Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Let’s Keep Talking About Amazon’s Corporate Culture, Shall We?

Jeff Bezos rebutted last week’s horrific assertions in the New York Times in a statement to employees, which was reprinted, in full, by the Times today:

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 jeff@amazon.com. Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.

[…]

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.

That’s a clear denial of the broad strokes of the article. I have no doubt that Bezos hasn’t seen this kind of behaviour amongst his employees, because a CEO has a lot to deal with — that’s one reason why managers exist. (The other reason, of course, is to suggest that nine women can deliver a baby in one month.)

But then there was a supporting story published today in Vice, for example, by an anonymous former employee:

My experience had not been as bad as those quoted in the piece, but every story rang true. The kicker of the feature comes from Amazon’s own recruiting video: “You either fit here or you don’t. You love it or you don’t. There is no middle ground.” This is the perfect embodiment of Amazon’s corporate culture: If you don’t like it, you are the problem.

Yet, from the same author:

Weirdly, I did like it. Despite the strangeness of the company’s bathroom culture, my experience at Amazon had been a positive one. I’d succeeded in my roles, been promoted once, given multiple raises, and worked on projects that I’ve been proud of. I left the company on good terms for an even better opportunity.

And then Mehal Shah chimed in on LinkedIn:

I’ve never personally seen people cry at their desk, but I have seen people hit the beer fridge at 11AM after a bad meeting, or slam the door of a small conference room shut for some desperately needed alone time. The image of Amazon as a high stress environment that is proud to be a high stress environment is, in my opinion, largely true.

Let’s be overly skeptical and assume that a full half of the Times article is exaggerated, out of context, or otherwise stretching the truth. That leaves an awful lot of frankly terrible stories that are fully attributed, indicative of a workplace that prides itself on inducing Stockholm syndrome in its employees.

I’ve heard a shocking number of people defend the company’s practices saying, broadly, “if you don’t like it, quit, or don’t work there”. That’s a load of crap. There are employment standards for a reason, and a lot of people can’t just jump ship. To suggest that the situations and stories in the Times piece are anything other than unacceptable is asinine.

On that note, I’ve updated my 2015 tech company diversity survey to include Amazon.