You probably don’t want to work for Amazon
Amazon is known for its cutthroat efficiency and harsh tactics; it’s what makes it possible to get a pack of toilet paper delivered to your door in less than 24 hours. But CEO Jeff Bezos’ love of precision and data goes far beyond fulfilling orders and undercutting competitors’ prices. It permeates every aspect of the workplace.
And ruthless optimization, unsurprisingly, doesn’t make for a very supportive workplace environment. The New York Times‘ Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld interviewed over 100 former and current Amazon employees for a fantastic new report out today that reveals just how bad it can get. Working at the retail giant’s Seattle offices is apparently nothing like showing up to work at an idyllic Silicon Valley campus.
NEARLY EVERY PERSON I WORKED WITH, I SAW CRY AT THEIR DESK.
Employees describe a system that quantifies and analyzes every aspect of their work. Anything that the data can’t pick up is revealed by informants — also known as fellow employees. Everyone has access to the “Anytime Feedback Tool,” which lets employees criticize or praise their coworkers discreetly. The feedback makes it to upper management, and can often be used in Amazon’s standard weekly or monthly performance reviews,according to the Times. Employees are also routinely ranked, and managers are forced to fire a certain amount of the lowest-scoring workers every time to fulfill quotas.
It isn’t hard to argue that it’s a good idea for a company to know what its employees are actually accomplishing. But, going off of the Times‘ interviews, Amazon’s standards are ludicrous. The company tries to squeeze everything it can out of its employees, and often lets them go after they’re burnt out. For instance, managers expect to receive immediate responses to emails sent after midnight, and they complain when employees have poor internet connections while traveling on vacation. Amazon itself calls its standards “unreasonably high,” and as one former employee said, “Amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves.”
TO FULFILL QUOTAS, MANAGERS RANK EVERY EMPLOYEE AND FIRE THE LOWEST-SCORING INDIVIDUALS
Perhaps worst of all is Amazon’s apparent approach when its employees need help. TheTimes has uncovered several cases where workers who were sick, grieving, or otherwise encumbered by the realities of life were pushed out of the company. A woman who had a miscarriage was told to travel on a business trip the day after both her twins were stillborn. Another woman recovering from breast cancer was given poor performance rankings and was warned that she was in danger of losing her job.
All of that said, Amazon is clearly a massively successful company. The picture painted by the Times isn’t a pretty one, but it’s possible (likely, even) that the workplace culture does appeal to some. There’s no denying that Amazon has produced an extremely competitive product and has grown massively over the years.
In a statement provided to The Verge, Amazon notes that “while we generally do not comment on individual news stories, we quickly saw current Amazon employees react.” A spokesperson provided a link to a lengthy rebuttal posted by Amazon employee Nick Ciubotariu on LinkedIn. He calls the report “blatantly incorrect.” Others have posted messages on Twitter and elsewhere in support of Amazon’s workplace culture.
Be sure to read the entire exposé in The New York Times — it gives an insightful (and terrifying) look into how Amazon runs its business. The details within might make you think twice before your next Amazon order.
Let’s just hope that this isn’t how all companies are run in the future. If you need any more convincing, just keep in mind what one Amazon veteran told the Times: “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”
Sounds like a fun workplace.
Update, August 16th, 3:48PM ET: Added statement from Amazon.
By: Dante D’Orazio