Amazon is a huge, very successful company that can make headlines with products and services years away from reality. It's also good at selling you stuff you want really cheaply and delivering it to you super quick. According to a New York Times report, however, the incredible efficiency and continuing expansion comes at the cost of its workers, held to "unreasonably high" standards and demands. The NYT talked to over 100 current and former Amazon workers, across senior management, as well as workers in retail, engineering, HR and marketing. Some nightmare tales outline about how employees caring for relatives or battling cancer soon faced harsh feedback from colleagues and superiors. "What kind of company do we want to be?" said one former human resources exec to her bosses, after she was told to put a woman who had recently returned from serious surgery, and another who had just had a stillborn child, on performance review.
Some said the atmosphere at Amazon pushed them past what they thought were their limits were, helping them to thrive at the company. "A lot of people who work there feel this tension: It's the greatest place I hate to work," said John Rossman, a former executive who authored "The Amazon Way."
According to those interviewed, continuous feedback and competition often meant colleagues would race to answer emails before anyone else. Some say that bosses helped to buffer some of these pressures, but more explained that working at the company added to eroding their work-life balance. Multiple employees praised their colleagues and the ability for anyone to contribute to the company in a major way: Amazon's drone project was apparently co-invented by a low-level engineer at Amazon. "This is a company that strives to do really big, innovative, groundbreaking things, and those things aren't easy," said Susan Harker, a high-level Amazon recruiter said. "When you're shooting for the moon, the nature of the work is really challenging. For some people it doesn't work."
The report calls Amazon a more nimble, more productive kind of company, due to focused, individual-based performance monitoring, but also one that's "harsher and less forgiving." The article has lead to multiple responses from existing Amazon employees, who note that they haven't experienced many of the issues outlined in the article. Nick Ciubotariu, head of infrastructure development at Amazon, takes note at multiple parts of the report that didn't fit with his experiences; noting that 60-page documents suggested by the NYT would likely be discouraged at Amazon. According to him, execs insist on a six page maximum.
Amazon boss Jeff Bezos also followed up with an internal message to staff, reproduced at The Next Web. Although he doesn't specifically tackle the issues raised in the report, he says it doesn't represent the Amazon he knows. Bezos also asks that any "callous" HR issues be escalated at the highest level, ("Our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero"), offering up his direct email address. Here's the entire note below.
If you haven't already, I encourage you to give this (very long) New York Times article a careful read:
I also encourage you to read this very different take by a current Amazonian:
Here's why I'm writing you. The NYT article prominently features anecdotes describing shockingly callous management practices, including people being treated without empathy while enduring family tragedies and serious health problems. The article doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if it's rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.
The article goes further than reporting isolated anecdotes. It claims that our intentional approach is to create a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard. Again, I don't recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don't, either. More broadly, I don't think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today's highly competitive tech hiring market. The people we hire here are the best of the best. You are recruited every day by other world-class companies, and you can work anywhere you want.
I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company.
But hopefully, you don't recognize the company described. Hopefully, you're having fun working with a bunch of brilliant teammates, helping invent the future, and laughing along the way.