed not to tell employees when they are put on performance-improvement plans, The Seattle Times reported.

The guidance was posted on an internal webpage with Q&As for managers, the report said. Amazon uses a complex system for rating employee performance, with the staffers rated “least effective” being placed on performance-improvement plans under a system known as Focus.

More than a dozen current and former Amazon employees told Insider in May that the company’s performance programs were unfair, too ambiguous, and gave managers too much power over their careers – and makes it that much easier for them to get let go from the company.

According to the Seattle Times report, a message on the internal Amazon site reads: “Do not discuss Focus with employees. Instead, tell the employee that their performance is not meeting expectations, the specific areas where they need to improve, and offer feedback and support to help them improve.”

Internal documentation reviewed by the Times asked managers to not tell their direct reports about their Focus-system status unless they explicitly asked about it.

Performance-improvement plans are common in Silicon Valley, where employee productivity is often tracked by the hour, if not the minute.

Many companies are open about the process, giving low-performing employees goals to push them to become more productive before their next review cycle. At some companies, performance-improvement plans are the first step toward firing an employee.

Insider has reached out to Amazon for comment.

“Like most employers, we provide managers with tools to help employees improve their performance and grow in their careers at Amazon,” an Amazon spokesperson told the Times. “This includes resources for employees who are not meeting expectations and may require additional coaching.”

One unnamed engineer told the Seattle Times that he’d been on a performance-improvement plan for a year and a half, but only found out when he was brought under a new manager.

“I ended up in this weird, nebulous performance hell for a few years,” he said.