The NY Times has an expansive, impressive piece today about what it's like working at Amazon, and it is a doozy of a story. Writers Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld spoke to 100 current or former Amazon employees, and discovered a data-driven cutthroat workculture where ruthless efficiency is the only mantra and concepts like "social cohesion" are considered weaknesses. Or as one former employee put it, "Amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves."
— John Green (@johngreen) August 15, 2015
According to the New York Times, Amazon is a cross between Wal-Mart and Scientology
— John DeVore (@JohnDeVore) August 15, 2015
The story will leave you with more questions than answers: at what point do companies lose track of the humanity of their employees? Is this how Darwin envisioned the future? Wait, this is exactly how Orwell envisioned the future, isn't it? Is same-day delivery really worth breaking down the spirits of tens of thousands of human beings? Is Mike White more of a prophet or a Cassandra? And most importantly, why can't Jeff Bezos take after a nice cartoon megalomaniac, like Hank Scorpio?
Amazon sounds like a giant game of Survivor, right down to being run by a white guy named Jeff. https://t.co/pwIpYNUI0X
— Bruce Upbin (@bupbin) August 15, 2015
Jeff Bezos seems like he bingewatched Damages and drew the wrong conclusions.
— Nicole Cliffe (@Nicole_Cliffe) August 15, 2015
The entire piece is very long, very well-researched (over a six month period), and worth reading in full—please go read it here—but we've picked out a few of the most insane excerpts that we can't shake.
2) The piece illustrates a crucial point: Amazon is a menace because it pushes moral, ethical, legal limits.
— Franklin Foer (@FranklinFoer) August 15, 2015
3) Amazon applies its abusive ethos to its white collar workers, warehouse workers, and the producers of the goods it sells.
— Franklin Foer (@FranklinFoer) August 15, 2015
4) Investors expect massive profits from Amazon that haven't materialized. To get those profits, Amazon’s ruthlessness will only grow.
— Franklin Foer (@FranklinFoer) August 15, 2015
Isn't it bad enough these people have to live in Seattle?
At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.” The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: “I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.”)
A water cooler filled with tears:
Bo Olson was one of them. He lasted less than two years in a book marketing role and said that his enduring image was watching people weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. “You walk out of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face,” he said. “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”
Physical pain as the reward for selling gift cards:
“One time I didn’t sleep for four days straight,” said Dina Vaccari, who joined in 2008 to sell Amazon gift cards to other companies and once used her own money, without asking for approval, to pay a freelancer in India to enter data so she could get more done. “These businesses were my babies, and I did whatever I could to make them successful.”
She and other workers had no shortage of career options but said they had internalized Amazon’s priorities. One ex-employee’s fiancé became so concerned about her nonstop working night after night that he would drive to the Amazon campus at 10 p.m. and dial her cellphone until she agreed to come home. When they took a vacation to Florida, she spent every day at Starbucks using the wireless connection to get work done.
“That’s when the ulcer started,” she said.
Orwell, circa 2015:
Employees talk of feeling how their work is never done or good enough. One Amazon building complex is named Day 1, a reminder from Mr. Bezos that it is only the beginning of a new era of commerce, with much more to accomplish.
The world needs a movie based on this Inside Amazon article. POTENTIAL TITLE: PRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY. ok take it from there #goodnightmommy
— Michelle Collins (@michcoll) August 15, 2015
Amazon as less attractive than Iraq, ratting out colleagues as the new insurgency:
In 2013, Elizabeth Willet, a former Army captain who served in Iraq, joined Amazon to manage housewares vendors and was thrilled to find that a large company could feel so energetic and entrepreneurial. After she had a child, she arranged with her boss to be in the office from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day, pick up her baby and often return to her laptop later. Her boss assured her things were going well, but her colleagues, who did not see how early she arrived, sent him negative feedback accusing her of leaving too soon.
“I can’t stand here and defend you if your peers are saying you’re not doing your work,” she says he told her. She left the company after a little more than a year.
Ms. Willet’s co-workers strafed her through the Anytime Feedback Tool, the widget in the company directory that allows employees to send praise or criticism about colleagues to management. (While bosses know who sends the comments, their identities are not typically shared with the subjects of the remarks.) Because team members are ranked, and those at the bottom eliminated every year, it is in everyone’s interest to outperform everyone else.
Craig Berman, an Amazon spokesman, said the tool was just another way to provide feedback, like sending an email or walking into a manager’s office. Most comments, he said, are positive.
However, many workers called it a river of intrigue and scheming. They described making quiet pacts with colleagues to bury the same person at once, or to praise one another lavishly. Many others, along with Ms. Willet, described feeling sabotaged by negative comments from unidentified colleagues with whom they could not argue. In some cases, the criticism was copied directly into their performance reviews — a move that Amy Michaels, the former Kindle manager, said that colleagues called “the full paste.”
Gender equality, circa 2015:
Many women at Amazon attribute its gender gap — unlike Facebook, Google or Walmart, it does not currently have a single woman on its top leadership team — to its competition-and-elimination system. Several former high-level female executives, and other women participating in a recent internal Amazon online discussion that was shared with The New York Times, said they believed that some of the leadership principles worked to their disadvantage. They said they could lose out in promotions because of intangible criteria like “earn trust” (principle No. 10) or the emphasis on disagreeing with colleagues. Being too forceful, they said, can be particularly hazardous for women in the workplace.
Motherhood can also be a liability. Michelle Williamson, a 41-year-old parent of three who helped build Amazon’s restaurant supply business, said her boss, Shahrul Ladue, had told her that raising children would most likely prevent her from success at a higher level because of the long hours required. Mr. Ladue, who confirmed her account, said that Ms. Williamson had been directly competing with younger colleagues with fewer commitments, so he suggested she find a less demanding job at Amazon. (Both he and Ms. Williamson left the company.)
He added that he usually worked 85 or more hours a week and rarely took a vacation.
re: Amazon and life in general pic.twitter.com/g0kCE7Ahu2
— Aminatou Sow (@aminatou) August 15, 2015
Jesus fucking christ, Jesus Fucking Christ:
A woman who had thyroid cancer was given a low performance rating after she returned from treatment. She says her manager explained that while she was out, her peers were accomplishing a great deal. Another employee who miscarried twins left for a business trip the day after she had surgery. “I’m sorry, the work is still going to need to get done,” she said her boss told her. “From where you are in life, trying to start a family, I don’t know if this is the right place for you.”
A woman who had breast cancer was told that she was put on a “performance improvement plan” — Amazon code for “you’re in danger of being fired” — because “difficulties” in her “personal life” had interfered with fulfilling her work goals. Their accounts echoed others from workers who had suffered health crises and felt they had also been judged harshly instead of being given time to recover.
A former human resources executive said she was required to put a woman who had recently returned after undergoing serious surgery, and another who had just had a stillborn child, on performance improvement plans, accounts that were corroborated by a co-worker still at Amazon. “What kind of company do we want to be?” the executive recalled asking her bosses.
The mother of the stillborn child soon left Amazon. “I had just experienced the most devastating event in my life,” the woman recalled via email, only to be told her performance would be monitored “to make sure my focus stayed on my job.”
"Purposeful Darwinism" has its drawbacks:
The employees who stream from the Amazon exits are highly desirable because of their work ethic, local recruiters say. In recent years, companies like Facebook and LinkedIn have opened large Seattle offices, and they benefit from the Amazon outflow.
Recruiters, though, also say that other businesses are sometimes cautious about bringing in Amazon workers, because they have been trained to be so combative. The derisive local nickname for Amazon employees are “Amholes” — pugnacious and work-obsessed.
If you feel as nauseous as we do from reading the excerpts, then good luck getting through the whole piece. Or at least keep this all in mind if and when you consider visiting the first IRL Amazon store in Midtown.