Jeff Bezos has responded to a critical report about Amazon’s working conditions, saying it “doesn’t describe the Amazon I know.” Over the weekend, The New York Times published a lengthy feature about what it’s like to work for the online-retail giant.
It describes a “bruising workplace,” in which employees (known as “Amazonians”) work long hours and are pushed extremely hard. Here’s one particularly cutting paragraph from the report:
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.”
Bezos has now responded to the report with a company-wide memo, which we saw over on GeekWire. The CEO says he doesn’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.”
He adds: “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.”
Bezos also recommends that employees read a LinkedIn blog post by senior Amazon employee Nick Ciubotariu, who takes issue with a number of The New York Times’ points and also quotes a “very high ranking executive” as saying:
Amazon used to burn a lot of people into the ground. This isn’t how we do things anymore, and it isn’t how I run my business. I want this to be a place where people solve problems that cannot be solved, anywhere in the world, but they feel good about working for a great company at the same time. And if you’re burning people into the ground with overwork, you’re not doing it right, and you need to course-correct, or you don’t need to be here.
Amazon has previously been criticised over the working conditions in its warehouses. A 2013 report from the BBC claimed that employees could be at increased risk of mental illness because of the stress. According to one employee (not from a warehouse) in the New York Times report: “The pressure to deliver far surpasses any other metric … I would see people practically combust.”
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.