Amazon is an awesome company to its customers. To its employees, however, it’s anything but. The New York Times over the weekend released a bombshell report detailing what it’s really like to work for Amazon and it seems that being on the payroll of Jeff Bezos is a miserable and soul-draining experience.
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These weren’t just a couple of anecdotes from a small handful of ex-employees, either — the Times interviewed over 100 former employees who described some truly wretched practices and a terrifying lack of empathy from their managers. Here are some samples:
- “Molly Jay, an early member of the Kindle team, said she received high ratings for years. But when she began traveling to care for her father, who was suffering from cancer, and cut back working on nights and weekends, her status changed. She was blocked from transferring to a less pressure-filled job, she said, and her boss told her she was ‘a problem.'”
- “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.”
- “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.”
And that’s not all!
Amazon has also developed something called the Anytime Feedback Tool that lets employees offer feedback on other employees to their managers. When you combine this tool with Amazon’s continued use of the stack ranking employee evaluation system that Microsoft wisely dumped two years ago, you get the perfect recipe for employees stabbing one another in the back or making pacts with one another to praise each other to their managers, regardless of their actual work.
So: How did Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos respond to this? He basically said these stories were isolated incidents and encouraged anyone who had experienced anything like the horror stories documented in the piece.
“The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day,” he wrote in a memo circulated to employees. “But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR… even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.”
Bezos continued to slam the Times for implying that these horror stories about cancer patients being given poor performance reviews for missing time from work were a reflection of how Amazon treated its employees as a whole.
“[The article] claims that our intentional approach is to create a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard,” he wrote. “I don’t recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don’t, either. 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.”
Of course, plenty of people do leave Amazon every year, as it has one of the highest turnover rates of any Fortune 500 company and that’s despite the fact that Amazon offers strong incentives for employees to stay for at least a year. As the Times report notes, “Amazon retains new workers in part by requiring them to repay a part of their signing bonus if they leave within a year, and a portion of their hefty relocation fees if they leave within two years.”
And this isn’t the first time we’ve heard about miserable working conditions at Amazon, either. Bloomberg Businessweek writer Brad Stone, who wrote an entire book about the rise of Amazon, has said Bezos has “ice water in his veins” and is “almost scary to work for.” And various exposes of Amazon warehouses have shown Amazon can be even more brutal to its blue-collar workers — in Germany, Amazon even allegedly hired a security firm with ties to neo-Nazis to oversee its warehouse workers and keep them in line.