Over the weekend,
The New York Times published a long, brutal piece about what it is like to work at Amazon.
Here’s an excerpt that’s typical:
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.”)
Many of the newcomers filing in on Mondays may not be there in a few years. The company’s winners dream up innovations that they roll out to a quarter-billion customers and accrue small fortunes in soaring stock. Losers leave or are fired in annual cullings of the staff — “purposeful Darwinism,” one former Amazon human resources director said. Some workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time to recover.
Times relied on interviews with more than 100 former and current employees at the retail giant for its reporting.
In a memo to his company’s 180,000 workers late Sunday, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos called the practices depicted in the story as “shockingly callous,” but said: “The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day.”
Still, he urged employees who knew of such incidents to email him directly.
Here is the full memo, courtesy of the folks at
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.
That “very different take by a current Amazonian” that Bezos refers to is by
Nick Ciubotariu, who heads Amazon’s search experience. Ciubotariu posted a long rebuttal to the Times’s reporting. Here’s the tldr version:
Step 1: Have bias Step 2: Find ex-employees with anecdotal stories that fit in with your bias Step 3: Gather old stories and criticism while glossing over changes made to improve on that, and completely ignore that it’s still significantly better than industry practice Step 4: Take half-truths and spin spin spin!! Step 5: Publish article
It’s worth noting here that the
Times, in its reporting, pointed out that Amazon declined to make Bezos available for the article, but offered up other Amazon executives instead. Many of the people the Times spoke to spoke on the record; others requested anonymity because of agreements preventing them from speaking to the media.
But Ciubotariu’s sentiments were echoed by former White House spokesman Jay Carney, who is now a senior vice president at Amazon,
who told CBS News:
This is an incredibly compelling place to work. I think the fundamental flaw in the story is the suggestion that any company that had the culture
The New York Times wrote about, sort of a cruel, Darwinian or Dickensian kind of atmosphere in the workplace, could survive and thrive in today’s marketplace.
The allegations about challenging working conditions at Amazon are not new. In 2013, the BBC
reported that an investigation into a U.K. warehouse found conditions that could cause “mental and physical illness.” And in 2012, the Morning Call, in a series of stories on the online retailer, detailed harsh working conditions for contract workers at Amazon’s warehouses. What was different about the Times’s story was that is focused almost exclusively on the company’s white-collar workers.
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is a staff writer at
where he covers global news. He is a former editor and reporter at NPR and the author of
Murder in Mumbai