Amazon layoffs hit Alexa while other employees seek answers.

The biggest layoffs in Amazon history began on Tuesday with job cuts at the company’s money-burning Alexa voice assistant division and voluntary job offers to many of its human resources staff. But the lack of communication from top Amazon executives for two full days after the first news report of impending layoffs led to chaos and anger among humble employees looking for answers amid a rare cut in the tech giant’s 27-year history.

The cycle started on Monday morning when the The New York Times reported that Amazon will cut about 10,000 jobs — or about 3 percent of its global corporate workforce. Amazon had recently frozen hiring and scrapped some experimental initiatives in some departments, and a The company’s board of directors issued a warning in recent calls with reporters and Wall Street analysts that buyers would tighten their belts and so would Amazon.

After the initial report of expected layoffs, many employees assumed they would soon be hearing from someone at the top of the company — either CEO Andy Jassy or one of his deputies. It did not happen. In the end, 48 hours elapsed between the first news of the layoffs in the press and the acknowledgment of the harsh reality by a top executive at the company to the rest of the company. And even then, many employees were unsure whether they would soon lose their jobs as well.

“I don’t even know if I want to work for this company anymore,” a senior Amazon executive who has worked for the company for more than 10 years told Recode on Wednesday afternoon, citing the lack of transparency in the company’s governance. “That’s a terrible way to treat people.”

The job cuts at Amazon are just the latest among them ruling class of technology companies used to years of dominant growth and convinced by the pandemic-related business success that an economic retreat was not in sight. The disarray of Amazon’s layoffs also underscores how rare such a moment is for the king of e-commerce. Amazon laid off several hundred employees in 2018, but the last significant job cuts date back to 2001 it cut 1,500 people, or 15 percent of its employees at the time, after the dot-com crash and in the midst of a brief US recession.

This time, on the evening of the day the news first broke, many employees had put aside the day’s work to speak with colleagues to gather information about their livelihood futures. Some managers told employees they thought their department was safe, while others said they knew little. A source familiar with the decisions said the company’s chief executives wanted to first communicate the layoffs to those who are losing their jobs, before broadcasting a message to the company as a whole.

It started on Tuesday morning. Some Amazon employees — particularly those who work in the flashy but unprofitable Alexa voice assistant division — found a calendar invitation to a 15-minute video conference waiting for them. They were told the bad news via a script. Soon, laid-off employees began flooding LinkedIn with their personal announcements. One employee in Alexa’s AI department said 60 percent of their team was fired “for downsizing/prioritizing projects.” While Alexa is one of the flagship brands that Amazon is best known for, in the eight years since its launch and skyrocketing popularity, the company hasn’t managed to generate any meaningful revenue for the voice assistant. The department that houses Alexa and Amazon’s own tech gadgets had lost more than $5 billion annually in recent years, the Wall Street Journal reported in early November.

Meanwhile, other employees have been compiling lists of the departments where cuts have been made and those that may be safe, based on a combination of LinkedIn confessions, self-reported information, and internal rumours.

Then, on Tuesday night, large sections of the company’s human resources department, including recruiters and software developers alike, received either a takeover bid or a voluntary layoff program. In return for voluntarily resigning from their jobs, Amazon offered employees three months’ salary plus one week’s salary for every six months of service. Those who received it have two weeks to make a decision. Division heads would not rule out involuntary layoffs in the new year if further cuts were deemed necessary. It’s unclear whether the severance package would be the same or different, and this lack of clarity led to more anxiety among employees and managers alike.

“They resent being given this ‘election’ with no information about what the future holds,” a manager told Recode.

As of Wednesday morning, most Amazon employees still hadn’t heard from top management, despite the previous days’ cuts at Alexa and in some other areas like cloud gaming company Amazon Luna. Employees said little work was getting done and business-centric email was a trickle.

“The truth is that if the company were more transparent, we wouldn’t have this shitty show,” another senior Amazon executive told Recode. “Now most of the population is wondering if they are next.”

Finally, around 11 a.m. ET Wednesday, Amazon executive Dave Limp, who oversees the company’s wide range of consumer electronics devices and the division that operates Alexa, released news about the cuts that had started the day before.

“After a thorough series of reviews, we recently decided to consolidate some teams and programs,” he wrote. “One of the consequences of these decisions is that some roles are no longer needed. It pains me to deliver this news as we know we will lose talented Amazonians from the Devices & Services organization as a result.”

Around the same time, Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel released a public comment to reporters.

“As part of our annual operational plan review process, we always review each of our businesses and what we believe we should change,” it said. “While we’ve been through this, given the current macroeconomic environment (as well as several years of rapid hiring), some teams are making adjustments, which in some cases means certain roles are no longer required. We do not take these decisions lightly and are working to support all employees who may be impacted.”

Unfortunately for Amazon employees, no layoff news in her department so far doesn’t mean she’s not coming. The New York Times reported that beyond the company’s Alexa and HR departments, Amazon’s core retail business would eventually suffer cuts as well. A source with direct knowledge of the layoff plans told Recode that business reviews – and concrete decisions about who might be next – are still ongoing in the company’s departments.

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