What You Need to Know About the New York Times' Amazon Story

Comments

1
While the NYT article is horrifying, I don't feel sorry for anyone who works at Amazon corporate headquarters. People who are smart enough to get hired there know how to use the Google and find out what the workplace culture is like. They know what they're getting themselves into. They get paid more than enough to afford housekeepers, nannies, and the best antidepressants money can buy. And they have skillsets that are in demand, and Amazon experience looks good on their resume, so they can easily quit and find a different job at a more humane company in Seattle. If they're soulless enough to actually enjoy working there, then that's their own problem as much as it is Amazon's.

On the other hand, workers at their warehouses live in economically depressed areas where they have few other options. They can reasonably (if perhaps not accurately) expect the company to fulfill baseline expectations like obeying labor laws and not making diabolical calculations like whether or not it's more efficient to station ambulances outside the warehouse in a heatwave instead of providing adequate cooling breaks for their overworked employees (technically contractors, without benefits like workers comp).
2
I would like someone to write an article that digs a layer deeper: if this is the culture they're intent on perpetuating in the company, what does that mean for our city down the line? If all long-term Amazon workers are inculcated to be selfish, me-first bootstrappers, what happens to our political fabric and our social net as they become a larger voting block in Seattle? Seriously, this concerns me.
3
@2: They don't have time to vote.
4
Are there any photos of Bezos where he doesn't look like Voldemort? Even smiling, he still looks like He Who Should Not Be Named.
5
yawn. same song, same verse. it's everything Microserfs 'suffered' a decade ago. eventually Microsoft imploded as the sane and/or smartest left and the political flaks held sway with the culture-destroying stack-rank evaluation system.

got Amazon stock? see above. nothing new under the sun in the culture of big money/personal abuse trade off of high tech.

ask any therapist or heart doc where the bulk of their Puget Sound business comes from
6
Amazon is a glorified Walmart. Business model is simple and banal - squeeze suppliers, employees, and operations in an effort to eek out a few extra margin points.

Apple, Google, and Microsoft can afford to treat their talent well because they've carved out innovative and highly profitable new businesses and business models. Despite all of Bezos' bullshit rationalizations, the reason he treats his employees like shit is because he's in a business that can't afford to do otherwise.
7
I agree with others that are not too sad for white-collar adults who have lots of options and freely choose Amazon BUT the NYT article makes a point of saying this style of management is becoming more common with the use a data-tracking software to evaluate performance. THAT'S what truly scary.
If a bunch of cutthroat overachievers want to give themselves ulcers over delivering gardening trowels and cases of hot sauce 26 seconds faster, fine. Just leave those of us who want a life out of it.
8
I have a friend of mine who works at Amazon. He's been there for four years and he's been able to take a total of three weeks off total. That includes holiday's and whatever else you can think of. The last time I saw him was at a dinner party four months ago and he was on his phone checking and responding to emails nearly the entire 2 hours and then was called in to go to the campus. That was a Friday night at 10 pm.
9
My intuition to avoid Amazon whenever possible was spot-on, it appears. They kill local businesses, and they kill their employees. Does their benefits package come with 3 years therapy coverage once they quit or get fired?
10
Pretty sure the commenters here have never worked at a CPA firm, same issues, same cutthroat attitude, same good pay and same job expectancy.

As for the blue collar work, it isn't any different at a half a dozen production lines I have worked in the past (before working in a CPA firm).

It isn't new, it is sad but it isn't new. Making it sound like Amazon is the anti-Christ is a bit like pointing at one one house on fire when the whole city is burning. You want this to not happen, vote in employee protections for white collar workers, and enforce those for the blue collar. Unfortunately when you do that, the same people that think Amazon is evil will start talking how you can't expect all employers to do that.
12
as a former employee; i agree with every word. screw that company.
13
Suddenly The Stranger seems to care about these white collar workers. What ever happened to contemptuously calling them brogrammers and gentrifiers? Or is that just an Ansel thing?

For the record, my wife joined Amazon as a young attorney, got a string of positive reviews, then got her first bad review while she was on maternity leave. Same thing happened to another female attorney we are friendly with.
14
Looking through the 4000+ comments to the NYT article, it looked like a lot of people were cancelling their Prime accounts today. That's probably what brought management out of their bunker to try to manage the PR.

Not the sort of place I would work, but that applies to most of the tech companies around here.
15
The Amazon Culture reminds me of the running joke from Gilbert Shelton's classic http://www.democraticunderground.com/dis…">"Fat Freddy's Cat" comics, with Bezos as the cockroach generalissimo who sends his roach-soldiers on inevitable suicide missions, and when his underlings comment on the massive casualty-rate always replies, "So what? There's millions more where those came from!"
16
@ 4, He looks like Dr. Evil lost 30 lbs.
17
For those of you saying that the office workers somehow deserve this toxic culture, no they sure as hell don't. The job market in Seattle is still totally upside down, and plenty of us (most?) have to take whatever we can get. Yes, there are some people with highly specialized skills and experience that choose to work there, but the vast majority have rent and bills to pay while coping with a surge in living costs just like everyone else.
18
It's horrifying to know that other companies are eyeing Amazon's pathological and self-destructive HR attitude and wondering how they too can fire an employee for not answering emails during their parent's funeral or whatever. Reducing people to commodities is despicable and dehumanizing--and they're still not even profitable! A ton of organizational research shows that there policies destroy companies from the inside, thank the FSM.
19
It is a common myth that stress causes ulcers. Oh it will kill you, just in different ways.
20
I worked for Amazon in 2000 as a seasonal customer support representative (Before they shipped all those jobs to India) It was one of the worst jobs I've ever had.

My experience was similar in many ways to the articles I've read recently-- even after you had the job, they made you feel like you had to work to keep the job ( which was weird, because it was only a 3 month contract) They constantly showed me metrics about how efficient I was and how I could do better. If you were late 3 times you were fired.

There was a bonus we would get (like $200) if we lasted the entire length of our contract. At the end of my contract, they told me and about 5 others that we had done such a great job that they were extending our contract. Then they fired me a few days before the end of my *new* contract and didn't give me the bonus, because I was terminated early.

Fuck Amazon. With a P/E ratio over 800, the company is ridiculously overvalued, and I dream of the day the stock tanks.
21
I had a friend who worked as a coder for Amazon for several years. She finally had to quit because the job expectations were literally killing her.
22
toetag @14: Not the sort of place I would work, but that applies to most of the tech companies around here.

What makes Amazon stand out is its Jack Welch-inspired stack ranking system which I understand even Microsoft recently phased out. Show me a tech company that's not a challenging place to work, and I'll show you a tech company that's coasting. But a system where a company is continuously purging its alleged worst performers is another thing entirely. That, dear friend, is a Hobbesian utopia.
23
Working somewhere that demands the highest standards and is always pushing its employees to be their most innovative and passionate is certainly not a bad thing. But I can't imagine pouring that much of my life into the pursuit of mindless commercialism, and I don't think I'd enjoy the company of someone that could (not that they'd ever look up from their monitor/phone to have a conversation).
24
Stack ranking is horseshit. You get rid of the bad employees initially and then if you want to keep stack ranking you have to start cutting the good employees that are left and sacrificing institutional knowledge for no justifiable reason.

Articles like this (generally backed up by the people I've talked to) are the reason I ignore their headhunters. I really like working hard and doing interesting things, but I also greatly enjoy being treated like a human.
25
@6, just when is it that Microsoft "carved out innovative and highly profitable new businesses and business models"?
26
I work for an established high tech/software-based company. 45 hours a week is typical, although that can increase at crunch time before a release. Just got back from two weeks vacation - completely disconnected from work while I was gone. I don't answer work calls or email, either.

My boss's boss's boss sent out a note last week letting his underlings know he'd be gone on family vacation for two weeks and won't be connecting (he and his kids have a bet on how much email he'll have waiting for him when they return). His boss ReplyAll'd "Have fun!"

I can understand the long hours and high pressure at a startup - it's a gamble with limited resources and the potential for extra reward. But for a company that's been around as long as Amazon has, it should have a lot better work/life balance than that reported in the NYT article.

We also had an 18% profit margin last year, too. The Amazon geeks do some pretty cool stuff with technology, but I'm not impressed with their senior management - and even less so after reading the article.
27
Oops. "I don't answer work calls or email *after hours*, either."
28
Hey kathi, your article is titled "What You Need To Know.....Amazon Story.

But, and it's a Big But. You say NOTHING about that Article as your title suggest. You just reprint some "choice" bits that you find...uh... I just don't know what you think you found or read in that article. (if you even read it).

Did YOU do any research on the article? Nah, you just copied and pasted.

So, when are you going to write an article about the NYT Amazon story as you imply?

tia.
29
Absolutely, the work/life balance sounds seriously out of whack at Amazon, but, how many of us are working at a company where poor performance is permitted to go on forever? Where we are held hostage by our desire to produce? Where we listen to our bosses drone on about the destructive effect of government regulations when we know the truth is that they are just no good? Eventually the market place will eliminate the issue but that doesn't make the process anymore enjoyable. As I read the article the one thought that kept coming into my head was how great it would be to work somewhere where you could say, "I don't think this idea will work and this is why...." Maybe that is common in the tech industry but for those of us trying to produce in the rust belt it would be a dream come true.
31
Bezos is just one guy. What about everyone else? Are they just following orders? This kind of thing is implemented collectively, not by one toxic manager at the top.
32
@23

Yeah. That is more or less what I get from reading about Amazon.

So someone gets their selfie stick a day earlier? So what? Amazon isn't curing cancer. It's just allowing people to get tchotchkes faster.

I just can't see how that is worth the level of sacrifice described.

And in order for me to consider it worth the money on a personal level it would have to be a STUPID amount of money. Like $150k a year stupid.
33
Corporate culture should one of two systems:

The first, where screaming, belittling, and hostile behavior is totally unacceptable.

The second, where management can belittle you however they choose—you're there voluntarily and well paid—BUT, it's street rules. You can punch them in the face if they're out of line. This isn't the military where we're breaking down and building young people into something new, this is an office full of grown adults and there can be consequences for disrespectful behavior.
34
I've always thought Jeff Bezos was a bit wack. Maybe it's the maniacal laugh. The article makes me truly sad though, and regretful for using Amazon as much as I have over the years which in itself is a shame because I've enjoyed the convenience and customer service.

I don't think Amazon is all that unique though in regards to its treatment of employees. I worked in hi-tech before and after the dot-com bubble, and was treated very similarly to some of the tales. You know the type - like when the 5 o'clock whistle blows and you pack up getting ready to go home? And you get, "Where are you going?"

It's kind of infuriating when I read "...well if it's that bad, quit and find something else." As if. There was a time in this country when the answer wasn't run away. Wish we could get that spirit back of changing bad workplaces and introducing safeguards against them. The legal process isn't much help if you aren't a zillionaire. What to do?
35
...and I kind of like Doug's (#33) proposition. I've worked under some really ugly, ugly people who have said insulting things because they thought they could get away with it. One good pop in the face and I bet they'd never say anything like that again.
37
@36: Most of those quotes were from current Amazon employees who were thoroughly vetted by Amazon before being allowed to speak on the record to the press.
38
I've been a Prime member for years, but I'm seriously rethinking that now. Amazon is wonderfully convenient, but I don't want to buy a little convenience at the price of somebody's life or health.