New York Times describes Amazon as a “Bruising Workplace”; Bezos responds
A couple of my readers called my attention to this
I had seen that it existed but it’s quite lengthy, and it took me until today to read it all.
In the meantime, I had even seen it referenced in the “news crawl” on a 24 hour news channel.
The article is entitled “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace”.
Amazon has faced accusations of being an unsafe workplace (in particular, heat issues in warehouses), but this doesn’t claim that Amazon is doing anything illegal (at least not directly: they reference the heat issue, but didn’t investigate it).
It does claim that the company is…unempathetic. It says, essentially, that coworkers can criticize their teammates…without being identified to the accused.
It describes what could be interpreted as a harmfully competitive environment.
Jeff Bezos has responded, as referenced in this
and other places, including this
which reproduces Bezos’ memo.
Having read both, I have a few takeaways:
- Based on the articles, Amazon isn’t doing things that are illegal
- It’s hard to work at Amazon…definitely challenging
- It’s possible that some managers at Amazon have treated some employees without compassion
- If that is the case, it troubles me that Jeff Bezos says that isn’t the Amazon that Bezos know. If it as indicated (the NYT claims to have spoken with 100 employees and ex-employees), it would trouble me that Bezos woudn’t know
- Some of the good things which have come out of Amazon have happened because of their unconventional policies
- Update: looking at more responses, I also want to say that part of the reaction to this might be people assuming that what is reported is specific to Amazon, when it might be much wider spread. It may be seen as unique to Amazon, when it could actually be a broad indictment of not uncommon corporate behavior. That’s not to say that Amazon doesn’t do some things differently…it does. However, it may be that it just does some things more effectively than some others. Many companies would like to cull their lowest performers every year…Amazon might just be better at it
- Update: the biggest concern for many people here will be the stories of unempathetic treatment…that after someone has had a family tragedy, they are punished for lowered performance during that period. I can tell you that that is not the case where I work: I’ve coworkers out for long periods due to personal challenges, and be supported and welcomed back by management. Again, though, it’s not illegal (and it may not be unusual) to judge someone’s performance regardless of extenuating circumstances, as long as the law if followed in terms of family leave and such. In my opinion, not illegal…but not necessarily wise, either
I’ve been a successful manager, and I would not lead my team using the techniques alleged. It was always a big thing to me (and still is) that the team works together.
I don’t like competition within the team…I think it is counter productive.
Let me give you an example.
I was managing trainers, who are naturally inclined to want to help other people (it’s what we do for a living).
We had evaluations from students.
When I became manager, there had been a bonus for the person with the highest evaluation average.
That seemed like a bad thing to me.
To have the highest average doesn’t mean that you have to improve what you are doing. If you could make everyone else do worse, that would be enough.
Again, trainers wouldn’t do that consciously: but would they work after hours to help someone else improve their scores? It would be hard to justify taking the time away from their families, if it could also cost those families money.
I proposed a change, which was accepted…and seemed to really help.
We changed it to say that if the team reached an overall average goal, we randomly selected someone who had made a minimum score to receive the bonus.
You couldn’t get the bonus twice, until everybody on the team had won it once.
In other words, you needed to make sure everybody on the team did well to have a chance at a bonus. If they did, you would eventually get a bonus…even if your score wasn’t the highest that week.
Every Microsoft certified training center in the USA (might have been North America) had to use the same evaluation system with Microsoft…I think it was thousands of teams.
We were sometimes #1, usually top ten.
That thinking was alien to the sales manager…sales teams usually rely on competition. I greatly credit that sales manager for recognizing the value of my suggestion for my team.
What is alleged (not proven…but my guess is that the article’s authors are reporting accurately what they had heard) isn’t what I would want in my company, and isn’t what has worked for me. My guess is that it would produce some good results…and suppress others. I don’t think it would be illegal…just, for me, ill advised.
My intuition is that Jeff Bezos wouldn’t have known about it…that it would have been something that developed in a loosely supervised, decentralized company, where the people in Seattle might not have a firm hand on the corporate culture in New York, for example.
If that’s the case, and this is all speculation, I think it could be fixed.
None of this makes me any less likely to shop at Amazon. It would be different if what was alleged was illegal.
The presentation in the article is more of people being jerks than being crooks.
I think the article is significant enough to have an impact…and that’s a good thing.
What do you think? Do you believe the article? If so, does it change how you feel about being an Amazon customer? Is competition necessary within a team? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.
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Update: thanks to two of my regular readers (Harold Delk and Edward Boyhan) and commenters for catching me on a substitution error. I have corrected that error (I had attributed something the NYT did do another (main)streamer…and the two are quite different), which has improved this post.
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